If you think of New Zealand, many of you will certainly also think of Milford Sound. It has its place in every documentary I’ve watched about New Zealand and it also has a huge attraction to landscape photographers all over the world.

I made the detour to Milford Sound when on my drive down from Wanaka to the Catlins. I have to be honest here. When planning my tour through New Zealand I wasn’t excited to visit this place. If it wasn’t for my girlfriend, I would have skipped it completely. It’s very touristic, the photographs I had seen nearly all looked the same and when it comes to weather in November you have to be very lucky to not end up in a days lasting downpour or even a snow storm. No kidding here, just two days after I left Milford Sound again, the road was closed due to heavy snow falls.

But lets start with my drive to Milford Sound. Not long after passing Te Anau my lack of excitement to visit this place already faded. The drive along road 94 is one of the most beautiful and spectacular I ever did. It’s Lord of the Rings all over the place: Thick forests, wide valleys, towering Mountains.

Temperate Rainforest in New Zealand

Rainforest
Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 | Hoya HD Polarizer
Exif: f/11 | 19mm | ISO 100 | 1s

Key Summit

The first stop I made was roughly 25 km before Milford Sound. I went for the short hike up to Key Summit. It led me through a beautiful forest up to a plateau from which I could see all the surrounding mountains. I was a bit overwhelmed and had no idea how to capture all of this beauty in a photo.

I went exploring along the nature trail that took me to the viewpoints around Key Summit. Unfortunately the sun didn’t break through the clouds at first. Only when I was already on my way back to the car did it show itself for a short moment. I failed to get a photo with which I’m fully satisfied; I was to rushed, to hectic. If I ever have the chance to visit this area again, I will certainly plan in more time to hike, explore and scout.

Hiking trail on top of Key Summit

Key Summit Trail
Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 | Lee 0.6 hard GND + Hoya HD Polarizer
Exif: f/11 | 16mm | ISO 100 | 1/4s

A photographer in front of some mountain landscape in New Zealand

Milford Sound

Back at the Campervan I immediately continued my drive to Milford Sound. Although it was still cloudy the short appearance of the sun increased my hopes for an interesting sunset. It would be low tide then, so I should find enough compositions. But first I was back on the road marveling at the spectacular scenery around me.

This landscape looked unreal. Left and right of the winding road a thick rainforest, in front of me a solid rock face. Do I somehow have to drive around this wall? The road led me straight towards it. Then I saw the little black hole, which some might call a tunnel. I think hole is a more fitting description though. A single traffic light had me wait a few minutes before I entered into darkness.

At first I couldn’t see a thing. I just tried to stay in the middle of the narrow road to make sure I wouldn’t hit the walls with the van. The road was wet, there were no lights besides my front lights, which weren’t super bright. I was creeping further down as my vision began to adapt to this pitch black darkness. After a few minutes I saw a white pinhole. I had finally made it to the other side.

The sunset at Milford Sound didn’t dissapoint. In the evening this whole area didn’t feel very touristic at all. There were no other people, just the mosquitos and me on the mudflats. The scene in front of me looked like out of a fantasy book. First the magnificent Mitre Peak was still shrouded in clouds, but just in time for sunset it slowly revealed itself.

After running around like a maniac looking for compositions I went with the classical reflection photo. I couldn’t think of a better way to capture this serene moment.

Dramatic light and reflections at Milford Sound

Milford Sunset : Prints Available
Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 | Lee 0.6 soft GND
Exif: f/11 | 27mm | ISO 100 | multiple exposures between 0.5s – 8s

Mitre Peak rises above Milford Sound on a gloomy evening

Milford Blues
Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 | Lee 0.6 soft GND
Exif: f/11 | 27mm | ISO 100 | multiple exposures between 6s – 30s

Nature Encounter

To really experience the beauty of Milford Sound, a cruise through the fiord with one of the many boats is a must. It’s also possible to do kayaking, but since I wanted to take photos and had only limited time I decided for a tour with nature encounter cruise. This cruise is on one of the smaller ships and gets really close to the different waterfalls. The guide on the boat was very well versed and provided us with lots of information about Milford Sound, its history and its current wildlife. We even saw some Fiordland crested Penguins again.

As I got up in the morning I really wouldn’t have thought that this boat tour would be one of the highlights of my entire trip. I usually enjoy exploring on my own and don’t like the confines of a ship. Moreover it had been raining the whole night and still was when I boarded the boat. But the moment it stopped to rain and the remaining clouds drifted slowly through the fiord it was pure magic. I felt so small on the little boat between those towering walls. It was awe inspiring.

Clouds above a waterfall and immense cliffs

Stirling Falls
Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS
Exif: f/9.5 | 135mm | ISO 250 | 1/125s

After my short stay at Milford Sound I had abandoned all my resentments against it. One can actually have a really great time there and it’s possible to avoid the masses, if you arrive late and leave early. The local campsite is conveniently located so it’s easy to catch the first boat in the morning without the need of a long drive.

In the end I was a bit sad to leave this otherworldly paradise. But I had to drive back through the mountain and head towards my next destination, the Catlins.

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