Milford Sound in New Zealand’s South Island is revered for being one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful places on earth. With images of its dramatic landscapes plastered all over Tourism NZ’s website, brochures and social media channels, Milford Sound is the face of New Zealand tourism and the crowning jewel of this already richly adorned land. It is remote, pristine and majestic, with its glacier-carved fjords (or fiords as the Kiwis have it), sheer cliff faces and abundant wildlife. Rudyard Kipling even famously named it the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ and trust me, once you visit, you’ll instantly understand why.
But even if this is the most beautiful place in New Zealand, it’s also the wettest. In fact, it is one of the wettest places in the entire world! With an average rainfall of over 6m every year (some years it can be as high as 9m), chances are that the heavens will open up on your visit. Let’s face it, the odds just aren’t really in your favour there. I’ve visited Milford Sound twice and both times it absolutely bucketed down. I’m going to let you in on a little secret though. While most people hope for good weather, this is one of those rare places that is even more breathtaking in the rain that it is in the sunshine. That’s right. You should actually hope for a rainy day in Milford Sound. Here’s why.
As the rain sets in, the lush mountains surrounding the fjord are enveloped in ethereal, wispy clouds that swirl around the peaks. As you drive the steep and windy Milford Road, you feel as though you could reach right up and touch them.
Milford Sound’s steep peaks are covered in lush rainforest, which clings to the sheer cliff faces. This type of vegetation needs heavy rainfall to grow. Being in the fjord when it is bucketing down will let you experience first-hand the exact climatic conditions that make this region so verdant.
The best thing about being in Milford Sound in the rain is the thousands of waterfalls that appear all over the sheer rock faces, gushing down into the water below. It’s absolutely magical to witness this so if you’re there to see it, count yourself lucky! Within a couple of hours of the rain stopping, the waterfalls dry up, leaving only the two permanent waterfalls remaining.
The high rainfall also has another really interesting effect on this ecosystem. As the runoff water drains through the lush vegetation growing on the cliffs, it soaks up tannins which actually stain the water the colour of tea. When this water pours into the sound, it sits on top of the salty layer at the bottom and blocks much of the sunlight from filtering through. Because of this, a lot of marine life including dolphins, fur seals, penguins and fish hang out at the top of the water when usually they’d live much deeper. This of course means that it’s really common to spot marine wildlife here.
Don’t let the rain stop you from heading out onto the water – you came all this way after all! I’d definitely recommend booking a cruise – the activity of choice for most visitors. I headed out with Southern Discoveries on the ‘Encounter Nature’ cruise and I chose it for its small boat and fewer passenger count. A cruise will let you get up close to waterfalls, touch the cliffs, spot some of the varied wildlife and maybe even poke out at the Tasman Sea where Milford Sound opens.
For an even more special experience out on the water, book an early morning kayaking trip. Don’t be put off if it’s raining – the experience is even more special in the rain. I booked the ‘Sunriser Classic’ tour with Roscoe’s Milford Sound Kayaks. Milford Sound will be shrouded in mist and the flat water will quiver as fat rain drops land on its surface. It’s so quiet out there, especially just after sunrise when the boats are still docked at the harbour and the light is eery and blue. At one point, a little fur seal joined us to somersault beside our kayaks in the still of the morning. It was one of the most special moments of all my time in New Zealand.
Got New Zealand on your radar? Check out these posts before you go:
- 20 Things I’m Glad I Packed for New Zealand (And 3 I Wish I Had!)
- Spotting the World’s Smallest and Rarest Dolphins in Akaroa
- Welcome to New Zealand’s Capital of All Things Cool: Wellington