Milford Sound – A New Zealand Icon

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is an accessible unique fiord in the southwest of New Zealand’s South Island.

Known for Mitre Peak (5,560 feet [1,695 metres]) heavy rain, serene rainforests, and thundering waterfalls. – Stirling and Bowen falls

Located in Fiordland National Park, a remote section of Southland, the only vehicle access along a narrow winding road through craggy mountain ranges and ancient rainforest – a pristine drive before a steep descent into Milford Sound.

The road to Milford Sound is more than just an access road – It’s an adventure. YOU WILL LOVE IT!

A magical journey deep into the bowels of Fiordland.

Best Time To Visit Milford Sound

When to go? The weather in Fiordland is just as spectacular as it is unpredictable… so don’t try to guess the best season to visit. Travel prepared for Rain.

  • Peak season is November to March, (with a total of 875,000 visitors to Milford Sound in 2017)
  • April/May and September/October months are less crowded this is often the best time to visit Milford Sound.
  • Winter – from June to August, I feel winter is an exciting time to visit if you time the weather right and the road is open – it can be closed due to snow or avalance risk?

If you do decide to visit Milford Sound in winter you will need to come well prepared, on a good day expect beautiful clear, crisp days…

Is Milford Sound Worth It?

When planning your trip to Milford Sound or for that matter planning you’re entire New Zealand itinerary you will quickly discover your number one challenge is What to see – What to leave out…

New Zealand offers countless spectacular locations, but we have a few unique locations you should not miss.

You Simply Must See – Milford Sound!

Milford Sound Day Trip From Queenstown

If you don’t have the time to self-drive, you can still catch a cruise, just hop on one of the many tour buses leaving from Te Anau [118km (73 miles)] or Queenstown, [288km (173 miles)] for a day trip.

In Total, your coach journey and cruise from Queenstown will take around 12 hours, approximately two hours of this time is spent on the cruise.

As well there is an option of a Fly Cruise if you take a scenic flight from Queenstown to the Sounds Airport, then a 1/2 day cruise on Milford Sound (2-3 hours) and fly out the same day.

The Fly Cruise is a rushed way to see such a beautiful area, but at least you see the highlights of Fiordland and Milford Sound from the air as well as from the sea – if the weather is OK for flying?

Milford Sound Fjord

The West Coast of the South Island is infamous for spectacular weather bombs…

There is nothing more awe-inspiring than Milford Sound waterfalls playing after heavy rain – an amazing sight to see from inside a nice dry cruise boat.

Treacherous sea’s outside of the safety of Milford Sound drove fear into the hearts of early seafarers – probably still does the modern sailor, if they are honest.

It is a wild coast prone to extremes, but this is precisely its beauty.

Regardless of “Mother Natures Mood” in the fiord’s, Rain, Wind, Snow or Beautiful Clear Sky, it is wild, remote, unforgettable in all weather conditions.

Video – Milford Sound in 4k

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Drive or Fly just be sure you get there – a  cruise, is a stunning way to spend your day!

Situated on the rugged west coast of the South Island, Milford Sound offers dramatic scenery, dramatic weather shifts and stunning water falls all in an amazing rainforest setting! it is no accident, it is a World Heritage Area and one of the Worlds most recognized natural attractions.

Check the latest weather in Milford  Sound, both short and long range… Weather Forecast

Queenstown To Milford Sound

New Zealand by campervanIf you were to ask me “What is the best way to see Milford Sound?” The answer is easy… To experience the true ruggedness of Fiordland National Park you need to drive there.

From Queenstown to Milford Sound one way is 287km taking 3hrs 46 minutes to drive – give or take a minute or two, the return trip from Queenstown takes 10-12 hours depending on rest stops, photo op’s etc [573 km total round trip] (allow an extra 2 hours for the boat trip)

This would be quite a hard day unless you can share the driving … if you have the choice? it would be smarter to leave from and return to Te Anau.

Then you could relax more and enjoy the stunning environment…

Once you arrive take a boat tour (approx 2 hours) to experience the sheer rugged beauty of the Fjord from the sea.

Or even better than driving the Milford road – for those of you fit enough?

Spend a few days walking the mountain trails in Fiordland National Park, sleeping in DOC huts.

You can find several free to walk tracks in Milford Sound area by visiting the DOC website that are just as good as the world renown Milford Track .

Te Anau To Milford Sound

If you have the time stay overnight in Te Anau. It is more relaxing to start your trip from Te Anau rather than Queenstown.

Te Anau is a lot closer than Queenstown is to Milford Sound if you start early it will give you extra time to explore the side roads and short walks along the way.

Te Anau to Milford Sound and return (along the same route) is 234 km, and will take about 5 hours – 2½ hours to drive each way including short breaks for photos (allow around 2 hours extra time for the boat trip)

It’s a beautiful road to travel so don’t rush allow enough time to enjoy it, as they say… it’s not just the destination, it’s the journey that matters!

