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COMPLETE GUIDE TO MILFORD SOUND NZ PHOTO SPOTS


Complete Guide to Milford Sound NZ Photo Spots

Milford Sound NZ is one of those places that leaves an imprint in your memory for a lifetime. It was named the 'Eighth Wonder of the World' by Rudyard Kipling and is part of the 1.2 million hectares of UNESCO World Heritage listed national park in Fiordland New Zealand.


I first visited Milford Sound Piopiotahi for photography back in 2016 and it left me in absolute awe and wanting to never leave. Milford Sound was carved by glaciers millions of years ago and was first discovered by indigenous Maori people around 1000 years ago. Today Milford Sound is one of New Zealand's most famous tourist destinations and photographers from all over the world come to create images from its beauty.


Having visited Milford Sound countless times over the years I thought it was about time I listed my Guide to Milford Sound NZ Photo Spots so that you can experience them too! In this blog you will find all the information you need about where to go, what to shoot, what's the best time and how to get there. If it's your first time visiting you're in for an absolute treat, and if you're a returning visitor hopefully you might find something new to discover in my Complete Guide to Milford Sound NZ Photo Spots below.


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CONTENTS



 

GETTING TO MILFORD SOUND


MILFORD SOUND FROM QUEENSTOWN


The drive to Milford Sound from Queenstown takes just under 4 hours and is around 288km by car. There are plenty of other options available to travel by bus, van or day tour, but if you self drive you can definitely take your time and go at your own pace. The scenes along the Milford Road are just incredible and be prepared to stop often in amazement!


The Milford Sound Road during winter
The Milford Sound Road during winter

MILFORD SOUND FROM TE ANAU


If driving from Queenstown you will stop in Te Anau about half way through your trip. The drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau takes just under 2 hours and is 118km.


Some things to note

  • There are no petrol stations or shops between Te Anau and Milford Sound so be sure to fill up before you drive in.

  • Milford Sound cellphone coverage is very limited.

  • There are public toilets/long drops at Knobs Flat, The Divide and Milford Sound.

  • If you are wanting to capture sunset and sunrise at Milford Sound Piopiotahi Foreshore book accommodation as there is no freedom camping at Milford itself.

 

MILFORD SOUND ACCOMMODATION


The only public accommodation available other than on the overnight boat cruises in Milford itself is at Milford Sound Lodge.


Other options outside of Milford include:


DOC Campgrounds at: Cascade Creek, Deer Flat, Henry Creek, Kiosk Creek, Mackay Creek, Totara Creek, Upper Eglinton, Walker Creek


There are plenty of accommodation options in Te Anau if you aren't planning to stay over in Milford Sound and make it a day trip.

 

MILFORD SOUND WEATHER


The weather in Milford Sound is characterised by its variability and can change rapidly. As Milford Sound is located in the Fiordland region known for its high rainfall, it is not uncommon for rain and mist to be present throughout the year. The area experiences a temperate climate, with mild summers and cold winters.


Homer Tunnel Lookout Milford Road Fiordland
The lookout just past the Homer Tunnel on the Milford Road

During the summer months (December to February), the weather in Milford Sound is generally mild, with average temperatures ranging from 19°C to 23°C. However, it's important to note that even in summer, rain showers are frequent, and it's advisable to come prepared with waterproof clothing.


Stirling Falls in Milford Sound on a rainy day
Stirling Falls in Milford Sound on a rainy day

In winter (June to August), temperatures in Milford Sound can drop rapidly with snowfall possible when southerly fronts pass through closing the roads frequently.


Due to the unpredictable nature of the weather, it's always recommended to check the forecast before visiting Milford Sound and to be prepared for changing conditions.


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YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO MILFORD SOUND NZ PHOTO SPOTS


 

1. THE MILFORD SOUND ROAD


The drive into Milford Sound is like no other in New Zealand and I think everyone should experience the grandeur that awaits you here at least once in your life.


For photography there are so many pull the car over moments that it's hard to name only just a few, but here are some of the places I have stopped and taken photos along the Milford Road.


THE BEECH TREE FORESTS MILFORD SOUND


As you drive along the Milford Sound Road there are New Zealand Beech Tree Forests that line the road in parts and create beautiful and enchanted tunnel views especially when there is some fog around.


If you can find a safe place to pull over and walk off the road there are some beautiful opportunities to capture these incredible trees.


Photo Tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm)


EGLINTON VALLEY MILFORD SOUND


Nestled between the majestic Earl and Darran Mountains, the Eglinton Valley unveils a captivating landscape of sprawling meadows, ancient beech forests, and the tranquil flow of the crystal clear Eglinton River. This valley is your gateway to Milford Sound and what a way to start the journey!


