Kayaking Milford Sound: What You Need To Know

Milford Sound Kayaking

Did I mention I was planning on my next escapade in my previous post? Thanks for staying tuned.

As soon as I got my tickets, I knew I was heading into 2018 with a bang. I was going to explore South Island and its majestic mountains and Fiords —by sea kayaking.

The first and the last sea kayaking experience I had was when I was 18. An overnight sea kayaking excursion from Kuala Ibai to Pulau Kapas in Terengganu with a bunch of friends.

We camped the night in Pulau Kapas and headed back to Kuala Ibai the next day. It took 2 hours, one-way and a massive amount of willpower paddling against the sea current under the scorching sun.

It felt like forever. I remember coming home tanned and my arm muscles feeling sore. Good times.

I felt it was time to re-live my amazing sea kayaking experience again. This time in Milford Sound.

New Zealand in its entirety, is known to have one of the world’s most natural landscapes. We can all agree that the country’s urban centers are very pleasant, but they aren’t quite the scenic highlights. While North Island can charm you with its many natural attractions, South Island will WOW you with its dramatic goliath mountains.

It’s kind of like seeing many Mount Kinabalu’s. You see them at every turn, while you drive, hike, trek, bike and definitely while you kayak. There are 23 peaks in South Island and all are over 3,000 meters high.

That’s a lot of Mount Kinabalu’s.

Onward into the mountains. I have a feeling I’ll be back kayaking here again. This beautiful view was taken by Marten, with whom I was paired with.

Before I decide to do something on my travels, I search Instagram for some inspiration. I mean, I’m a visual creature. Always have been. I find it way easier to decide on something. Some might call me a thin-slicer, judging from a narrow window of experience. But it helps.

To kayak guided or unguided?

My immediate typical action was to ask a random dude on Instagram if he went out kayaking on his own or if he went on a guided tour in Milford.

He didn’t exactly answer my question, but he told me if I wanted to kayak Milford, it’s best I find a guide. It made sense for me to do that anyway because I’m not a professional and don’t know how the waves, currents and the wind work at sea. Plus it’s a Fiord. I’m no Fiord expert either.

I found a couple of kayak operators like Rosco’s Milford Kayaks, Go Orange and Real Journeys. Each of these operators offers a range of guided kayaking tour depending on how long you want to kayak.

Tours can range from $109 up to $219. The prices vary depending on what’s included in the tour. I  took the 4-hour tour with Go Orange…just cause, there’s so much I wanted to see. One or two hours is just not enough. In fact, one day is never enough either.

Matt, leading the way from Deep Water Basin.

The drive to Milford Sound might get you excited a tad bit too soon.

To be very specific, you need to get to Deep Water Basin in Milford Sound to begin kayaking. But the drive to get there might get you a bit too excited. From jagged peaks to rivers below meander between mountains at Hollyford valley, glacial freshwater at Monkey Creek to The Chasm where the river carves formations of mountain rocks. It’s hard not to pull over.

And if you’re not driving, you might get sleepy, but try to resist. If you’re driving on your own, stopping over a couple times is a smart thing to do. Just don’t forget the time.

Since I was staying in Te Anau, I arranged for Go Orange to pick me up at Edgewater Motel. It was a 240-kilometer drive which took us about 1 to 2 hours. It shouldn’t take you more than that. But if you’re driving from Queenstown, the drive can take up to 3 hours.

Van driving with some kiwi music from Te Anau to Milford Sound. Along the way, Matt entertained us with tell-tall stories of their favorite spots along the route while Lisa takes the wheel.
The view got me dropping to my knees and flat out sitting and soaking up the ethereal feel of the kames and hummocks of Eglinton Valley.
After a long day of kayaking, Monkey Creek rewarded us with its glacier-fed spring water. I wonder, did Frodo stop to drink some water here before continuing his long and hard journey.
Can’t think of anything else other than to fill up my water bottle. Best water I’ve tasted.

We didn’t stop at all these spots until and after we were done kayaking. We started the drive from 6:30 am. Which means if you stick to your time and not be tempted to stop, you won’t be late for kayaking.

