Tour Guide: Milford Sound, New Zealand

Trip Advisor recently released its 2008 Travelers’ Choice Destinations Awards, a list of the top 100 destinations worldwide and the top 25 destinations on each major region. My favorite country and adopted home while studying abroad topped the list with two destinations—Milford Sound (the eighth wonder of the world, above) and the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown (Auckland, Wanaka, and Christchurch also rated in the top 50).

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Just about every New Zealand visitor stops by Queenstown for an adrenaline rush—and for good reason. This South Island town is the home of bungee jumping. Although the sport did not originate here (it all started on nearby Vanuatu), it was modernized and popularized by Kiwi thrill-seeker and entrepreneur AJ Hackett. He has developed several bungee experiences, including the Nevis Highwire (which my roommate did, pictured right) a 134-meter (440-foot), 8.5-second free-fall, the longest in the Southern Hemisphere.

For those who aren’t as daring as my adventurous roommate, but still want to soak up New Zealand’s beautiful scenery, I suggest heading to Milford Sound.

Milford Sound is part of Fiordland National Park (which should be familiar to Lord of the Rings fans), and the home to one of the only alpine parrots in the world, the kea. The park is also located in an area known as Te Wahipounamu (South West New Zealand) and has been a World Heritage site since 1990. Traveler‘s expert panelists also gave Te Wahipoinamu a score of 80 (the highest in the Australia/New Zealand category) on our World Heritage Destinations Rated list.

About one million people visit Fiordland each year, which is only accessible via one road. Many tour companies will combine a bus trip (to and from Queenstown—a six-hour drive—or Te Anau) with a two-hour cruise of the sound. I took the Kiwi Experience from Queenstown, and hopped aboard the Milford Sound Red Boats, a cruise line that takes you around the sound and includes a stop at the Milford Deep Underwater Observatory, where we watched all sorts of fish and starfish (lucky visitors might also spot seals swimming nearby).

Price for Kiwi Experience is NZ $169 (about US$133, and worth every penny), though prices for other tour companies vary.

For a list of Trip Advisor’s top 20 destinations worldwide, read on after the jump, or download the entire list at TripAdvisor.com.

Top 20 Destinations:

1. Milford Sound, New Zealand

2. Queenstown, New Zealand

3. Philipsburg, St. Maarten

4. Cayo Largo, Cuba

5. Rhodes, Greece

6. Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

7. Cruz Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

8. Bridgetown, Barbados

9. Banff, Alberta, Canada

10. Lake Tahoe, California

11. Salzburg, Austria

12. Cape Town, South Africa

13. Amalfi, Italy

14. Bath, England

15. Siena, Italy

16. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

17. Hamilton, Bermuda

18. Dingle, Ireland

19. Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

20. Bruges, Belgium

What are your top destinations worldwide? Let us know in the comments below.

Photos: Jeannette Kimmel (Milford Sound) and Sarah Bilodeau (Nevis Highwire)

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