Video – Driving To Milford Sound

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Important Driving Tip: For those of you who are unsure, In New Zealand, we drive on the LEFT!

Please, So Should YOU!

There are no shops or fuel stops between Te Anau and Milford Sound.

A small selection of food, drink, Fuel (petrol and diesel) is available at Milford Sound and Gunn’s Camp (petrol only) which requires detour down the Hollyford Valley Road.

To be safe, ensure that your fuel tank is full before leaving Te Anau so you have enough for the return trip.

Milford Road

The road to Milford Sound is for considerate careful drivers only, it is amongst the world’s finest alpine drives but it is narrow, winding and unforgiving leaving very little room for driver error.

The awe-inspiring views of surrounding mountains or vertigo-inducing Drop to the valley floor can be distracting.

Keep your eye’s on the road and keep left!

Hommer Tunnel

I was really impressed with Hommer Tunnel.

We, as people, are soft compared the Guys who hand dug Homer Tunnel.

Started in 1935, dug entirely with hand tools – pick and shovel, muscle and sweat.

The 1.2 kilometer Homer tunnel is the only road tunnel I’ve been in that slopes so steeply downhill – I suppose it was meant to do that?

The tunnel suffered huge delays due to remote rugged terrain, severe climate, constant avalanches…

These hardships dragged out it’s completion to 1954 – a little over budget, I suspect!

Accommodation

Milford  Accommodation

Queenstown Accommodation Deals

Te Anau Accommodation Deals

When driving the Milford Road whether by car or Campervan don’t rush, allow extra time for a nice relaxed drive in.

There numerous short walks and rest areas as well as DOC camping areas along the way.

Take your time stop to take photos or camp the night.

There is nothing like a campfire and a tent to experience the true remote feel of Fiordland.

Before you attempt the drive please read these driving tips from the Dept of Conservation Allow for winter driving conditions between May – September.

From Queenstown, you travel past Lake Wakatipu, then on through rolling farmland to Te Anau township sited appropriately on the shores of  Lake Te Anau.

Once you enter Fiordland National Park, the scenery changes dramatically.

Snow covered mountain ranges,  Impenetrable rainforest and Cascading Waterfalls either side of the narrow winding road.

Kayaking, Milford Sound Tours

New Zealand Hiking TipsThough it is possible to take scenic flights over Milford Sound which in fine weather are enthralling, you don’t get the true feel of Grandeur that is Fiordland from the air.

You need to be at Sea Level to feel the power of Milford Sound, this can be achieved in several ways…

Milford Sound Kayaking … of the many companies offering Kayak trips on Milford Sound there are 2 that I found to have informative useful websites and easy to follow price lists.

Spend a bit of time reading the tour options you should have no problem matching a kayak trip to your ability.

Prices from both Kayaking companies range between $90.00 to $190.00. check out their websites to get a better idea of what they both offer.

Rosco’s  Kayaks

“We’re proud to be New Zealand’s longest established owner operated sea kayaking company. Operating 365 days a year, we offer heaps of different guided sea kayaking adventures, each showcasing Milford Sound in its own unique kiwi way.

Plus we’re the only sea kayaking business permitted to explore the outer fiord including the mighty Stirling Falls!”

My advice would be to book with a smaller experienced company like Rosco’s.

They specialise in Kayaking Milford Sound and have a great selection of tours and you can be sure their guides know their job and the Milford coastline inside out.

But if you are fit enough and want to Kayak in areas other than Milford Sound you should also have a careful look at Real Journeys website.

Real Journey’s

Real Journeys is a large tour company that offers several tour options other than Kayaking.

But if Kayaking is your thing they have several interesting Kayaking Tours listed on their website.

Day trips or overnight and multiday in 6 destinations… this looks great until you click through their links and see only 3 options are actually available?

What they actually offer is  – Doubtful Sound, Dusky Sound and of course Milford Sound.

Still, a great selection, if you are an experienced Sea Kayaker there are several incredible “once in a lifetime” multiday kayaking trips on the menu.

If bobbing around in a kayak or taking a comfy day cruise is just not you?

Then maybe you need to go below sea level?

Diving, Milford Sound

Video – Dive Milford Sound

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Have a look at diving the Sounds this is another option for experiencing the very best Milford Sound has to offer – if you are suitably deep water qualified? PADI or equivalent.

A tannin-stained freshwater layer that sits on top of the salt water blocks out some light, which creates a unique habitat for deep-water species to live in shallow depths.

Black coral trees normally inhabit water deeper than 100 meters, while in Milford Sound they grow as shallow as 10 meters. Fiordland is home to the highest concentration of black coral in the world.

