Your Guide to Milford Sound

Milford Sound

blog authorBy Johanna Hansen shield verification Verified Expert

    Kia Ora, travellers! If the word paradise had a synonym, it would be Milford Sound. This gem, tucked away in the south-western corner of New Zealand's South Island, is the epitome of natural splendour. Blessed with enchanting waterfalls, dramatic cliff faces, and diverse wildlife, Milford Sound is undoubtedly a crown jewel in New Zealand's tourism landscape.

    Where is Milford Sound?

    Understanding the Geographical Location

    Located within the Fiordland National Park, in the southwest of the South Island, Milford Sound lies within the UNESCO World Heritage Site Te Wahipounamu. This pristine fjord, carved by ancient glaciers, is nestled amidst the verdant beauty of towering peaks, lush rainforests, and the sparkling Tasman Sea.

    How to Get There

    There are several options for your journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound. A road trip, covering a distance of approximately 287 km, offers stunning vistas and the chance to take in the awe-inspiring landscapes at your own pace. Alternatively, flights and coach tours are available for those looking for a more relaxed journey.


    The Journey to Milford Sound

    Road Trip: Queenstown to Milford Sound

    There's nothing quite like a road trip through the majestic landscapes of New Zealand, and the route from Queenstown to Milford Sound is no exception. Although it's a good four hours' drive without stops, you'll find it hard to resist the allure of the picturesque towns, cascading waterfalls, and dramatic vistas along the way. We recommend hiring a Campervan in Queenstown for more flexibility.

    Remember to pack your camera because photo opportunities abound, particularly at the iconic Mirror Lakes and the sweeping Eglinton Valley. Also, ensure your vehicle is well-prepared, as services are sparse along the route.

    Te Anau is the last place to refuel before you continue on the Milford Road (SH94) towards the Homer Tunnel, a marvel of engineering that serves as your gateway to the fjord. Don't forget to check the road status beforehand, especially during winter.

    Flight Options: The Sky's the Limit

    For a different perspective, take to the skies. A flight from Queenstown provides a bird's-eye view of the Southern Alps' dramatic peaks, the azure-blue Lake Wakatipu, and the winding Shotover River. Seeing Milford Sound from above adds an entirely new dimension to its beauty and offers an unparalleled experience.

    Local charter companies offer flight options, and some even include a Milford Sound cruise in their packages. Our friends at Air Milford have a great selection of tours available.

    Milford Sound Cruise: Sailing through a Spectacle

    One of the top things to do in Milford Sound is to embark on a cruise. As you sail through the fjord, you'll marvel at the sheer cliff faces, tumbling waterfalls, and perhaps even spot some of the area's diverse wildlife, like playful dolphins or the elusive Fiordland Crested Penguin.

    Milford Sound cruise

    Meeting the Local Marine Life

    One of the true joys of a Milford Sound cruise is the chance to encounter the vibrant marine life that calls these waters home. Bottle-nosed dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, and the rare Fiordland crested penguins are frequently spotted frolicking in the sound's clear waters. Some cruises even feature underwater observatories, allowing you a unique glimpse into the life beneath the waves.

    The Charming Waterfalls: A Celestial Downpour

    Your cruise will undoubtedly take you close to the permanent waterfalls cascading down the fjord's cliffs, including Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls. After a heavy rain, hundreds of temporary waterfalls create a magical spectacle - a sight that truly encapsulates the wild beauty of Milford Sound.

    Things to Do in Milford Sound

    Milford Sound isn't just about cruising – there are plenty of other exciting activities available. If you're wondering what to do in Milford Sound beyond the boat tours, we've got you covered.

    Adventure Activities: From Kayaking to Skydiving

    For the adrenaline junkies, why not paddle the inky waters on a guided kayak tour, soar above the fjord on a scenic flight, or experience the thrill of skydiving over this stunning landscape? Companies like Go Orange offer great options for kayak tours and more.

    Milford Sound kayaking

    Leisure Pursuits: Sightseeing and Photography

    For the more laid-back traveller, fear not. Sightseeing and photography opportunities are plentiful in Milford Sound. The iconic Mitre Peak commands attention, rising dramatically from the dark waters, while the underwater observatory offers a different perspective on the fjord's marine life.

    Hiking Opportunities in Milford Sound

    New Zealand is a hiker’s paradise, and Milford Sound is no exception. There are several trails around the area that let you explore the scenery at a slower, yet equally rewarding pace.