Eglinton Valley Milford Sound
Near the Eglinton Valley on a moody day in Milford Sound

Photo Tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and your zoom lens (eg. 70-200mm) for compression shots of the mountains


MONKEY CREEK REST AREA


Monkey Creek Rest Area Milford Sound
Road shot taken near the Monkey Creek Rest Area

The rest area at Monkey Creek is a great spot to get the camera out and take a road shot with the magnificent Mount Talbot in the background. This area is an incredible sight with the valley view and surrounding mountains creating such epic scenery. You might even get to see a cheeky kea hanging out along the roadside.



Please never feed the Kea, and if they happen to hop onto your car or gear, please don't drive off assuming they will just jump off. Many Kea have been injured by people driving away with Kea still on the roof.


More info on Monkey Creek below.


Photo Tip: Most of my shots from this area are on my wide angle lens with the exception of wildlife photos which are taken on my zoom lens (70-200mm)


HOLLYFORD ROAD NEAR LAKE MARIAN


Near the turn off to the lower Hollyford Road and where the Milford Sound Road Gates for Road Closure are located, there are some beautiful views of Beech Forest and the surrounding mountains which make for stunning landscape photography (especially if you are waiting around for the road to open like we were!).


Hollyford Road Milford Sound
Just after sunrise taken near the Hollyford Road Entrance as we waited for the Milford Road to open
Kea Bird New Zealand Milford Sound
A curious Kea coming in to say hello on the Milford Road

Photo Tip: Most of my shots from this area are on my wide angle lens with the exception of wildlife photos which are taken on my zoom lens (70-200mm)


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POPS VIEW LOOKOUT HOLLYFORD VALLEY


This little roadside pullover has incredible views over the Hollyford Valley and is definitely worth a look before driving the rest of the road into Milford Sound.


Pops View Lookout Hollyford Valley Milford Sound
Pops View Lookout Hollyford Valley Milford Sound
Pops View Lookout Milford Sound
Looking towards the Routeburn Track from Pops View Lookout Milford Sound

Photo Tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and your zoom lens (eg. 70-200mm) for compression shots of the mountains


HOMER TUNNEL LOOKOUT


The Homer Tunnel Lookout at sunrise
The Homer Tunnel Lookout at sunrise

Perched at the entrance to Milford Sound and just to the left as you drive through the Homer Tunnel, the Homer Tunnel lookout offers a mesmerising vantage point to take in the sheer magnificence of towering peaks, cascading waterfalls, and the untamed beauty that awaits when you arrive at Milford Sound.


Photo Tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm)

 

2. MILFORD SOUND PIOPIOTAHI


The most famous out of all the Milford Sound NZ photo spots and in my opinion the most beautiful, is the Milford Sound foreshore or Piopiotahi. With the magnificent Mitre Peak standing tall at centre stage and the foreshore to the fiord creating incredible reflections at mid to high tide, this spot is an absolute must do and is the prize at the end of the drive.


In my opinion Piopiotahi is best for landscape photography in the late afternoon or at sunset. As the sun sets during the Autumn months (March-April) and if you are lucky enough to be there as the sun is setting, the light creates incredible beams off Mitre Peak making for a spectacular scene.


I have photographed Piopiotahi at sunrise also, but have found that the light takes quite a while to come up from the mountains behind and often the colour has already left the sky by the time the sun hits the peaks.


There are plenty of locations to shoot from and set up your compositions. You can go down to the foreshore and walk out on to the rocks and sand/mud or take the walking path out to the edge of the foreshore. Be aware the tide moves very fast in Milford Sound and I have found myself surrounded by water very quickly on the incoming tide!


Milford Sound Rain Piopiotahi
Milford Sound Piopiotahi during a rain storm

Note: have some change/cards for car parking as they have cameras set up in the car park and if you don't pay you will most definitely receive a parking fine!


Photo Tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and your zoom lens (eg. 70-200mm) for compression shots of the mountains. Be sure to have your tripod for low light conditions.

 

3. MILFORD SOUND WATERFALLS


Milford Sound has one of the most dramatic landscapes for waterfalls and anyone who has visited in the rain can tell you that the thousands of waterfalls the appear will absolutely blow your mind away.


Although these temporary waterfalls disappear once the storm has passed, Milford Sound has some permanent waterfalls that are well worth visiting and getting the camera out for.


STIRLING FALLS MILFORD SOUND


The most iconic waterfall in Milford Sound is the majestic Stirling Falls, plunging 155 meters (510 feet) into the dark waters below. Its sheer force and ethereal mist create a truly beautiful opportunity for landscape photography.


You can take one of the Milford Sound cruise boats and have a good chance at shooting Stirling Falls as all the boats go right up to the falls on the journey. Beware however you will definitely get wet trying to photograph this one!


