A Milford Sound trip had been on our travel wish list for a long time. But the great distance to get there, involving a long drive or an expensive flight, was the main reason we never went there. Further, we’d always expected we would go on one of the Great Walks, and we were waiting until we had more time and felt fit enough.
Enter 2020. There were many places on our travel wish list for 2020. A Milford Sound trip was not one of them. But this year, due to Covid-19, we had to cancel plans and could only travel within New Zealand. As we wanted to see something new and inspiring, Milford Sound sounded like an exciting idea. We imagined the scenic destination would feel like going to the end of the world. We imagined remote untouched wilderness and a Jurassic ambiance.
Having traveled extensively in New Zealand for over 20 years, we found many destinations to call our favorites. We have lived on the West Coast of New Zealand (one of our favorites) for the last few years. Jurassic is its middle name. We live on a mountaintop retreat in the rainforest overlooking kilometers of coastline. So, we wondered whether we had become so spoiled that Milford Sound would not astonish us the way it does with millions of tourists from all over the world.
We pondered these things from a lakefront room in Queenstown as we researched getting there, where to stay, and the Queenstown to Milford Sound trip and cruise options.
This post is to help you navigate your way to Milford Sound, to recommend what to see on the way, and to help you build your Milford Sound itinerary. Most importantly, it is about what we thought of it and whether it is worth a visit!
Milford Sound Trip
Table of Contents
Visiting Milford Sound & Fiordland National Park
Milford Sound is part of the untouched and rugged UNESCO World Heritage-listed Fiordland National Park. New Zealand’s largest national park is known for its remoteness and ancient wilderness.
There are cruises on Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. Doubtful Sound has no direct road access and involves a boat trip and a coach ride, so we chose to go to Milford Sound. We liked the idea of self-driving all the way there and exploring the Fiordland National Park on the way.
There is only one road into Milford Sound, and you return on the same road. The Milford Sound trip from Queenstown passes serene lakes, dense bushes, snow-capped mountain peaks, and lush valleys.
When to Visit Milford Sound
Milford Sound has the highest rainfall in all of New Zealand at over 6000mm of rain per year. It is why the landscape is so lush and the waterfalls so impressive.
January is the rainiest month, and the waterfalls are dramatic. Additionally, the sunniest and warmest months are January and February. However, if you don’t like crowds, stay away during the school holidays.
Alternatively, Milford Sound in winter is a snowy wonderland adventure. Though, the temperature can get as low as 1-2 degrees Celsius. Also, flights may get canceled, and road closures can occur due to the weather. Further, snow chains are essential if you travel in the winter to Milford Sound.
Also, if you are combining your visit with hiking, note that the hiking season starts in late October through to late April.
How To Get To Milford Sound
The drive to Milford Sound is approximately 4 hours from Queenstown. The long drive on the Milford Sound trip, through narrow and windy roads through the wilderness, is challenging for drivers not experienced in this terrain. For this reason, many people choose to take a tour.
Day tours depart from Queenstown, or Te Anau, early in the morning and travel by coach. They stop at a few viewpoints on the way, drop you off at the cruise terminal for a 2-hour cruise on Milford Sound, and then take you back to Queenstown. This option is easy, and you don’t need to worry about driving.
Alternatively, for those who have more money and less time, there are scenic flights to Milford Sound. The spectacular flight, either by plane or helicopter, over the majestic Southern Alps and Fiordland National Park is a New Zealand highlight for many. Combined with a cruise, it is a mind-blowing experience.
If you wish to book a day tour by coach or a scenic flight for your Milford Sound trip and take the worry out of driving, there are many options. For tours in New Zealand, we use GetYourGuide. They offer the largest selection of tours on one website and comprehensive information on each tour.
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How you get to Milford Sound depends on what you prefer. Before our trip, we read many online reviews, and people love the day tour and the scenic flight. We would love to do the flight one day. It would be a different experience and a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Ultimately, we love road trips and having control of stopping where we want and seeing what is on the way. Also, we like having the choice to stay longer if we wish to, so we chose the self-drive option for our Milford Sound trip from Queenstown.
The rest of this post is about what to see on the way to Milford Sound and the Milford Sound cruise. Additionally, we cover where to stay.
The Queenstown to Te Anau drive of the Milford Sound Trip
The first part of the journey from Queenstown is very scenic, with the road wrapping around the lake for the first 15 minutes of the drive. There are a couple of lookouts with fantastic photo possibilities of the magical lake views. The rolling hills and farmland are a pleasant 2-hour drive to Te Anau.
Te Anau is the administrative center for Milford Sound. There are camping supply stores and charming cafes.
Make sure to get petrol, food, and drinks in Te Anau. Milford Sound has no petrol stations, no supermarkets, and there is just one restaurant and one cafe serving light meals at the cruise terminal.
If you have time, stay in Te Anau and visit the Te Anau Glowworm Caves, as well as the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary.
What to See On The Way to Milford Sound
The Milford Sound trip from Te Anau begins by losing mobile phone coverage within a few kilometers of Te Anau. Additionally, there is no WiFi at Milford Sound, though you can purchase it from Milford Sound Lodge or Milford Sound terminal.
The magic begins as soon as you lose phone coverage. The drive along Milford Road takes approximately 2 hours. This drive was the highlight of our Milford Sound trip. We spent a further 3 hours on stops to view waterfalls and take photos. Everywhere you look, there are photo opportunities and adventures in the wilderness. Whether you want to see waterfalls, lakes or lush valleys, and epic mountain vistas or to go on hikes, the natural wonders abound. Forge your own path and stop where you fancy.
