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Magic happens when you have Milford all to yourself

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Two years ago, our small island, New Zealand, pulled up the drawbridge and closed its borders to keep COVID out. It worked except for a few whims before it completely gave up earlier in the summer. We had almost two years without masks and no rules, except for the fact that we were virtually unable to leave the country and be able to return, nor could kiwis abroad return home for years. A pretty big “but” if you ask me, but I’ll save that horror for another time.

Another side effect would be the total annihilation of New Zealand’s tourism industry from one day to the next.

Almost completely dependent on international tourists and their billions of dollars, in an instant, “pof” that disappeared. My work, along with tens of thousands of others, evaporated, leaving us very much in the lurch. With the staggered boundary re-openings, we can begin to see a dim light at the end of the tunnel. But this is not a solution from one day to the next. I’m curious to see how our return to the world of the living unfolds.

milford

One of the pluses (if you can call it a plus) is that kiwis again ruled the country.

Over 90% of tourism disappeared with the border closure, which meant we had our country to ourselves. I have to be honest here; it was actually a little cozy. In addition, we had no control over it, so we had to make the most of the cards we were given. It was awful to see so many companies fight or go under, my inclusive, but at the same time, how cool was it to have all these wildly popular places all to ourselves?

Listen, New Zealand was not like Paris or NYC, but the growth was still noticeable. The end of 2019 was nothing short of a pandemonium in New Zealand and tourism increased at an unsustainable pace, creating a lot of conflicts between locals, wildlife and nature. The attitude of “well, the tourists pay the bills so they can do what they want” was widespread. Nearly 4 million visitors crossed our shores (in a country with a population of 4.9 million) and spent over $ 17 billion, very few of which seeped into tourist infrastructure or local support.

A year later, international tourism fell by almost 99%.

milford

milford

I have been in the unique position of seeing the growth of tourism in New Zealand for over a decade and watching it crumble overnight. New Zealand was back in the hands of the New Zealanders.

I was determined to make the most of an empty backyard and support as many tourism businesses as possible. The fight is not over and if you are here, you can still take advantage of the quiet times to experience the best of the best. And what place tops the list of the most beautiful and iconic corners of Aotearoa? Milford Sound, of course.

Very much the focal point of New Zealand’s largest national park, FjordlandMilford, is the most accessible and most visited place in the park and hits over a million annual visitors just before the pandemic closed to the rooster.

milford

milford

I visit Fjordland and Milford several times a year. I can not exaggerate how magnificent this place is and how I never get tired of coming back. In fact, I’m actively seeking it out. Here the wilderness is pure and wild, and you really feel like you have stepped back in time.

Fjordland is magnificent.

Milford changes dramatically depending on the seasons and the weather, which means you are always guaranteed an enigmatic and diverse experience when you visit. It is also one of those places that only stays more beautiful when it rains. Low clouds embrace the rocks and create a magical feeling. Hundreds of temporary waterfalls cascade down from the mountains, making you feel like you have somehow woken up in Jurassic Park.

Apart from now, there is 5G in Milford, which is the hot controversy among the locals. As soon as you left Te Anau, there was no phone reception all the way to Milford and in Milford itself, which in a way made it even more special. Not anymore!

milford

One of the wonderful things about Fiordland is that it is so large, even when there were many tourists, that it never felt too crowded. There’s plenty of room to spread your legs (COVID-19 reaction minister Chris Hipkins’ mouthfuls never cease to entertain).

With the borders reopened, tourists are beginning to seep back to our beloved shores, though I think it will take a long time, if ever, to return to what it once was. With this new future in mind, I can not help but reflect on how happy I am to have taken advantage of absorbing all of New Zealand during our forced isolation from the world.

And nothing sits more predominantly in my mind than when I had Milford Sound all to myself in January. A place I’ve been to so many times under so many circumstances, but I’ve never seen it like this before. And believe me, guys, it’s not going to be that much anymore.

milford

milford

A gentle reminder that summer in New Zealand runs from December to February, coinciding with our busiest tourist season. This January was one of the best summers I can ever remember here. We went six weeks without rain south in the mountains. Fiordland started to get a little brown and the waterfalls dried up – it was bizarre to see!

