When I left the Philippines exactly a year ago (Oct 3, 2019) to spend a Working Holiday in New Zealand as a Filipino, I never imagined that I would have the rare opportunity to work in the country’s No. 1 Tourist Destination, Milford Sound. What’s more unbelievable is I got “adopted” into the Milford Sound Lodge family, with managers who are the best employers I’ve ever had in my life, and co-workers (aka lodgies) who are the most amazing people to work with. I am certain that my 3 months working for Milford Sound Lodge has been the most amazing part of my time in New Zealand!
Getting to Milford Sound
Home to the great Mitre Peak, the mighty Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls, Milford Sound is a breathtaking fiord in New Zealand, surrounded by lively rainforests and countless unnamed waterfalls. Looking from the map, it is only a few kilometers from Queenstown point-to-point but since the thick mountain ranges separate the two towns, the only way is to either hike from Glenorchy (an hour away from Queenstown) to The Divide in Milford Sound which is popularly known as the Routeburn Track, one of the 7 Great Walks of NZ, or drive for 3.5 hours along Highway 6 and 94.
Applying as a Lodge Host
After realizing that seasonal horticulture jobs are not what I really want to do to earn in NZ because of its very physical requirement, I decided to try applying as a hospitality all-rounder; besides I used to run a small tourism business, and I also dream of building my own lodge someday; so why not learn new things by experience? Milford Sound Lodge is one of the many companies I applied for in backpackerboard.co.nz while I was in Queenstown; and although my application took more than a week to be finalized, whereas many seasonal jobs here just takes 1 or 2 days for you to know if you’re hired, I was fortunate to be chosen as part of their summer (Dec-Feb) crew.
Upon hiring, the manager sent me a pre-employment document that gave me an idea of what to expect while working in Milford Sound Lodge which I think is very good because I had the chance to buy attire for work (mostly black pants and shoes) and snacks that will be difficult to get once there since Milford Sound is a very remote destination. This document really got me excited, I read it a few times!
Driving to Milford Sound
The drive to Milford Sound is one of the best things you could ever do while you’re in New Zealand! There are buses from Queenstown and Te Anau (the closest town to Milford), but they just don’t give you the freedom to take in the views! I couldn’t count how many times I stopped along this State Highway 94 (aka Milford Sound Road), which starts from Te Anau with wide plain lands backdropped by picturesque snow-capped mountains, turning into rainforests, rivers and lakeside, switchback roads, with humbling peaks all around, and countless of hiking tracks. Milford Sound Road can be dangerous especially during winter due to avalanches, while during torrential rains (which we experienced during summer), parts of the road can be destroyed. I definitely fell in love with SH 94 during my time here.
Working in Milford Sound
Milford Sound is considered to be the No. 1 Tourist Destination in New Zealand. Most people go here for a day or two to experience a cruise and do some hikes. I felt so fortunate to be working here for 3 months! The tiny town (which is not really a town at all, but more like a village) consists of only around 300 people who are mostly workers. Milford Sound Lodge is the only lodge in the area, and no freedom camping is allowed anywhere, probably to preserve this untouched paradise. The lodge has luxury chalets and campervan sites as accommodation, as well as Piopio Cafe and Restaurant. This is where my life revolved around for the past 3 months!
Bedrock – The Communal House for Staff
Milford Sound Lodge has a communal house for its staff which we call bedrock. It’s probably the best staffhouse with everything you need is provided for! Food (breakfast, lunch, dinner!), electricity, satellite internet (there’s no mobile signal in Milford Sound), warm bedrooms, kitchen, toilets and warm showers… they all make you feel like home but only for a very cheap price which is deducted from our fortnightly salary. I honestly think that it’s unfair for the lodge to be providing all of these for their employees at such a very low price; however happy employees do good jobs! So I guess it’s a win-win strategy. 🙂
During summer season when the tourists peak in number, the lodge hires seasonal workers to adapt to the increased workload. We were around 30 people working for the lodge during my time there but during winter, it drops to only half. Regardless of seasonal or permanent employees, these lodgies who came from all around the world have one thing in common, I guess. We’re all humbled by the nature around us. I had workmates from UK, USA, Slovenia, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. I feel so honored to be the only Asian in the crew. Regardless of where we came from, the “family” rather than a “work” atmosphere is very evident. Everyone was warm and helpful to each other. Every night, a couple of lodgies are assigned to cook dinner for everyone; it was almost always hearty each night!
The standard for cleanliness is so excellent, but we’re not left clueless as to how to do it. We were all guided and trained. When I cleaned the chalets, looking outside the room’s glass walls facing the rainforest mountains with consistent waterfalls makes working so enjoyable and refreshing. I enjoy making beds and making them look their best. I eventually gained an eye for details!
We also have shifts as Front of House in the cafe as waitress and bar person, and at the kitchen as dishwasher. Piopio cafe is a fine dining restaurant and my experience here was simply for the books. It was a challenging job, therefore not boring! I also enjoyed dishwashing. At the beginning the dishes defy me but I learned how to play it as a puzzle so I eventually enjoyed dishwashing.
I am really grateful to be working here and I think the managers should get the credits! They’re the most humane bosses I had in my life. They really think about the well-being of their staff; they are not intimidating, but rather friendly and approachable; and the way they run the business is something I will carry on with me in my future business dealings. Thank you Emma and Laura for teaching me a lot by just doing what you do excellently!
Adventures in Milford Sound
Among all these I have written, my most favorite part is my adventures! Our roster goes for 10 days work, and 4 days off which allows for amazing holiday trips when weather permits. I was able to do 3 of the Great Walks of New Zealand including Routeburn Track, Keppler Track and Rakiura Track, as well as some other hikes around Milford Sound such as Key Summit Track, Lake Marian and Getrude Saddle. One of the perks of working for Milford Sound is being able to do the cruise for free! I did it 4 times during my 3 months here. Lastly, I had the chance to ride the helicopter twice during the time when Milford Road was closed because of the destruction made by strong rains in beginning of February. Although they were evacuation flights and short, they were still scenic (and free!).
How I wish you, dear reader, will just experience it for yourself, but unfortunately, not all travelers/backpackers seeking for a seasonal job will have the chance to work in my Milford Sound Lodge. The feeling of working with nature all around you, with amazing people as your “family” makes you really humbled and grateful. For me, working is Milford Sound Lodge is not a job, it’s a privilege.