You’ve seen the pictures. It’s a perfect day in Milford Sound: the blue sky stretches forever and Mitre Peak rises 1695m above the fiord, dominating the skyline and reflected in its mirror-like waters. It’s one of those flawless days when you take seven rolls of film because everything looks so photogenic. That was the day before I went.

The morning of the Fiordland trip dawned dark and gloomy, and then the rains came. Not everyone was disappointed by the big wet, however. As we made our way along the spectacular, winding road out of Te Anau, our guide enthused loudly about all the spectacular waterfalls we’d get to see. Sure enough, the surroundings quickly became captivating.

Waterfalls tumbled hundreds of metres down sheer granite cliffs into pristine valleys lined with forests of ancient beech trees. Majestic peaks reached so high I struggled to glimpse their summits through the mists. Against a backdrop of such raw beauty, all the worries of the world diminished. The beauty of this place was overwhelming, leaving me mute and humble. Not to find it awe-inspiring is to be made of the very stone that forms Fiordland’s imposing peaks.

The journey is half the fun when travelling to Milford as there are some seriously spectacular sights to see on the way, starting with Mirror Lakes (58km out of Te Anau). One of the coolest bits about the world’s most avalanche- prone highway is definitely the Homer Tunnel. The 1.2km rough-hewn Homer is pitch black and barely wide enough for two cars to pass. It’s pretty darn steep, as well – a thrilling experience, albeit one that makes you glad not to be the one behind the wheel.

From the edge-of-your-seat excitement of the tunnel, we emerged into the breathtaking Cleddau Canyon, commonly known as the Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls – on such a soggy day the multitude of cascades coming down the surrounding cliffs made the origins of that nickname obvious. Here, we took a short walk to The Chasm; it only took 10 minutes, and was more than worth it for the sight of the Cleddau River, which has formed a natural sculpture of smooth and craggy rocks as it hurls itself through the narrow gorge.

Then we came to the Sound itself. The word ‘special’ barely even begins to describe it. Whichever of its compelling moods Milford is in when you encounter it, there’s a brooding atmosphere of solitude and serenity (in foul weather and fair) that takes you over.

Given the grandeur of Milford Sound is best appreciated from the water, I boarded a launch for a two-hour cruise, laughing in the face of the sleet, gale-force winds and my lack of wet weather gear. It was grey and stormy, but that only served to make it more powerful.

Once described by English poet Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world, Milford Sound is not technically a sound, but a fiord – having been carved out by glacial action about a zillion years ago over an Ice Age or two. It’s the northernmost fiord in Fiordland, and easily the most dramatic. At its deepest, it plunges to 265m, and its crowning glory is Mitre Peak, towering a full mile above the waters. Those are the fiord’s facts and figures, but all is irrelevant when you are confronted with such unparalleled beauty. I thought I’d seen some serious waterfalls in Cleddau Canyon, but those babies were nothing compared to these. Cascading from dizzying heights past the sheer walls, some were made all the more intriguing by the winds forcing them to ‘fall’ upwards.

Had I received the sunshine I’d hoped for, I would’ve missed out on all but the biggest of these stunning falls. So despite, or perhaps because of, the dripping skies, snapping those seven rolls of film was easier than expected.

The water was too rough for us to spot any of the fiord’s famed wildlife (bottlenose dolphins, New Zealand fur seals and Fiordland crested penguins all hang out there and can usually be viewed up close on cruises or kayak trips); likewise we weren’t able to make our scheduled stop at the underwater observatory to check out the sub-aqua wonders of the Sound. It didn’t really matter, though – I could’ve easily watched the falls for hours.

I was cold. I was soaked to the skin. On a sunny day there may be a postcard shot around every corner, but only when it rains, and torrents of water cascade down the mountainsides, have you truly experienced the magic of Milford.