Milford Sound Kayaking – My birthday adventure

In New Zealand, Milford Sound (actually a fjord) is a must-see. There are two main ways people experience Milford – either via the Great Walk (another 3 or so day hike) or on a day cruise ship. We knew we would prefer a more active option than a cruise ship, but when we tried to book the Milford back in October, the huts were packed for months. Instead, we experienced the wonderful Routeburn in tramping fashion.

But when my parents came in February, we wanted to find a way to experience Milford. We knew we were taking the cruise ship option for Doubtful Sound (also a fjord) when my Grandmother came in March (more on that later), so we explored other options. Luckily, Lindsey and Daniel Wells came to the rescue and suggested kayaking! More specifically, they suggested Sunrise Kayaking with Roscoe’s.

Lady G TDubbs Kayaking

Lady G and TDubbs Kayaking

Now the tricky thing about kayaking Milford is that it must be a nice day, otherwise the water can be too dangerous. But in Milford, it rains 2 out of 3 days – more than 3 days in a row without rain actually is considered a drought. So timing for this trip has to be perfect. Unfortunately, the morning we tried to go with my parents, it was a high-wind day, so we couldn’t make it much more than 2 or 3 km. During those 2-3 km, we got to see one seal swim right next to our kayaks, and another feasting on fish along the shore. Then, being the awesome kiwi company they are, Roscoe’s gave us a full refund for our trip.

Sarah and Brett

Sarah and Brett kayaking on our first trip to Milford

I wanted to do it though. I don’t care about the money, I want the experience! So that is how we came to do Roscoe’s Morning Glory kayaking on Milford on my birthday. But let’s rewind a bit…

The morning before my birthday, I woke up to a delicious breakfast followed by a leisurely morning of packing an awesome lunch. All cooked lovingly by Gordon. Seriously, I’m a lucky girl.

Milford is about a 3.5 hour drive from Queenstown, and there is only one lodging option within an hour. Since we had to be up so early (I’m becoming far too familiar with pre-sunrise NZ), we opted to stay at the lodge in a backpacker-style room. We each tried a new NZ beer and shared this gem while chatting with some ladies from California who were hitting the trek the next morning. But then we were off to bed in anticipation of our early morning.

Sunrise over Milford

Sunrise over Milford

Maori legend has it that the god Tu-te-raki-whanoa, who shaped Fiordland, created Milford last. So after practicing on 13 previous fjords, he finally got it perfect with Milford. So he invited his brothers and sisters to view his handiwork. Praising him, they each brought gifts – waterfalls, trees, birds. But then his last sister, the goddess Hinenui-te-Po, fearful that humans would become lazy and never want to leave such an incredible place, released tiny little devils into the fjord. Today, these little devils are known as sandflies.

Sweet getup bru!

Sweet getup bru!


Well, we got lucky on March 1… not only was it perfect weather for kayaking – smooth, clear and calm – but it was also cool enough that the sandflies were still snoozing. Roscoe’s hooked us up with some fashionable outfits, complete with fancy hats, and got us out on the water.

These rock faces are called the elephant and lion. If you look closely, it looks like they're hanging out together.

These rock faces are called the elephant and lion. If you look closely, it looks like they’re hanging out together.

Looking up in awe... our go-to pose that day

Looking up in awe… our go-to pose that day

The trip was about 16 km of paddling. We started in Deepwater Basin, then paddled the entirety of the fjord out to the Tasman Sea where we were picked up by a Sea Shuttle. Along the way, we saw the permanent waterfalls Milford is known for – Stirling Falls and Bowen Falls – along with some smaller ones like Fairy and Pixie Falls. Because it hadn’t rained recently, we didn’t see the dozens of temporary waterfalls that Milford is so well known for. We did, however, get to paddle our way under Stirling Falls for a nice glacier-icy, mid-morning wake up.


Getting ready to head into the frigid waters

Getting ready to head into the frigid waters


On our way out to the Tasman Sea, we experienced lots of fantastic wildlife. We saw one dolphin swim past, heard a penguin (sounds like a scream… terrifying), and came within a few feet of dozens of male seal pups. Apparently, Milford is where all the young males go when they get kicked out of their herd by the alpha males. Kind of like Never Never Land, but for seals.

A sea lion posing for us

A seal pup posing for us


Pure bliss!

Pure bliss!


Reaching the Tasman Sea was both amazing and disappointing. Amazing because it was stunning, we were proud and its such a vast distance to the next piece of land. Disappointing because it meant our day on Milford was over!




After our unbelievable experience in Milford, we headed back to Queenstown for a dinner of tapas and some cocktails (Thanks Janice and Blaise!). We rounded out the weekend with a rainy day trip to Arrowtown to see Railway Man in their unique theater.

Awesome his and hers stripey long johns!

Awesome his and hers stripey long johns!

Our rockstar guide Gonzo

Our rockstar guide Gonzo

An active weekend with good food, animal encounters and quality time with my boo? It was a perfect birthday. 26… you’re lookin’ pretty good so far.


8 thoughts on “Milford Sound Kayaking – My birthday adventure

  1. You two look so dang cute in your water getups. Sounds like an amazing birthday!! Glad you enjoyed the fjord 🙂

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