New Zealand Campervan: The quest for Milford Sound

We never thought the weather would matter as much as it does during New Zealand’s winter. While it initially seemed like a minor concern, it has actually played a big role in determining whether we’re having an amazing time or blowing off the side of a mountain. These days, we’ve gotten pretty obsessive meticulous about checking the weather report before we commit hard to any upcoming plans.

Mountain Pic

Risk and reward

And so, as we snaked our way through the Southern Alps, we spied a glorious, shining, one-day break in the almost 200 days per year of rain that Milford Sound sees. Followed by a day of snow and severe storms. The stakes were incredibly high—we’d been lusting after Milford Sound since before we packed our bags in March. We had to get this right.

It seemed like we might be able to pull it off, but to provide a little more insurance we decided to meander our way down to Queenstown, keeping our eye on the weather report to see if the sun would prevail as the day grew nearer.

We spent a day recharging on local beer, fish and chips, and pork belly sandwiches in Arrowtown, then worked it off the next day with a hike to the top of Bob’s Peak in Queenstown. The clouds off in the distance had us a little concerned, but we crossed our fingers and hoped for a miracle.

Queenstown Birds-eye

We nervously checked the weather one last time and saw that while our sunny day was still forecasted, we were in for some snow in the meantime. We set up camp someplace with a bit of shelter from the wind, but as the flakes began to fall it became harder and harder to imagine the conditions clearing up in time for our trip out to the Sound.

Snow pic

But almost as soon as our wheels turned onto the road to Milford Sound, the clouds that had been hanging over our heads for the last week abruptly opened up. It was like all those nasty days never even happened! We soaked up the beauty of the drive out to the Sound, our mood as bright as the sunny day around us.

Drive out pic

We didn’t even mind the pesky Keas swooping in whenever we stopped, trying to mooch some food or shiny objects off us.

Kea pic

Soaking up the sun

Nick, Bertha and I arrived just in time for a late afternoon cruise. We hopped on and got a chance to explore the pristine fjord, learn a little bit about how it was created, and, of course, see some fun animals like dolphins and seals.

The recent rains had created a ton of temporary waterfalls, and the captain took us in for a close look at several of them—in fact, maybe a bit too close given the freezing temperatures.

Waterfall pic

The next morning, we set off bright and early for a kayak trip through the Sound. We suited up in bright, incredibly fashionable gear and hit the water, hopeful about getting to see wildlife after our success on the cruise the night before.

kayak pic

Within an hour of paddling we located a pod of dolphins heading roughly in our direction. We paddled furiously, aiming our boats so that if they stayed their course we’d eventually get to meet them. And because Milford Sound is such a magical place, that’s exactly what happened.

Dolphin pic

The entire dolphin family (babies included!) swam right around and underneath us. One even gave our kayak a gentle little bump with its tail as it cruised on below. It was an incredible experience to get this close to the dolphins, but especially because the encounter was in the wild, on their terms. These powerful creatures could have easily avoided us if they wanted to—a human in a kayak could never keep up with a dolphin. But it’s amazing to think that they were a little curious about what we were up to as well.

Dolphin pic2

After paddling and wishing our way into meeting the dolphins, it was almost too easy to find seals. They lazed about all over the rocks at the edge of the sound, enjoying the sun at least as much as we were.

Seal pic

So okay, we’ll admit, our concern about the weather was bordering on neurosis. But in the end, finding the perfect day made an already marvelous place about 1000% more wonderful.


Up next

For our last week in New Zealand, we're dipping south to Dunedin and cruising through Canterbury!