If you aren’t qualified to take the dive trip but still want to see the Black Coral then visit the Discovery Centre Underwater Observatory.

Bay Of Islands DivingA visit to the Milford Deep Underwater Observatory allows visitors to descend 10.4 metres below the Sound’s surface to witness the vibrant underwater life first hand.

The fully air-conditioned viewing room provides a unique opportunity to view the real-life environment below the surface of the fiord – so different from the artificial environment of an aquarium.

Rare black and red corals can be seen as well as anemones, sponges, sea stars, horse mussels and a multitude of fish.  source – MitrePeak.com.

Milford Sound Cruise Comparison

There are two companies I would recommend you compare first, normally they have the best cruise deals.

They are both well-established professional operators and should be on your short list of “Best Options”

One tip, I would like to give is – research online and then – Book Ahead…

It is a long way to go on the off chance of finding a spare seat!

MitrePeak.com

MitrePeak.com offers various scenic cruise deals including trips to the Underwater Observatory.

Milford Sound Cruise prices range from $70.00 to $82.00 for Adults and $17.00 for kids plus if you choose to visit the Observatory it is an extra $36.00 for Adults and $18.00 for kids.

Visit their website for a detailed tour comparison and full price list – including their most popular cruise deals – Fly+Cruise+Fly from Te- Anau, Queenstown or Wanaka as well as Coach+Cruise+Coach tours from Te-Anau or Queenstown.

To compare all their Milford Sound Activities.

Milford Cruise and Under Water Observatory – Price List

RealJourneys.co.nz

RealJourneys.co.nz has a similar cruise on Milford Sound $85.00 for Adults as well they offer Over Night Cruises and Fly Over Tours as well as the Kayak trips we mentioned previously.

To compare Real Journeys full range of Milford Sound Cruise Prices – click the link below.

Milford Cruises and much more – Price List

You will find a wide variety of boat operators offering day cruises on Milford Sound.

A day trip to Milford Sound is approximately a 12 hour journey, in most cases the cruise is nearly 2 hours.

Shop around before you buy – MitrePeak.com and RealJourneys.co.nz are two of the best tour operators in Milford Sound.

Spend a little time on their websites comparing current deals before booking the tour that fits your requirements…

Drive Carefuly

You need to be aware there is an influx of bus tours along the Milford Road coinciding with the boat tour timetables.

Especially during the busy season (December to February) the boats fill up very quickly, it is important to book your boat trip in advance.

Also be aware, this influx of tourists can make the road to Milford quite busy.

The majority of coaches depart from Te Anau between 9 am and 10 am, and arrive at Mirror Lakes around 10.30am, Knobs Flat at 11 am.

The Chasm at 12.30pm and Milford Sound for the 1pm cruise.

By avoiding this pulse of traffic. your Milford Road experience will be more relaxed, with less disturbance from the heavy coach traffic and high numbers of visitors.

If you have limited time, a non-stop direct drive from Te Anau to Milford will take at least 2 hours.

To avoid traffic congestion during summer (October to April), either leave Te Anau early in the morning (before 8 am) or later in the morning (11 am onwards).

source : DOC – Driving Tips

Along with the day cruises there a few options of an overnight cruise on Milford Sound and the more remote Dusky Sound.

These are very popular trips normally they require booking several weeks in advance.

Highlights

On all Milford Sound cruises you will be able to enjoy spectacular views of  Mitre Peak, Stirling Falls, and Bowen Falls but for some, the highlights will be photographing the wildlife such as New Zealand fur seals, dolphins, and penguins up close.

Also, don’t forget to visit Milford Deep Underwater Observatory where you will be able to view diverse underwater life and rare black coral.

But for many just being there is enough… it is the rugged remoteness, vertical cliff faces, waterfalls, lofty mountains, and deep dark rainforest…

The natural scenery is the Star Attraction.

 

I highly recommend you take the time to visit Fiordland National Park when you travel the South Island – specifically to visit the more accessible Milford Sound.

Quick Tips

What to bring with you – to make your visit to Milford Sound and West Coast more enjoyable?

There are two essential items.
1) Rain jacket – Fiordland National Park enjoys 7 meters of rain per year – you can’t have a rainforest without it!

2) Insect repellent – The West Coast also enjoys an unrivaled reputation for huge numbers of the biggest, bad-ass, Sandfly’s in New Zealand – perhaps the world?

Yes, Sandfly’s do bite.

Fiordland truly is an unforgettable place… 🙂

Like many unique scenic areas in the world that are worth visiting – I’m sure you will find…

” The Journey To Milford Sound is as equally Spectacular as the Destination.”

Author: Ian

Based in Rotorua with an interest in Photography, Deer Hunting, Mountain Biking, Hiking, Kayaking and Travel... Our aim is to provide you with travel tips and all the local knowledge you need to discover amazing natural locations throughout New Zealand...

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