The only thing to note when you drive this route is that there will be no phone connection until you reach Deep Water Basin. It’s actually not too bad being off the grid for a few hours. I personally enjoy it.

The roads will be downhill, zigzaggy, flat and at times dangerous if you’re not alert.

To avoid losing your way in the mountains, you may want to consider downloading an offline map before you start the drive, or you can just drive through the mountains and trust that the road will lead you to Milford Sound.

Sea kayaking is not that hard.

Then again, I may be biased when I say this. I’ve already had a taste of what it’s like to sea kayak in Terengganu. Plus I’m speaking from a recreational point of view. No clue what it feels like to do extreme sea kayaking but I have a feeling it’s not a walk in the park like this one.

If you ask me, it was much harder then because we were paddling against the sea current and there were no peaks, bays or thundering waterfalls raining down on you like in Milford Sound. It was an open sea and the sun was literally shining down on us and that made it hard.

The Fiordland, on the other hand, is characterized by remoteness, rapid change of weather and sometimes extreme water conditions where it can get very cold. Kayaking landing sites are pretty limited too and no two kayak tours are the same.

Although that may be a precaution that everyone should take note of, Milford Sound was a meditative pleasure and at some point of the excursion, it was almost as if you can sit in silence and have a thoughtful ponder. Since its a fiord, we still received a fair amount of sea waves crashing to the side of our kayaks from time to time but it wasn’t violent.

None of us capsized…if that’s what you worry about.

Since I was sitting at the back, the only obvious thing to do was to snap a photo of the view from the back of my kayak. Haha.
Lord of The Ring feels. Legolas where are you at?

Drink hot chocolate at a secluded beach!

After about an hour of kayaking, we stopped at a secluded beach to have lunch. When you book a kayak trip, you can always opt to pre-order lunch (with extra cost) but if you’re on a budget, feel free to pack your own. I decided to pre-order.

The meal was a decent two pack sandwich, an apple, some cheese crackers, a mini chocolate bar and water. And then it’s up to the kayak leaders to be a little creative. If you’re lucky, you might get a kayak lead like Matt, who thought that the spectacular mountain view wouldn’t be complete without hot chocolate and coffee.

This was by far my favorite part of the day. Sitting on a tree trunk, our kayaks parked, a good sandwich, hot chocolate, and with a fun bunch of new friends. There were only 8 of us in the group so it was a pretty close nit trip.

Lunch break! Ending the meal with hot chocolate and a view you will never want to forget.

We were lucky that day. We caught the afternoon breeze and set to raft our kayaks together, put up our sail, and we let the wind take us back to Deep Water Basin.

Have more hot chocolate…on the way back!

Coming back, we stopped at Eglinton Valley and Matt made hot chocolate again. The valley is a 30-minute drive North of Te Anau. It has a shingle riverbed floor which frequently changes by the Eglinton River. It’s one of the few valleys in the Fiordland that has road access running up the middle, surrounded by stunning varieties of flora and fauna.

My Adidas babies got wet while kayaking. The sun was so bright my shoes dried up so fast. Natural heat! While waiting for them to dry, we chilled with hot chocolate.
Jumping for joy!

Packing super light for kayaking

#1. Water Bottle – As always. When your drink runs low, make sure to stop at Monkey creek to refill.

#2. Sunblock/sunglasses/sunhat

#3. Swimsuit/underwear – This comes in handy. Especially if you capsize. Not that you will, but it’s just convenient to have. You can wear your swimsuit under your wetsuit or fleece top.

#4. Change of clothes

#5. Soft shoes – I wore my Adidas trainers and it did its justice, yet again. Although it got a little wet. But it works.

#6. Insect repellent – There are tons of sandflies, so that’s always good to have.

#7. Camera/phone 

These are some of the items I brought with me. I’m a big fan of traveling light. If I could, I would leave everything else behind but that would mean I won’t be enjoying my trip to the fullest, especially when you have sand flies feasting on you in broad daylight.

Everything else, such as dry bags, fleece top and bottom, rain jackets, leggings, and wetsuits will be provided by Go Orange.

Do you think you’ll be adding sea kayaking to your travel bucket list? 

3 thoughts on “Kayaking Milford Sound: What You Need To Know

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