Photo Tip: Shoot on wide angle lens


BOWEN FALLS MILFORD SOUND


Bowen Falls is the first waterfall you will see gracefully cascading down from the cliffs above when you take the Milford Sound Boat Cruise, and is the closest waterfall visible from the foreshore of Milford Sound Piopiotahi. Bowen Falls plunges 162m from a hanging valley into the waters of Milford Sound below.


Bowen Falls Milford Sound Cruise
Bowen Falls as seen from the Milford Sound Cruise

MARIAN FALLS MILFORD SOUND


Lake Marian Falls is an easy 30 minute return track from the Lake Marian carpark off Lower Hollyford Road, Milford Sound, where you can view the water that has tracked its way from Lake Marian above. This series of falls is one of my absolute favourites, the glacial blue water and surrounding forest make for such a beautiful scene.


Photo Tip: Shoot on wide angle lens and have your tripod to slow down the water movement and shoot in this darker area of the forest.


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THE CHASM MILFORD SOUND


The Chasm in Milford Sound like all of the waterfalls in this area is a geological marvel that showcases the raw power of water and its ability to shape the landscape. Located along the Milford Road, this natural attraction offers a short but awe inspiring walk through a series of dramatic rock formations carved by the swirling waters of the Cleddau River.


The Chasm Milford Sound
View from the bridge on The Chasm walk

SUTHERLAND FALLS MILFORD SOUND


Sutherland Falls in Fiordland is the highest of all the New Zealand waterfalls at a staggering 580m. It is however one of the more difficult waterfalls to access, with the only option being a 4 day hike (Milford Track) or by scenic flight or helicopter.


Sutherland Falls Milford Sound

The water from Sutherland Falls drops from Lake Quill above, and falls down three tiers before reaching the bottom.


Check out below on companies offering Milford Sound Scenic Flights


 

4. LAKE MARIAN TRACK MILFORD SOUND


On the same track as Marian Falls if you continue on a further 3km you will reach the incredible Lake Marian. This is one of the best views in New Zealand in my opinion. Surrounded by the most magical mountain scenery and glacially blue water, Lake Marian sits so beautifully in this Fiordland hanging valley,


The track is more of an advanced tramping track as it becomes steep and there are tree roots and boulders to navigate through, but its absolutely worth it if you can do it.



For more info on the Lake Marian track check out my Best South Island NZ Hikes Blog.


Photo Tip: Shoot on wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm) and your zoom lens (eg. 70-200mm) for compression shots of the mountains.

 

5. MONKEY CREEK MILFORD SOUND


Monkey Creek Milford Sound
Mount Talbot centre stage reflecting in Monkey Creek

Nestled along the scenic Milford Road, Monkey Creek is a hidden little photo gem that is just asking to be photographed! This picturesque rest area offers incredible mountain views as well as crystal clear waters which flows gently, reflecting the surrounding landscape like a mirror on a calm day. It's a place where you can reconnect with nature and marvel at the outstanding views while getting the camera out.


These images were taken just off the roadside. There is plenty to explore in this area of tussock and alpine gardens, but just be careful where to step as not to damage any of the flora. Keep to the trails that are available in the area.


Monkey Creek is also a popular spot for wildlife sightings. Keen observers might catch a glimpse of the cheeky alpine parrots known as kea, or spot native ducks and other bird species as they glide gracefully across the creek.


Monkey Creek Milford Sound Winter
Monkey Creek Milford Sound after a snow storm

Whether you choose to pause for a picnic, take a leisurely walk along the nearby trails, or get the camera out and capture nature at its best, Monkey Creek offers a peaceful escape and a chance to immerse yourself in the untamed beauty that makes Milford Sound so captivating. It's a place where time seems to stand still, allowing you to connect with the natural world and create lasting memories in this remarkable corner of New Zealand.


Photo Tip: These shots were all taken on my wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm)

 

6. LAKE GUNN MILFORD SOUND


Lake Gunn is a hidden gem that is definitely worth a stop on your way into Milford Sound. This pristine alpine lake offers the most beautiful scenes with surrounding native bush and towering mountains, as well a great little picnic spot to stop and have lunch while listening to the bird song.


On a calm day the still waters of Lake Gunn mirror the breathtaking landscape and the vibrant hues of blue and green creating stunning day time landscape photography for everyone who stops by.


My favourite place to photograph Lake Gunn is the North View Point which is down a small road and signposted off the Milford Sound Road 'Lake Gunn'.


Photo Tip: These shots were all taken on my wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm). Be sure to have your tripod for low light conditions.

