Years ago, I had the opportunity to take a scenic flight over Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall. Fearing cloudy weather would make it impossible to see anything, I turned down the chance and have regretted my decision ever since. I never found out whether the rain held off that day, but from then on, I vowed to always seize the opportunities that presented themselves whilst I travelled.
The wettest place in New Zealand
And so it was in Milford Sound. One of the world’s most beautiful fjords, Milford Sound also holds the dubious honour of being the wettest place in New Zealand. On average, there are 186 days each year when rain falls, dumping almost seven metres of the stuff on anyone unlucky enough to time their visit badly. Although there is less rain during the winter months, there are still sixteen days a month of wet weather in any season. I’d read that the high rainfall totals led to spectacular waterfalls, and, when windy, dramatic updrafts of water. On a tight schedule, I only had one free day to visit Milford Sound. I was almost hoping for bad weather.
Unusually good weather on our Milford Sound day tour
In fact, as we set off from Queenstown on what was going to be a marathon day trip to Fiordland National Park, the skies were clear and the sun was shining. And so it remained as we drove past Te Anau (Milford Sound day tour coaches and cruises leave from here too — a good idea if you’re staying the night in town before heading to the Sounds), pausing to photograph the reflections at Mirror Lake and taking a short hike down to the swirling rapids known as The Chasm. As we pulled into the car park, the colourful cheeky keas were messing about in and under cars; our driver said they’d flown into the coach the previous day and refused to come out. It seemed they’d heard how good Milford Sound was too.
Eighth wonder of the world?
Arriving at Milford Sound’s boat dock, the sky was still a deep blue. The boat chugged out into the fjord and made its way towards the Tasman Sea. The waterfalls, some a kilometre high, cascaded in narrow folds down to the water, puddling into the water as a foamy spray dampened our faces on deck. Rudyard Kipling famously dubbed the Sound “the eighth wonder of the world” and he wasn’t wrong. Glaciers have scraped and carved a valley into a giant U-shape, leaving Mitre Peak to stand dramatically at 1692 metres tall, dominating this stunning landscape. Wildlife are easy to spot, penguins, dolphins and seals making the Sound their home. I noticed the seals were making the most of the dry day, sunning themselves on a rocky outcrop as if on a family day out to the seaside.
Scenic flight home
On a day as beautiful as that, it seemed a waste to board the coach for the long drive back to Queenstown; in all this is a twelve-hour tour. Instead, on clear days taking the Milford Sound day tour scenic flight back is a tempting possibility. As we flew low over the Southern Alps commentary provided by the personable and experienced pilot, spotting arêtes and glacial lakes, not to mention the perfect ski runs, it was almost a shame to land. I was pleased that this was one flight I didn’t pass up.