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Milford Sound, New Zealand


Home to some of the world's most pristine landscapes, New Zealand has much to boast about, with Milford Sound its crowning jewel.

Water crashed down from its 151m source above and the weight pushed the tandem kayak down and back as Adam paddled to keep us under the torrent. The only sound was an endless thunder, so encompassing it was almost comforting. It was a few seconds that seemed to last an eternity. It didn’t seem like you should, or could, paddle under the falls with hundreds of thousands of cubic metres per second of water spewing down.

“It’s the first shower I’ve had in a month,” I laughed. Nicole and I had been living the 'vanlife' for the past month around the North and South island, so this wasn’t a lie. Before that we had set out on a 91km canoe trip, gone bouldering on pristine limestone blocks, SUPed on a lake on an island in the ocean, hiked a volcano, packrafted through glaciers, and added a hitchhiking van mouse to our crew for about a week (happy trails, Rudy). The waterfall shower was welcome, to say the least.

Two women kayaking at Milford Sound, New Zealand 3

The falls triumphed, as they always would, and spit us out backwards. The whole experience prompted the kind of laughter life sparingly delivers from moments of pure bliss. Paddling into the depths of this colossal waterfall feels dangerous, but probably isn’t... maybe.

I had first seen the falls years earlier from The Milford Wanderer, a large boat with cabins to sleep in, a full bar, the works. The ship went near the falls, and I recalled the being awed at their staggering size. At that point I would not have believed you could kayak into them.

One aspect of New Zealand’s fiords is that they are freshwater emptying into the sea, creating a mix. After a rainy day, and with 6.41m of annual rainfall these days happening quite often, you’re surrounded by almost innumerable waterfalls descending down unscalable cliffs. Your aquatic experience is framed by endless rainforest, and likely a few rainbows.  If you’re lucky you’ll be accompanied by seals, penguins, and bottlenose dolphins on your journey (between my two visits to the area I am lucky enough to be able to check off all three). A fiord feels like a river, but it’s essentially a sea canyon. Fishing and spearfishing are an endeavour enjoyed by few here, but the abundant sea life offers endless opportunities for the more adventurous. Book a tour with SaltFly Lifestyles if you’re looking to have some locals show you around. I can vouch for the owner – he  drove me to the hospital when I cut my toe off. What a nice guy.


Rosco Gaudin, renowned as the area’s expert, owner of Rosco’s Milford Kayaks, and unofficial ‘Mayor of Milford’ met us in a coffee shop in Queenstown ahead of our journey. He was straight and to the point about how our agreement would work, how long we had, what he wanted from us, and he wouldn’t budge an inch. I liked his style and could see how he’s dominated the Milford Sound kayaking scene for this long. Rosco’s Milford Kayaks is the first and longest run commercial sea kayaking operation in Milford Sound.


Two women kayaking at Milford Sound, New Zealand 4

If you’re looking for a day, half day or sunset tour, Rosco Milford Kayaks has excellent guides.  There are also some operations that do multi-day trips to Doubtful Sound (even more remote), or if you’re looking to go it alone and are a skilled paddler, you can follow in Rosco’s footsteps and head down Lake Mckerrow to the Hollyford River, to Martins Bay, along the coast, and into Milford Sound. This track has been pack rafted and sea-kayaked, so it’s doable but you need to pay attention to water flow, stormy sea coast, and know when to portage.


Two women kayaking at Milford Sound, New Zealand 2

Though off-trail camping is restricted along some of the Great Walks, as long as you are 500m away from a great walk, and 200m away from a public road or Department of Conservation campground, or serviced hut you can camp anywhere (please leave no trace).  The benefit of kayaking a stretch like this is that you are very much off the beaten track once you hit coast line, but do not expect to find campsites in the actual area of Milford Sound, sheer cliffs prevent it. If you opt for this type of trek, your last day should be a long day, where you experience the 16km fiord in it’s entirety. The trip can be done in three days. Spreading it out to five or six would allow for more leisure time and shorter paddle days. It’s good practice to notify local DOC Rangers and Milford Sound Airport Control of your planned trip (that’s who is going to have to send a plane or helicopter out to rescue you should things turn south).


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