Typically, Fiordland receives the most rainfall in New Zealand. Here is generally damp and hazy and a green level that almost seems false. It seems that everything that stands is still covered with layers of moss. As I walked in the beech forests, using trees and roots to drag myself up mountains, the moss had become dry under my fingers. Bizarre to see, it also meant that every day was perfect weather!

Moreover, there were almost no tourists. It was so quiet. January would generally be one of the busiest times of the year in Milford Sound. This time I had it all to myself.

milford

milford

No matter who asks me, I would always recommend that you spend a night or two in Milford Sound itself. An extraordinary place, even when the sun goes down, its immense requires more than a day trip. Book early on the iconic Milford Sound Lodge in one of their huts. Peacefully and beautifully situated, you may not even want to leave the room!

So much love and hard work has gone into making the lodge incredible! I still remember camping here before and after finishing the Milford Track. Nearly a decade ago, it was more of a backpacker. The delicious nachos I ordered when I finished hiking remain very high in my memory! I’m happy to report that they’re still on the lunch menu!

When international tourists return, the lodge quickly fills up as it is one of the only places to stay in Milford Sound, so take advantage of it now while it is still quiet.

milford

milford

Another reason it’s worth slowing down and taking the time to explore Milford now is to have the iconic Milford Road all for yourself!

Since there used to be tour buses coming through every day, the places were sometimes busy in chunks of time – though I found it easy to wait a while and you would have it to yourself. Or even better, the tourists stop in the afternoon when the buses are gone!

Places like Mirror LakesMonkey Creek and Lake Gunn nature walks are tranquil except for the birds.

milford

milford

I had an exciting first for me on this trip. Thanks to the perfect bluebird days of the summer, I finally saw my first BASE jumper in Milford! You know, the daring, I dare say, crazy people who jump off rocks and fall freely until they drop a parachute. I had heard that Fiordland was a popular place for BASE jumps, thanks to its perfectly steep, vertical mountain surfaces, but I had not yet seen it!

As I was driving down the Homer Tunnel towards Milford, I passed a guy walking down the road. It took a few seconds for my mind to click, but I realized he was wearing an orange wing suit like a parachute! He must have jumped from the top of the Homer Saddle! Before hell! I zoomed away, looking for a place to turn around so I could go back and give him a lift; but he was gone!

Damn! it would have been a hell of a story to hear.

milford

milford

Only a few boats a day sail out on Milford Sound these days. This goes back a lot to the 70s, when things were just as quiet.

I was excited to return to the water in a kayak with the iconic team Roscos Milford Kayaks, one of the OG adventure companies in New Zealand. Over the years, I’ve had lots of friends’ guide to Rosco’s in Milford. It’s a legendary business and I was so happy to be back with them after all these years. Especially because it was completely quiet Fjordland Day!

Exploring Milford by kayak is always a unique experience. But being there in the middle of summer, with no one nearby, with only a boat in the distance, you could get a sense of the grandeur of this place. I can not understand how special it was for me to have Milford like this for myself.

milford

milford

In the afternoon I returned to Milford on a small boat trip with Cruise Milford. Once again we had the fjord to ourselves, with only seals and dolphins for company.

It did not take long before dark dolphins began to jump and swim along the bow of the boat and cut through the glassy water. Unusual here, it’s more common to catch a glimpse of the bottlenose dolphins that call Fiordland’s water home. Summer is another great time to visit Milford because you can see all the adorable seal pups. Small and cute, they dot the rocks and give a beautiful memory when you first get a glimpse of them.

Thanks to the incredibly steep mountains that jut out vertically from the fjord, the smaller boats can go all the way up to the waterfalls, so you can get a taste (or a shower) of the glaciers that feed Milford.

milford

milford

Regardless of the season, regardless of the weather, and regardless of popularity, I would always recommend visiting Milford Sound. It is a striking place whose beauty and presence last, regardless of the circumstances of the outside world.

I’ve been so many times, and even as I write this, I look in my calendar to see when I might be able to sneak back again. There are still hikes I want to go, cabins to visit and adventures to be experienced; I plan to take full advantage while things are quiet. For now.

Have you been to Milford Sound? Have you ever had the experience of visiting a popular place and having it all to yourself? Share!

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Many thanks to the Great South for hosting me in Fiordland; As always, I keep it real – as if you could expect less from me!

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