For more information on recommended stops on the Te Anau to Milford Sound drive, see Te Anau to Milford Sound Road Trip, where we list all the Te Anau highlights and attractions on the road to Milford Sound.
Where to Stay in Milford Sound
There is only one place to stay in Milford Sound – Milford Sound Lodge. You can stay in a chalet or at the campground, Rainforest Campervan Park.
Freedom camping is not allowed in Milford Sound. However, there are several DOC campsites along the road from Queenstown to Milford Sound. They are inexpensive, but the facilities are minimal.
As we had not planned ahead, all accommodation was booked. So we stayed in a Milford Sound campsite at Rainforest Campervan Park in our van equipped for sleeping. We declared the Milford Sound campground one of the best campgrounds in New Zealand. The Milford Sound camping was nestled in the rainforest, and the sunset colors in the camp were surreal. Also, to our delight, there were many birds, and we had close encounters with keas.
Many people who drive to Milford Sound choose to say in Te Anau. There are many options, from cabins, backpackers, motels, and 4-star accommodations. Some offer stunning lake views. Also, there are many cafes and restaurants in Te Anau.
However, the best option, if you can afford it and you book ahead, is to stay in a chalet at Milford Sound Lodge. The chalets are gorgeous and offer a luxury experience with epic nature views!
Or check out other accommodation options at booking.com and start planning your Milford Sound trip. We use them to book all our accommodation because of the diversity offered.
What to do in Milford Sound
The Milford Sound drive is the biggest highlight on the way there. However, the Milford Sound Cruise is the do-not-miss event once you get there!
Besides that, things to do in Milford Sound include kayaking, fishing, forest bathing, star gazing, glowworm spotting, bird watching, and short or long walks.
The Milford Sound Lookout Track is one of the short walks we’d recommend to everyone. The 20-minute walk begins from the cafe. It is an easy uphill walk with a few steps to the lookout offering extraordinary views of Milford Sounds.
However, the most popular short walk is the Milford Foreshore Walk. The 20-minute boardwalk begins at the car park and meanders through the beech forest. The views of the foreshore, the sandy bay, the boats, and Mitre Peak in the background are likely the ones you saw on Instagram that made you add a Milford Sound trip to your bucket list.
Milford Sound Cruise
A Milford Sound cruise is on the bucket list of many New Zealanders and international visitors alike. It is why they do the Milford Sound trip. The glacier-carved fiord is 15 kilometers in length and enclosed by steep cliffs.
We spent quite a bit of time researching and reading Milford Sound cruise reviews. We found that unless you wish to add an overnight cruise, a kayaking tour, a guided hike, or an underwater observatory visit, all the boats take the same route and the same amount of time. The Milford Sound best cruise is, therefore, the boat that most attracts you, the availability, and any available deals. Some do include lunch.
GetYourGuide has plenty of options for Milford Sound trips and Milford Sound activities, all under one website, and also offers Milford Sound cruise reviews from customers. Make sure to research for your Milford Sound trip ASAP, and book before they sell out!
The cruise starts with one of the highlights of the cruise, Mitre Peak. As our trip was in spring, there was still snow on the peaks, which made for an extra element of scenic.
There were so many waterfalls in Milford Sound. Some of our highlights were the permanent waterfalls Stirling Falls & Lady Bowen Falls. But Fairy Falls & Bridal Veil Falls, which are the same height as Niagara Falls, were just as imposing. And we felt lucky it had recently rained, yet it was sunny on the day of our trip.
As we glided through the calm water of Milford Sound, we were in awe of the towering mountains, sheer cliffs, and rocky formations formed over 600 million years ago.
As we said earlier, we wondered if anything would impress us as we had been to so many wondrous places.
But if we weren’t impressed by the otherworldly landscape, the wildlife stole our hearts. To see the bottlenose dolphins playing in their natural habitat was a delightful occasion. We saw fur seals lazing on rocks, and we glimpsed the rare yellow crested penguins.
What We Thought of Milford Sound and Our Milford Sound Trip
So, is Milford Sound worth it? And what about our pre-trip concerns about Milford Sound being dull in comparison to what we have on the West Coast of New Zealand?
It’s an interesting question. The West Coast bush is a temperate rainforest with subtropical vegetation, as opposed to alpine. Dense forests and spectacular coastlines with wild seas are what give it a Jurassic feel.
But the fact that we live in this paradise did not diminish our Milford Sound trip as we thought it would! The experience we had of finding it exciting, spectacular, and epic, considering we live somewhere that is just that, suggests a lot. Yes! Milford Sound is worth it!
Additionally, during our travels around the world, including the fjords of Norway, we have not found anything comparable either in magnitude or epic features to Milford Sound. And, out of all the waterfalls in New Zealand, Milford Sound had some of the most majestic ones we have seen!
We consider the drive to Milford Sound a dazzling road trip and the cruise one of the best in the world. Whether you live in the city, a small town with flat farmland, the fjords of Norway, or the West Coast of New Zealand, you are going to be amazed in wonder at the extraordinary Milford Sound.
So, in conclusion, the Milford Sound trip and cruise are a once-in-a-lifetime journey. If you have come to New Zealand for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, make sure you do not miss it! If you live in New Zealand, you must visit this natural wonderland at least once in your life! A Milford Sound road trip is one of the highlights of the many natural wonders that New Zealand has to offer!
Thanks for reading A Long-Awaited Milford Sound Trip. Read Next, Christchurch to The West Coast New Zealand A Road Trip through the Southern Alps (Via Arthurs Pass).