Milford Sound is possibly the most famous natural tourist attraction in all of New Zealand.

It’s located in gorgeous Fjordland National Park on the South Island where cruises and flights go up and down the sound all day every day.

Even though it's so popular, I decided it must be famous for good reason. And wow, was I glad I went!

As someone who is deviating the norm, I am always looking for places to go that are a bit unique or "off the beaten path." But visiting a tourist attraction doesn’t mean there will be no opportunities for doing things a bit different.

Deviation can happen anywhere, anytime, especially in the midst of typical circumstances!

As it turned out, I was the only one on the cruise to opt into letting a waterfall rain down on me from above. This experience and other opportunities for deviation made my Milford Sound experience special despite its popularity.

Deviation #1: Grabbing discount tickets

I think many visitors to New Zealand do not know about or think to look for discount tickets in the same way they do at home.

In the way Groupon is huge in the United States for saving on activities in your local area, Grab One in New Zealand is the site for obtaining discount tickets and coupons.

Carolina and I knew we would be visiting Milford Sound sometime in the coming weeks. When we told our host, Michaela, she suggested we get tickets on Grab One.

We were lucky enough to find Go Orange cruise tickets for $35 a piece including a fish and chips lunch!

Normally Mildford Sound cruises are around $50 per person. We saved 30%! Score!

Yet another reason why it’s good to make friends with locals.

Deviation #2: Driving ourselves to Milford Sound

There are a lot of people who blog online about their visit to Milford Sound. It’s a spectacular place.

And it’s one of those places that New Zealand tries to make it easy for people to visit.

Typically, people fly into Queenstown and then feel a bit stuck. It’s a tiny town with not much in it other than a whole lot of tourists bustling through the streets.

Eventually, they find a bunch of tours that will get them the hell out of there to see a place that was advertised to them from the time they glanced out their airplane windows to the wall of activities in their hostel lobby:

  • Flights over Fjordland and Milford Sound
  • All-day coach ride plus cruise on Milford Sound
  • Coach, cruise, and flight combo packages to Milford Sound
    and more!

All for outrageous prices. Don’t get me wrong. These are great options if you can afford it.

But I’m on a budget. And I prefer to do things my way, not someone else’s.

If I had it completely my way, I would have borrowed someone’s kayak and kayaked Milford Sound on my own. This is not allowed, though. You must take a guided kayak tour or a cruise.

With our limited time, we opted for the inexpensive option: cruise tickets and driving in on our own.

I am super glad we drove it. A bus would not have allowed us to stop for as long as we wanted at any of the following gorgeous locations along the way:

Eglinton Valley

This valley is one of the only valleys accessible by road in Fjordland National Park. It has a stunning flat field with steep glacier-carved boundaries on both sides.

The stretch of road leading through it is known as the "Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain" because an optical illusion makes the mountains appear smaller as you advance toward them.

So I zoomed in.

The snowy glaciers in the distance make for a stunning example of New Zealand fjordland.

Mirror Lakes

One of my favorite stops. On a totally calm day you can see a perfect mirror image of the mountains in the lake.

A glacial crossroads

This glacial view shows three different peaks, from left to right: Mount Christina, Mount Crosscut, and Mount Lyttle.

More Glacial Mountains

Yup. Awesome.

The Hollyford River

The river was rushing along the side of the road. The clear green-blue glacial water rapids were set between the roadside and the mountains.

I had to pull over at one point to capture it and a small waterfall next to a nearby overpass.

Out of the Homer Tunnel

As we emerged out of the Homer Tunnel, we knew we were getting closer to the Sound.

The road weaved below steep cliffs to the left and right where hundreds of waterfalls cascaded down in skinny streams between mossy granite.

Heavy rains from the few days before made this place extra active.

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Having the ability to stop the car at any moment to jump out and snap photos was the best part about driving in on our own. No tour bus driver or airplane pilot could limit us!

Deviation #3: Standing under the waterfall

Of course, once we got on board our cruise we were in the hands of our captain.

Now it was time to sit back and enjoy the tour.

Wait, sit back? I don’t think so. I was immediately pressed against the railing on the top of the ship, ready for all the action ahead.

The first view was of the iconic Mitre Peak which is often mistaken for one peak.

Don’t always believe what your eyes tell you—it’s actually a grouping of 5 different peaks pushed very close together.

After that was Copper Point and then we encroached on Fairy Falls.

As we neared the falls, the captain told everyone to stay on the bow to get splashed by the falls. Everyone stepped back out of the way.

Nobody else wanted to get wet but I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity. I grabbed my waterproof jacket and camera and headed directly for the bow.

The captain inched the bow of the boat closer to the Falls.

Soon I was standing directly under it.

I wanted to take the video without my own voice cutting into it, but between the water sprinkling onto the lens, the rainbows dancing across the sound below, and then bucket loads splashing on top of my head I couldn’t help but burst into laughter.

Pure joy! (Click on the image below to watch the video!)

I loved the way the water made a spider web of spray across the surface as it hit the sound. The rainbows layered over top of it made an awesome view!

Just enjoying it

I was the only sopping wet passenger.

But I didn’t care! The sun was shining and the breeze was pleasant as we were taken all the way out to the Tasman Sea.

On the way back in we stopped at Seal Rock, Stirling Falls, and moved up very close to a sheer cliff face.

I now understand why Milford sound is such a popular tourist attraction. I’m glad I went and found ways to enjoy it on my own terms.

That’s what travel is about—doing what you want to do simply because you want to do it!

Who cares if it’s on other people’s bucket lists, too.