Milford Sound’s breathtaking vistas can be seen by boat, plane, or on foot. However you choose, Milford Sound is a must-see in New Zealand!
Flying into Queenstown was like flying over another world. The massive mountains with their stark ridges were impressive from the air – and then we got to drive through them. The imposing mountains just seemed to get taller the closer we got to Milford Sound. Add in the sinuous valley roads, lake and rivers views, and a sheep herd crossing the road, and the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound was one of our favorites of all New Zealand!
How to get to Milford Sound, New Zealand
When you look at the points on a map, you would think that since Queenstown and Milford Sound are so close it wouldn’t be a long drive. Because of the massive mountains, though, the only route takes you way south before you turn north to the Fiordland National Park area.
We had rearranged our itinerary to make time for the dinner banquet at Hobbiton, so we took an early morning flight from Auckland to Queenstown and then drove 3.5 hours to make our 1630 cruise departure.
Several tour buses give rides from Te Anau or Queenstown, or you can even fly – but personally, we really enjoyed driving ourselves. It allowed us to stop whenever we wanted.
Between our drive there and back we saw some stunning vistas. As you get closer to Milford Sound, there are several pull-outs with incredible things to see: massive cliffs, crashing waterfalls, the Mirror Lakes and more.
Along the Route
The Chasm was a great little hike for our family. Very simple for the kids, not too long, and it was gorgeous! Definitely worth doing if you aren’t rushing anywhere because it only takes about 20 minutes.
Falls Creek waterfall was another place that as we were passing and thought, “We have to go back!” It may easily be overlooked since the waterfall is seen as you drive over a one-way bridge. There are a few of these bridges and we tended to make sure we were driving safely rather than looking around at the scenery, so we were glad we pulled over to enjoy it. It was a great place for the kids to throw rocks in the river, too.
There were a lot of camper vans on the road to and from Milford Sound. We had seriously considered going that route but decided it wasn’t best for us. Check out this post to see some of the pros and cons of seeing New Zealand by camper van.
What are the Best Ways to See Milford Sound?
There are several options for seeing Milford Sound. Unless you are planning on hiking through the wild peaks (which we were told is very hard to do) you will need to book a tour through one of the several companies that operate in the Sound.
The first thing you want to decide is: Will it be a day trip or an overnight stay? An overnight trip would be taking a cruise ship out for the night. Day trips offer alternative viewing options.
The Milford Sound airport is the busiest airport in New Zealand. You can take a flight from Milford Sound, or fly straight from Queenstown. Seeing it by air gives you a unique vantage point that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to enjoy.
There are several small guided tours you can choose from. Between kayaking, hiking the Milford Track and a quick daytime cruise, this is a great option giving you the best of all worlds.
There are many companies offering cruises throughout the day. Basically you can do a nature or a scenic excursion. The guides are knowledgeable about the area and work hard to give you the best experience possible. You can pair the cruise with flying or kayaking as well. We booked our tour through Real Journeys and were very satisfied with the experience!.
Milford Sound Overnight Cruise
Our friends and travel partners had done tons of research and felt like the best option was the Milford Sound Overnight Cruise. I’m not sure if we would have decided that on our own, but I’m so glad they did.
When we boarded the boat we dropped our belongings off in our room and headed up to the deck. It’s important to remember that you’re not there to hang out in your room, as fun as that may have been for the kids!
The height of the rock cliffs were incredible. They were so sheer that waterfalls thundered down the cliffs and fell straight into the water! You really have to appreciate it in person. The boat was able to come within feet of the falling water so of course, we were at the bow making sure we got wet!
The boat stops part-way through the Sound for the night as waters begin getting rougher later in the day. We took our pick of activity when they anchored for the night: small boat tour, kayaking, or jumping off the boat and swimming.
We chose the boat tour, which was a relaxing cruise around with a tour guide there to answer questions. It was perfect for the kids. We ended up improvising when Royce wanted to test the water temperature – none of us brought our swimming suits.
The next morning, nice and early before the sun came up, the boat set sail again. As we headed for open water, the waves became harsher. We could tell once we reached the open ocean because the boat was really rocking back and forth. One of my favorite views was when we turned around to head back in through the Sound. It’s no wonder so many explorers just sailed past, not realizing it would lead them into one of the future’s most popular tourist destinations for the country!
Dinner Aboard the Milford Mariner
What was most impressive to me about dinner was the crew. There were between 12 and 15, including the captain, that ran the ship. They all worked really well together as a team making sure the tour ran smoothly. Everything from sailing the ship, giving us knowledgeable facts, routine maintenance, chefs, servers, entertainment guides – they did it all!
The dinner buffet was good, with plenty of nice options. My friend is vegan so they made a special curry for her, which she so graciously shared with me and I absolutely loved it! The big knock out was dessert. They had pavlova, which was the second best we had in New Zealand, after the Hobbiton banquet. The chef’s favorite were the brownies, but the ice cream and other pastries were also delicious. They had a delicious spread of cheeses, too. Overall this made the Milford Sound overnight cruise a huge win.
Our Favorites from Milford Sound
None of us had ever slept on a ship before. It was fun being gently rocked to sleep and hanging out in our bunk beds! We loved the Milford Sound overnight cruise.
Going up to the waterfalls was thrilling! It was cold, wet, and a blast (literally, the wind blew straight up!) – and so much fun for all of us!
The views were unreal. This planet is such a beautiful place and Milford Sound is one of the most awe-inspiring areas we have seen.
I wondered how anything else in New Zealand was going to top this experience. Little did we know – we were spending the next 2 days in Queenstown, and our minds were about to be blown!