 

7. MIRROR LAKES MILFORD SOUND


Mirror Lakes is located fairly early in on the drive to Milford Sound and is well worth a stop with the camera. When you arrive at the Mirror Lakes you will be greeted by a pair of small lakes that provide the most serene and picturesque setting.


The Mirror Lakes perfectly reflects the towering mountains, lush forests, and vibrant vegetation that encircle this area of Fiordland. A well maintained boardwalk meanders along the lakes, allowing you to take a leisurely stroll and fully immerse yourself in the breathtaking scenery. As you walk, you might be lucky enough to encounter a friendly South Island Robin, South Island Tomtit, or the always adorable Piwakawaka fantail.


Be sure to take your wide angle lens along with you to this location so you can capture the scene in its entirety, including the natural framing of native beech trees.


Photo Tip: This shot is a 5 shots panorama taken on my wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm). I used my tripod for the shady low light conditions and panorama stitching.

 

8. MILFORD SOUND SCENIC FLIGHTS


Milford Sound Scenic Flight
The runway and Mitre Peak from above in Milford Sound

Embarking on a scenic flight over Milford Sound is an incredible adventure that showcases the breathtaking grandeur of this magical destination from a whole new perspective. As you soar through the skies, you'll witness the iconic Milford Sound fiord in all its splendor, surrounded by towering peaks, cascading waterfalls, and the deep blue waters below.


Milford Sound Scenic Flight
The entrance to Milford Sound from the Tasman Sea by air

The aerial perspective allows you to fully comprehend the immensity of the Fiordland National Park, and why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The vastness of the rugged terrain and the untouched wilderness unfolding beneath you will leave you in awe of the forces that shaped this remarkable landscape over thousands of years.


Milford Sound scenic flight
The view over the west coast of New Zealand from a Milford Sound scenic flight

There are a lot of amazing companies who offer scenic flights in Milford Sound and a quick google search will bring up some of the many you can choose from. Companies that I can personally recommend from experience are Glenorchy Air and Milford Sound Scenic Flights.


Milford Sound scenic flight
Looking down on Lake Gunn from the Milford Sound scenic flight

Whether you opt for a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft, a scenic flight over Milford Sound is an unforgettable journey that will allow you to capture one of New Zealand’s most captivating landscapes from a truly unique vantage point.


Photo Tip: These shots were all taken on my wide angle lens (eg. 16-35mm).

 

9. MILFORD SOUND BOAT CRUISE


Milford Sound Boat Cruise
Onboard the Milford Sound Boat Cruise

Being a passenger on the boat cruise through Milford Sound is one journey you should take at least once in your lifetime. As you set off through the fiord you'll be surrounded by towering mountains of granite rising from the ocean floor, lush native forests, and on a rainy day hundreds of cascading waterfalls, an experience that is nothing short of awe inspiring.


Milford Sound Cruise Stirling Falls
Stirling Falls on a moody at aboard the Milford Sound Cruise

The boat cruises offer the perfect opportunity to explore the pristine beauty of Milford Sound up close. These vessels are specifically designed to take you right up to waterfalls like the famous Stirling Falls, and the experienced guides onboard provide insightful commentary, sharing stories about the rich history, geology, and unique wildlife that call this place home.


If you are super lucky you might get to see the local seals, dolphins and penguins that call Milford Sound home, so be sure to have your zoom lens with you to capture the wildlife.


Milford Sound rain cruise
Milford Sound during a rain storm as seen from cruise boat

One of the highlights of a Milford Sound boat cruise is the chance to witness the incredible and ethereal beauty of Mitre Peak. This iconic landmark stands tall, piercing the sky with its sheer granite cliffs, creating a mesmerising backdrop for every landscape photographer. These kind of images will require your wide angle lens, so there is a bit of lens switching while on board the cruise if you want to capture the wildlife as well.


Mitre Peak Milford Sound Cruise
The magnifient Mitre Peak as seen from the Milford Sound Cruise

There are a lot of companies who offer the Milford Sound Boat Cruise and a quick google search will bring up some of the many you can choose from. Companies that I can personally recommend from experience are Milford Sound Real Journeys and Milford Sound Southern Discoveries.


All in all a boat cruise through Milford Sound is an experience that will leave you humbled and in awe of the raw beauty of this natural wonder. It's a chance to immerse yourself in one of the most extraordinary landscapes in New Zealand.


Milford Sound Boat Cruise
View from the Milford Sound Boat Cruise
 

Thanks for taking to time to read my Complete Guide to Milford Sound NZ Photo Spots. I hope it inspires you to come to New Zealand and explore Milford Sound sometime soon.


If you are interested in prints of any of the New Zealand Landscape Photography seen in this blog, please feel free to head on over to my New Zealand Photography Print Store and have a little look around.



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