Cruise Milford Sound – Guide to the Natural World Wonder & Surroundings
Dominated by towering peaks, lush forests and reflective water, the Fiordland National Park is sublime. The scale of this area is truly impressive with tall mountains and fjords that will take your breath away. One of the most impressive sites within the Fiordland NP is Milford Sound- a 16 km long fjord with countless powerful waterfalls, sky-gazing mountains and playful furry seals and dolphins. Although scenic flights are available, the grandeur of Milford Sound is best appreciated by boat. In this Milford Sound guide, you will find all the informations necessary to visit this incredible natural wonder.
- Milford Sound
- Boats Cruise
- Which Company to Choose?
- The Cruise Experience
- What Else to do in Fiordland NP?
- General Infos
Milford Sound Guide
Milford Sound is the most popular spot in Fiordland National Park on the bottom part of the South Island in New Zealand. The fjord stretches for 16km out to the Tasman Sea and is home to two permanent waterfalls – the Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls.
Milford Sound is in fact a fjord, not a sound (flooded river valleys) as its directly connected to the sea. The valley was carved by the tremendous pressure and power of glaciers during Ice Ages, then later flooded by the sea as the ice melted and sea levels rise. This geological past has gifted the area with breathtaking landscape.
The scenic boat cruises of spectacular Milford Sound – considered one of the most beautiful places in the world, are the best way to explore it. During a two-hour trip through the fjord and out into the Tasman Sea you will have the opportunity to see the scenic highlights along the way, such as the Lady Bowen Falls (dropping 160 metres seaward), Sinbad Gully (a classic example of a hanging valley), snow-capped Mount Pembroke, and the awe-inspiring Mitre Peak itself, towering 1692 metres above sea level.
There are many companies offering nearly the same experience. Which one should you choose?
Mitre Peak Cruises
We read tons of reviews before booking our cruise. We chose Mitre Peak Cruises and can highly recommend them in this Milford Sound guide for a few reasons. It’s a small company with only 2 vessels. The boats are relatively smaller (approx. 20 metres in length) in comparison to other companies (like Jucy or Real Journeys). This allows Mitre Peak Cruises to navigate closer to the shoreline, up close to the incredible surroundings. The boats fit up to 60 passengers, making the experience more relaxing and calm. Jucy cruise for example can fit up to 230 people on their boats 😳On top of all that, Mitre Peak Cruises have fantastic reviews.
The Milford Sound Cruise
The day of the cruise we woke up really early as we were staying at the DOC camp an hour away. The drive so early in the morning was really spectacular and calm.
↬ Note : Stay overnight on a camp close by and book the morning cruise. After 10AM coach buses from Queenstown arrive and the road and the area become extremely busy.
Take your time driving. The scenery is breathtaking and you will like to stop every few hundred meters to take pictures.
↬BEST TIP :
There are two parkings in Milford Sound. One is just next to the port, but costs 20 NZD per hour (!!!). The second one is located here and it’s free. Park your van here and take the free shuttle departing every few minutes from the parking lot to the port.
We picked our tickets at the desk in the Milford Sound Wharf and boarded the boat for the 8.30 AM cruise. The next two hours passed like minutes during which we had to pick our mouth from the floor multiple times 🤣The scenery of 16 km long fjord is just awe-inspiring. We passed mighty waterfalls and mountains to finally exit into the open waters of Tasman Sea. Unfortunately, this time the dolphins didn’t show themselves, but there is high chances you will see them swimming along the boat during your cruise.
Furthermore, on the way back we even passed under one of the falls! We got a very cold and refreshing shower and even collected some very fresh & pure water into out bottle- as the hosts said it’s very clean and perfect for drinking. We have to admit it tasted a bit ‘green’, but hey- how many people can say that they drank water from a waterfall formed during an Ice Age.
The last stop on the cruise was the Seal Rock where we could see playful seals. An interesting fact is that there is little variety of food for the seals in this area. Their main source of food is the algae like kelp they can find everywhere but it is very hard for them to digest. So they adapted and found a way to help the process by eating stones! We saw the seals sliding into the water and making 360 degrees turns over and over. This cute dance grinds the algae in their stomach and helps them to digest.
What Else to do in Fiordland National Park ?
There are over 500 km of walking trails within the National Park. If you have time to stay here for a few days, we highly suggest to spend them hiking and exploring this awe-inspiring area. However, if like us you only have a day or two, taking a cruise is the ultimate way to visit.
