Kayaking in Milford Sound, New Zealand

“Innumerable waterfalls descending down unscalable cliffs.” How’s that for a dramatic description of New Zealand’s Milford Sound? Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

kayaking in Milford Sound, New Zealand

New Zealand’s “Most Spectacular Natural Attraction”

Milford-Sound.co.nz describes Milford Sound as “New Zealand’s most famous and spectacular natural attraction.” For a country that seems to be spilling over with spectacular natural attractions (if The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is any indication), that’s saying a lot.

Technically speaking, Milford Sound isn’t a sound but a fiord (yes, they spell it “fiord” not the Scandinavian “fjord”). It’s part of Fiordlands National Park, and has the distinction of being the only fiord in the park accessible by road.

Like all New Zealand’s fiords, Milford Sound carries fresh water from its abundant rainfall and those towering waterfalls towards the ocean.

Bring Your Rain Gear!

Speaking of abundant rainfall, Milford Sound is one of the wettest places on earth. That explains the gorgeous waterfalls and rainforest vegetation. Located on the southwest side of New Zealand’s South Island, the area gets an average of 6,813mm of rain a year (that’s 268 inches).

So there’s a good chance you’ll get rain when you go. But don’t let it stop you! That’s what rain gear is for.

kayaking in milford sound
"Innumerable waterfalls" in New Zealand's Milford Sound

Kayaking in Milford Sound

Dan Kennedy of Linked Ring took a guided kayak excursion to Milford Sound with friends (that’s where these fantastic photos came from). While he had been there before on one of the motorized touring boats, being in a kayak was a different experience. For one thing, his guide took him right into a 151-meter waterfall (495 feet)!

Dan recommends December through March for your window when planning a kayaking trip there. Those are New Zealand’s summer months. You’re still likely to get some rain, but the temps will average in the 60s (F), rather than the cooler 40s during their winter months.

Experienced paddlers can get a map, rent equipment and go at it. Hiring one of the local outfitters for a guided trip, though, will help you navigate some of the area’s hazards: rapidly changing weather, tidal levels, torrential downpours, the rocky and sometimes stormy coastline, and the sand flies. They also know the area well and can help give you a fuller experience than you might get on your own—like paddling under waterfalls!

While you’re paddling, be on the lookout for the local marine wildlife, including penguins, seals and dolphins.

How to Get There

The closest airport to Milford Sound is in Queenstown, NZ. You can also fly into Dunedin or Christchurch, depending on how much of the country you want to drive through and see while you’re there.

map - get to milford sound
Getting to Milford Sound from Queenstown

There’s only one road leading to Milford Sound. Even from Queenstown, the closest city, it’s an almost-four-hour trip due to meandering around and through the mountains. Look at the map above, though, and you can see it’s definitely a scenic drive!

Local Outfitters

There are several local kayak outfitters that will have a trip and gear for your experience level and timeframe:

There are so many wonderful places to paddle on our watery planet. New Zealand has one of the best in Milford Sound. Is it time to plan your trip?

kayakers in milford sound

(All photos courtesy of Linked Ring Photography. Used by permission.)

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Sources:
“First Class Fiord” by Dan Kennedy, published in Outdoor Magazine
Milford-Sound.co.nz

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