To ride or not to ride – that was the question. When we ask folks who are in the know about cycling in New Zealand we received mixed responses on cycling down and back to Milford Sound.
Milford Sound is regarded as one of the many highlights of visiting South Island New Zealand. It is a fjord, really. It is not a sound, it is a fjord and they spelled fjord wrong: fiord– just ask the Norwegians.
You can access Milford Sound by boat, by air, on foot along the highly regarded Milford walking track or by the one road in and out – 120 km from Te Anau.
The Milford Track walk – dubbed “the finest walk in the world” must be booked way in advance: you can book now for April 2016 – now that’s advanced planning. And depending on which hut system you use, the Milford Track can be pretty pricey – upwards of $10,000 NZ for the guided walk with luxury accommodations (huts) and chefs to cook your meals – oh yeah, and “porters” to carry your gear. Not really our cup of tea …. Aaaand, we aren’t that organized- heck in April of 2014 (when we would have had to book the track for this year) we didn’t even know we would be in New Zealand now.
We were on land, not on the water, so a boat was out of the question.
That left the road with the infamous 1 km long, 10% grade, Homer Tunnel. We met Tim, a cycle tourist on his way down to the Southlands from Te Anau. He took his bike on a bus to Milford Sound, kayaked for the day, camped with the sandflies, had the bus driver drop him on the east side of the tunnel and rode the beautiful road back to Te Anau. One possibility.
We met several people who rode to some of the Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites on the way down to the sound, camped, rode down to Milford Sound, camped with the sandflies, and rode back to Te Anau. The road, they claimed is beautiful and there is a lot to see on the way. The DOC campsites are some of the best they had stayed in. Perhaps the folks we were most in awe with having done the ride to Milford Sound were a family of four- mom, dad and two kids ages five and seven. They were riding tandems – nobody told the kids they couldn’t do it – so they knew nothing else. They have ridden most of the roads we have – in a similar time frame. Now that is hard core- go kids. (Unfortunately – we did not get their names – they were from Utah, having moved from Bend – and were riding Co-Motion tandems). We were only was able to get a picture of their bikes – they were too busy eating ice cream in Arrowtown.
What we did confirm is that there really isn’t much to see in Milford Sound itself, unless you go out on the water. So, we opted for a day off the bikes – we did not fancy battling the tour buses and tourist drivers on the narrow, twisty road – nor did we like the idea of a steep 1 km tunnel with no lights on our bikes. Lastly, camping at Milford Sound was sounding less and less inviting – We’ve already made enough blood donations to sandflies.
So we opted for the more active trip and decided on a day kayak tour of the Sound itself. No regrets! The day turned out to be one of the rare sunny days in the Sound. We had a small group including another bike touring couple from Bend, Kathryn and Brian and the most fabulous kayak guide, Abby. We learned about the Sound, the Maori legends and spent the day using our “other muscles”. We got up close and personal with juvenile sea lions digesting dinner or frolicking in the sun. On the ride back, Abby stopped at some of the more beautiful sights for us to take in a bit of the scenery. All in all we had a fantastic Milford Sound experience.