    The Milford Track: A Walk to Remember

    Often referred to as the 'finest walk in the world', the Milford Track guided walk is a must for any hiking enthusiast. This four-day, 53.5km trek winds its way from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound, taking you through ancient rainforests, across suspension bridges, next to crystal-clear rivers, and by the impressive Sutherland Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in New Zealand.

    For a seamless experience, several companies like Ultimate Hikes offer guided walks, ensuring you soak in the majesty of the trail with professional support and comfort.

    Shorter Hikes: Day-trip Wonders

    If you're looking for a shorter walk, the Milford Sound Lookout Track and the Bowen Falls Track are fantastic options. These shorter hikes offer splendid views of the sound and are perfect for a day trip.

    Milford Sound waterfall

    Overnight in Milford Sound: Sleeping Under the Stars

    If you truly want to immerse yourself in the beauty of this place, consider an overnight cruise in Milford Sound. These cruises let you witness the fjord's changing moods as dusk falls and the dawn breaks, transforming the landscape with a kaleidoscope of colours.

    Camping and Lodge Options

    If you prefer to stay on dry land, the Milford Sound Lodge offers the only accommodation in the area, with a range of options from luxury chalets to budget-friendly camping sites. Staying overnight gives you a chance to experience the tranquillity of the sound without the day-trippers.

    More camping options, along with necessary facilities, are available in the nearby town of Te Anau, serving as a great base for those wanting to take day trips to Milford Sound. Visit our guide to camping in New Zealand for a comprehensive list.

    Fiordland National Park Huts

    For a more rustic experience, the Department of Conservation maintains several huts on the Milford Track. These are typically booked by those completing the full trek, and reservations are essential. You can check availability and make bookings on the DoC's website.

    Camping at Milford Sound with a campervan

    Flora and Fauna: The Living Tapestry of Milford Sound

    Milford Sound's vibrant ecosystems are not just limited to the waters of the fjord. Its ancient rainforests are home to an array of unique flora and fauna, making it a must-visit for any nature enthusiast.

    Unique Wildlife Encounters

    On land, you might encounter the cheeky Kea, New Zealand's native alpine parrot, or the Kiwi bird, the country's iconic flightless bird. The forests are also home to a variety of other bird species like the Tui and Bellbird, their melodious calls creating a natural symphony in the woods.

    The Green Canopy: Indigenous Plants

    The rainforests around Milford Sound feature a dense canopy of native ferns, mosses, and trees, including Rimu and Totara. These forests are an important part of New Zealand's natural heritage and provide a lush, green backdrop to your explorations.

    When to Visit Milford Sound

    Milford Sound is a destination that amazes in all seasons, each bringing its unique charm to the landscape. Whether you're admiring the snow-capped peaks in winter or the sun-drenched waterways in summer, the spectacle is always breathtaking.

    Summer: Warmth and Wildlife

    From December to February, the warmer weather brings plentiful sunshine, making it an excellent time for hiking, kayaking, and wildlife spotting. The longer days mean more time to enjoy the fjord's attractions, but also more visitors.

    Autumn: A Symphony of Colour

    From March to May, autumn transforms Fiordland National Park into a canvas of reds, oranges, and golds, providing beautiful contrasts against the evergreen forests and blue waters.

    Winter: A Snowy Paradise

    June to August sees winter descending on Milford Sound, covering the peaks in snow and creating a stunning winter wonderland. It's a quieter time to visit, and while the temperatures are lower, the snow-capped landscape is worth braving the cold.

    Milford Sound winter

    Spring: A Time for Renewal

    Spring, from September to November, is a time of rebirth in Milford Sound. New leaves adorn the trees, wildflowers bloom, and waterfalls multiply with the melting snow and frequent rain. This season holds a particular charm for nature enthusiasts.

    Prepare to Discover the Magic of Milford Sound

    With its captivating landscapes and diverse array of activities, Milford Sound offers an adventure for every type of traveller. From leisurely cruises and tranquil overnight stays to exhilarating hikes and kayak trips, your experience here will undoubtedly be unforgettable.

    Fiord waterfall

    So, pack your bags, set your spirit free, and embark on the journey of a lifetime. Milford Sound is ready to leave you spellbound with its enchanting beauty. If you are interested in hiring a Campervan in New Zealand, we got you covered!

    Kia Ora and happy travelling!

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