Milford Sound is home to the South Island's most iconic image -Mitre Peak towering over the Sound. Every NZ traveler is told that a cruise on either Milford or Doubtful Sound is a Fiordland Natl Park MUST. Fewer have been told that the drive to the Sound is probably a greater visual highlight than a cruise on either Sound. Milford is all tourist hustle-bustle, whereas Doubtful is quieter and more expensive.
What you shouldn't do is take the Doubtful cruise and skip the drive on the Milford Road! The 120km drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is a marvel...a visual cornucopia of delight...a smorgasbord of oooh and ahhhs and neck-craning magnificence!! Undoubtedly it’s one of the FINEST DRIVES in the WORLD! After a so-so start along hard-to-see Lake Te Anau, the mountains begin to rise up as the Eglinton Valley narrows. You’ll think the first 85km to The Divide are pretty WOW...but then, once you drop to the Hollyford River...the next 32km are adjective defying. Sheersided mountains pierce the clouds, craggy snow peaks reign all around while multi-thousand-foot waterfalls decorate every visible rock face. Once through the Homer Tunnel the visuals never cease until you pull into the carpark with a front 'n' center view of mile-high Mitre Peak crowning Milford Sound!
Once at Milford, of course you’ll take a boat ride—it is worth it simply to escape Milford’s ever-present plague of sandflies. Surprisingly though, the best view of Milford is from the foreshore walkway, not the cruise boats. Most all the boats do the same route, all pulling close-in to 150m Stirling Falls for a misty drenching, all pulling close to the Fur Seal rock.
Other than the cruise boats (or a kayak trip), there’s little to do at the Sound. The quick Foreshore walk is a must for photographers, especially to slow the shutter for 160m Bowen Falls. The Lodge is worth a look simply for its historic photos.
Camping on the Milford Rd: There are numerous cheap-as DOC sites along the road through Eglinton Valley—each basic with no water or showers. The best of the bunch is Cascade Creek where there’s plenty of space, firerings, good mountain views and lots of wildflowers. The Lake Gunn lakeside campsite may sound good, but this site is too small and too many people try to pack in…often arriving late at night and causing undue commotion. Skip Lake Gunn, you’ll be better off at Cascade Creek!
Down the gravel Lower Hollyford Rd 8km is Gunn’s Hollyford campground. It’s a regular family campground, but friendlier…for just $10pp. Hot showers, kitchen, the works…and possibly a big fire burning in the camp area—very social! Gunn’s shop has some groceries as well as books, maps, and souvenirs. This is a fabulous campground!
The Milford Sound Lodge, at the Sound, has some camping but VERY limited and most often sold-out. About $20pp, but you better book ahead.