I suggest, however, that you take Google maps seriously when it comes to travel times in New Zealand. The roads are winding hill passes on steroids and you will need to take that amount of time, trust me!
In some ways, the rain was a blessing. Water cascaded on the beautiful rocks of the hills beside the road forming impromptu waterfalls. It also meant we had many lookouts all to ourselves!
There is only a handful of free camp spots outside of Milford Sound, and Milford Sound itself only has a small, expensive caravan park that runs at full capacity. We figured we'd drive in anyway (through a very cool tunnel and down a very twisty steep road), and drive back out if we couldn't find anything. The caravan park was in fact full, and no other accommodation on offer. Luckily, a local let us know that despite the "no camp" signs on the carpark, the Department of Convervation lets you stay overnight for $20. We were so relieved at this news, because the rain was getting heavier, the day was getting on and the idea of driving back out on the crazy road did not appeal to either of us.
Unlike most other places in New Zealand, Milford Sound has remained relatively undeveloped. This means there's a small visitors centre with cafe style food, the modern building from where the boats leave from, the caravan park, a private walking club type lodge, and that's about it. It would be easy to come here unprepared when so many other places boast lots of accommodation and food options.
We enjoyed a very quiet and relaxed time in the camper in the downpouring rain, cackling Kea and the loudest thunder I have ever heard in my life.
The next day the rain had mostly cleared, and we joined a small group on a small family run boat to explore Milford Sound itself. We took the good advice that most tour buses arrive at lunch time, which means the lunch time tours are the busiest and the morning ones not so much. Great advice!
When you speak to people about New Zealand, they always ask, are you going to Milford Sound? When I first heard about it, I thought it was a music festival. No wonder people looked at me strangely when my response was, "Yeah probably if it's on when we are there"!! The tour people told us that if it doesn't rain in Fiordland for more than 5 days they consider it a drought, and rain the day before meant we would see waterfalls that would be gone by lunchtime.
Despite many boats at the ready, and even when they are all out on the water, the Sound is so large and beautiful you feel like the only person there. This is one place where tourism hasn't taken over in New Zealand. The photos do the rest of the talking, I'm glad we come here, it's an amazing place!
Our journey then took us back through the winding road, and along the way we found this beautiful Airstream - New Zealand's most inland food truck!