Biking New Zealand The Big Trip

Milford Sound Road to Mitre Peak

Views of Fjordland, South Island, New Zealand
Written by Stuart Wickes
Views of Fjordland, South Island, New Zealand

The kind of views you expect on the way to the iconic Milford Sound, Fjordland, New Zealand

Milford Sound Road to Mitre Peak

From:      Kirstie, Stuart, Matthew and Cameron
Subject:  A Miserable Time on Milford Sound Road
Place:     Milford Sound, Fjordland, New Zealand

You need to be mad to go on a bike

Stuart Profile SmallNo New Zealand experience is complete without a trip to Milford Sound. Iconic images of Mitre Peak reflected in the fjord’s clear waters (on a good day) are widely used to promote the natural wonders of New Zealand. There are two ways to get there – take a tourist tour or hire a car and do it yourself . You’d need to be mad to go on a bike, especially after being blown around on the road to Fjordland. So, surprisingly, we didn’t. Family on a Bike became family in a car, just for the day you understand.

Fjordland Ecology Holidays at Te Anau New Zealand

Fjordland Ecology Holidays made us feel so welcome. For free. Te Anau New Zealand

Touched by generosity

Before we hit Te Anau we were touched by the unprompted generosity of all those we met, who went out of their way to help us because we are a family. At a dusty roadside camp on the road to Riverton, Marion and Bill invited us and the children in to see their menagerie of animals and share a warming cup of coffee. They returned to see us later at our camp with hot fresh banana cake for our breakfast.

In Orepuki, the local publican opened his tavern especially early one morning to serve us drinks and chat to us about sheep shearing. Before we left he had stuffed two fresh flounder into our hands for the evening barby. And in Manapouri, Ruth and Donna at Fiordland Ecology Holidays sold us nothing and helped us loads, entertaining the kids with a frog that gave a riveting performance, running us around to get the kids’ injections and providing lots of useful information and advice about the area.

Paddling in the Fjords or Fjordland at Te Anua, New Zealand

Paddling in the Fjords of Fjordland near Te Anua, New Zealand

Beyond Te Anau things changed

Then, at some point as we made our way up the coast and towards Fjordland, we crossed an invisible line beyond which nothing is for free. By the time we reached Te Anau, we were less a family and more a family ticket, a small group package, a tailored itinerary, a tourist dollar waiting to be fleeced. In Invercargill, our homestay host virtually insisted we take his car to go out for the evening. In Te Anau we wanted to borrow a car seat for for our day trip to Milford but no-one from the local nursery, child centre, car hire firm or campsite would lend us one. Rent us one, yes, lend one, no way. In Te Anau, gateway to Milford Sound, tourist = dollar. But still they come, and so did we.

Paddling in the Fjords or Fjordland at Te Anua, New Zealand

Fjordland scenery. Too cold to paddle? Possibly….

We just HAD to do Milford Sound

With years of experience of promotion, we suspected Milford might not be what it says on the box, but somehow the leaflets, hype and guidebooks all got to us and we felt we just HAD to do it. And the drive in is truly awesome, even in the torrential rain and snow that accompanied us. And once you get there, there is everything you need to blow your mind away; towering peaks, thick native forest clinging to sheer cliffs, fingers and arms of icy waters reaching deep inland, thundering waterfalls, endless wildnerness and natural beauty. Rudyard Kipling thought it was “an eighth wonder of the world” and it may well be.

Milford Sound, New Zealand

The best view we could get of Milford on a really wet day in a very brief break in the weather

Everything promised and dissappointingly more

It’s everything the brochures promise and more; more tourists than you’d ever expect in the wilderness; coaches grunting nose to nose in a giant coach, car and campervan park; a busy ferry terminal filled with international travellers, a shuttle bus to-ing and fro-ing between car park and ferry terminal to avoid excess contact with the natural environment; a tatty pub and lifeless cafe full of mournful faces; and an information centre offering lots of information but only about the times and prices of the next ferry. And everyone we spoke to back at Te Anau reported much the same experience, that Milford is a victim of its own hype and marketing success.

Bus depot at Milford Sound

The best view we could get of the coach park and ferry terminal without being run over by buses or tourists

Still better than a day in the office

As you can see there was plenty to make us miserable in Milford. But it still beat a day in the office.

In the rain at Milford Sound

The best expressions we could muster to describe our day

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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