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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Hall

Hiking Milford Sound - New Zealand

Milford Sound is a Fjord found in New Zealand's South Island and offers unbelievable beauty, amazing wildlife and some of the best hiking opportunities on the planet. Accommodation is limited in Milford as the only options are camping, a stay in the Milford Sound Lodge or opting to stay in a hotel in Te Anau which is a 2 hour drive from the Sound. We chose the Milford Sound Lodge which is located right in the Sound and is within walking distance of the boat dock and has easy access to the best hiking routes, in the area. The rooms book up early and so you need to decide quickly if you want to stay you. I warn you, however, that the only options are either an extremely expensive private suite or a dormitory style room which you may need to share with others; this is the option we went for and was perfectly fine for our stay here.

Photograph of Milford Sound in the morning
Milford Sound in the early morning

The Hikes

If you only have a couple of days in Milford there are 3 must do hiking routes - Lake Marion, Key Summit and the Milford Track. The Lake Marion route was my favourite but the car park gets busy so you have to get there early to ensure you can park. The route takes longer than the advertised time but is well worth the visit. You begin the hike at the bottom; walking through rocky areas and past streams and waterfalls, before entering an open alpine area and then finishing in a forest. The route is fairly easy but I think you could struggle with young children as the walk takes about 4 hours and includes some climbing. As you come out of the forest at the top it opens out to a view of the stunning Lake Marion. You will want to spend some time here and so I would suggest stopping for lunch and, if you feel like it, taking a quick dip in the lake as the area is both beautiful and peaceful.


The second hike I recommend doing is the Key Summit walk which takes about 2-3 hours return and takes you up to a high point in the Sound to give you views over the mountains and lakes which surround it. This is an easy but worthwhile walk.

Photograph of view from the top of the Key Summit hike
View from the top of Key Summit hike

The Milford Track is a quick 30 minute walk around the Sound and gives you great views of the Sound and, depending on the time of day and level of the tides, is a great place to take a walk out into the Sound from.

Photography tip: Take photographs of the sound at all times of day to get different views as it looks completely different at sunset to sunrise both due to the light reflection and the tides.

One thing to watch out for on your hikes (and whilst driving) is the Kea, which can only be described as a giant parrot. These pesky creatures, although endangered, love causing mayhem. One of our encounters with one occurred whilst stopped in our car waiting at the entrance of the Homer tunnel which is the only way in and out of the Sound. The Kea leapt out of the bushes and onto the windscreen of our car, scaring the hell out of us, before proceeding to sit on the roof and trying to rip off our car aerial. Despite beeping the horn we could not get rid of the bird until we drove off through the tunnel at which point it flew away. When we stopped next we could see that it had stolen the entire aerial (which screwed on!) and later learnt this is a common occurrence in the area.

Photograph of Lake Marion, Milford Sound, New Zealand
Lake Marion

The Sound by Boat

There are a couple of companies that run ferry trips into the Sound and it is a great way to see all of the Sound out to the ocean as well an opportunity to see some of the nature that lives on or by the water. The best option it to take the early morning boat but be prepared for the fact that it can be pretty cold out on the water. The trip takes around 2 hours and you are guaranteed to see seals lounging on the rocks beside the water as well as hunting in the water. If you are lucky enough you may also get to see the Fjordland penguins swimming or dolphins popping their heads out of the water.

The Sound by Kayak

My favourite experience in Milford and the whole of New Zealand was Sea Kayaking through the Sound. With no previous experience of kayaking we were a little nervous about being chucked out in a tiny kayak some 18km from the shore but we were assured we would be able to manage. As soon as we were in the water the nerves kicked in as the tides were strong and rocking the kayak from side to side. However, once we got used to the steering mechanism of the kayak as well as the tides it became a lot easier and more relaxing. Travelling slowly through the Sound, stopping to see things missed from the boat was incredible but the best moment happened when we stopped by a waterfall and a dolphin appeared in the water about a metre from the kayak; it hands down has to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life. By the time we got to the shore around sunset, some 5 hours later, I was exhausted but could not have had a better time. It's made my partner and I so obsessed with kayaking that we try and do it on every one of our trips together now.

Photography tip: Take your camera! I didn't as I was worried it would get ruined but you put it in a waterproof bag which you are provided with which means its protected even if you do capsize.

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