Milford Sound Photographic Journey

21 Apr 2020

This blog post is presented by guide and photographer Douglas Thorne.

Fiordland National Park is a truly magical place. It’s a once in a lifetime destination that I am lucky enough to call home. Part of the allure of this World Heritage Area is definitely the iconic Milford Sound.

So, for those looking for some inspiration and starting to plan a trip one day, allow me to share with you some of my personal photographs and tips on discovering this beautiful part of the world. I hope you enjoy it!

The day begins in Te Anau

Starting from Te Anau, we begin our day by driving to Milford Sound in time to board the morning nature boat cruise. Along the way I will stop for a few photo stops.

What I love about the trip is that every day is different. Even if the weather is looking dull, there can be lots of great photography opportunities. You only get rainbows if there is rain!

Lake Te Anau with a rainbow

Te Anau Downs is a beautiful spot to view the Murchison Mountains


The Eglinton Flats (see main photo image) can be a fantastic stop on certain days. Personally, I try to stop at the best photo locations for the kind of day we have, and this is always changing. If the day is calm and clear, I may skip this stop and head directly to Lake Gunn to make the most of the still conditions I will then stop at the Eglinton Valley on the return, when we have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.

Lake Gunn is one of my favourite stops of all! If the weather is calm and the visibility good, the reflections are amazing. This area is also just over halfway to Milford Sound, so makes for a great spot to stretch those legs and breathe in the splendour of Fiordland. There is an easy 45-minute loop track here that's also wheelchair accessible for those with extra time to explore.

Cloud formations above a still lake surrounded by mountains

Lake Gunn is a favourite stop, especially first thing in the morning on a calm, still day


Cleddau Valley lookout is another special stop for me. It helps visitors appreciate the grand scale of Fiordland, there really is no other place on earth like this! It is a place where the clouds kiss the land and the mountains weave between fiords.

Windy road with a cloudy valley view

Cleddau Valley on the western side gives us a taste of what is to come at Milford Sound


Cruise on Milford Sound

Milford Sound is our destination, but only part of our incredible day's journey.  My day always sees our visitors connect to a boat cruise on the fiord. Hearing the excitement in their voices about what they saw and experienced is always a highlight for me. Many have travelled from faraway places, so seeing the unique natural beauty we have here in Fiordland, in real life, is a dream come true for most.

White heron with mountains to sea

Mitre Peak is a New Zealand  'Must do', the centre piece of Milford Sound, where the mountains meet the sea


No matter what the weather, Milford Sound is stunning. The unpredictable weather is part of the magic really. In fact, for me at least, the more rain the better.

Heavy rain on the mountains

At Milford Sound embrace the weather, rain or sunshine, it is an awesome place!


Explore by foot a walk of your choice

After the cruise it is time for us to explore. This is when we get to have a better look around. With Trips & Tramps you can choose either short walks, or the longer Key Summit walk option (a section of the Routeburn Track). Both are wonderful in their own right. If you love birds and forest, choose the short walks. If you want reward for effort, choose the long walk. This option is unguided, so it gives you time to walk on your own or with you partner. People come back raving about Key Summit!

Small bird on the forest floor with an insect in its mouth

The South Island Robin is a delight to locate on the forest floor


South Island robins are almost always viewable on the short walks. They are cute, friendly birds, that come right up to you. This sparrow-sized bird is only found in New Zealand, and a protected endemic species, recognised by its proud stance and rather long legs. 


People on a walkway above a stream in the forest

Lake Marian Stream and gantry shows off Fiordland many shades of green!

The gantry lookout is a photographer's paradise. I could easily spend an afternoon photographing the stream.

The other option for those who want to get a taste of a New Zealand Great Walk is hiking the Key Summit on the Routeburn Track. The further up the track you go, the better the view becomes, as you traverse a landscape of pristine rainforest, alpine scenery, and mountain views.

It is demanding though, so you need to be comfortable walking uphill for an hour. On average, it takes most visitors two and a half hours to get up and down. 

View of a forest covered valley with clouds on the mountains

Key Summit offers incredible views over the Hollyford Valley, it  really is a special experience .


Return to Te Anau

After the walks, we make our way back to Te Anau. Depending on the weather and timing, there may be other photo stops on the return trip too. Although normally people are pretty tired as it has been a full day by then! 

The journey to Milford Sound is worth the effort. So, if you are looking to maximise your experience, I would definitely recommend joining a guided tour and start in Te Anau. This ensures you get the most time possible to truly discover Milford Sound, and the hidden gems along the way.

Trips & Tramps offers a full day out with a local guide, in a small group, and all the things you need to make a special place even better!


For more inspiration and photos check out the following Instagram pages:

Douglas Thorne Photography

Trips & Tramps



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