The Chasm is a beautiful site located just 15 min drive from Milford Sound. It is a series of gushing waterfalls. What make them so interesting are the beautiful smooth basins and swirling patterns created over the centuries by small rocks and gravel carried downstream that swirl around in small nooks and crannies.
There is a loupe path that you can follow straight from the parking lot. Visiting the Chasm won’t take longer than 30 min.
Lake Marian is an alpine lake in a hanging valley formed by glacial action in one of the most beautiful settings in Fiordland NP. This is a spot that we missed during our travels and deeply regret it.
The 3h return track leads across the swingbridge and continue to the spectacular series of waterfalls set in a rainforest.
↬ TIP : If like us you decide not to hike all the way to Lake Marian, we highly suggest you to walk for 10 min though the stunning rainforest.
Past the waterfalls, the track becomes steep and sometimes muddy. Therefore you should be in good fitness conditions to complete this hike.
Milford Sound is located in the bottom south-east corner of the South Island, about 4h drive from Queenstown. The closest city is Te Anau, located 172 km away. There is only one road leading to and from the Milford Sound.
↬ Note : Until 1953 the only way to reach Milford Sound was by the sea.
Allow plenty of time for the drive as the surroundings along the way are splendid. Especially the last part of the road, after Te Anau is very impressive.
🚨Make sure to leave Te Anau with a full tank. There are no gas stations after. Pack enough supplies and make phone calls in Te Anau. There are no shops, nor cell reception anywhere in the area of Milford Sound. 🚨
Road to Milford Sound – Important
We mentioned above that there is only one road leading to and from Milford Sound. That road passes through a one way tunnel built through a gigantic mountain. During heavy rain, this part of the road become impassable and is closed. Few times a year for several days Milford Sound is cut out from the rest of the world and people can’t leave.
It’s not the worst place to be stuck in, with all this incredible natural beauty, but bare this in mind while planning your holidays. It is said that Milford Sound is the most impressive when it’s raining or right after heavy rains. If you choose a wet day for your visit, you might end up enjoying it for longer.
Where to stay
There is only one campsite and lodge in Milford Sound. You need to book far in advance if you’d like to stay there. It costs 70 NDZ per night for a campsite and it’s mostly booked out.
We highly suggest you to stay at the amazing Cascade Creek DOC campsite located 1h drive from Milford Sound. The site is huge and has some of the most spectacular mountain views.
↬ TIP : Arrive to the Cascade Creek campsite the day before and spend a night here. The next day wake up with the sun and make your way on an empty road to Milford Sound. You will enjoy the drive and arrive before the coach buses from Queenstown. Around 10 AM the area fills with masses of tourists. If you book the 8.30 AM cruise, by the time they arrive, you will be leaving.
What if it Rains?
There is a healthy debate over which setting is more beautiful – sunshine or rain. Right after rains, the waterfall are way more impressive and powerful, and a lot more are active, drizzling along many more spots of the surrounding mountains. But as long as you come prepared with raincoats and warm clothes, you will be sure to enjoy the show that nature puts on for you.
The cruises depart almost in any weather. Even strong rain doesn’t stop the boats. Do not cancel your trip if the prognosis are rain. Unless it’s a very heavy storm- then best to check with the company, as even the road might be blocked.
What to Wear/Take?
Temperatures in Milford Sound can range from an average of 15 degrees C in summer and 6 degrees C in winter. It gets even colder on the water. We highly suggest you wear warm clothing, best with thermal layers.
It would be also useful to wear waterproof pants, underpants, warm sweater and good jacket. Make sure to take raincoat with you even on a sunny day, as the weather in New Zealand can change fast.
Grab warm hat and and gloves- it really gets that chilly during the cruise. Specially because you’ll want to stay all the time outside to admire the views.
Don’t take any bags. There will be complimentary tea, coffee and water on board. Just take your camera and spare batteries so you can capture tons of memories.
Best Time to Visit?
The best time surely are during the summer months from November to February. The temperatures will be higher and there will be a good chance for nice weather. However, New Zealand is unpredictable when it comes to weather. We visited in late December and had a gray, gloomy day.
Cost of the Cruise
We payed 85 NZD (47 EUR) each for 2h cruise with Mitre Peak. After completing a reservation via their website, we received a confirmation email with Detailed Map and Travel Tips PDF. Those are very useful to have, as there is no connection in the area.
You can find cruises with other companies starting from 50 NZD (28 EUR), but we think it’s worth to pay a bit more and have more convivial experience.
Is it Worth it?
Absolutely! Milford Sound is famous for its steep cliff faces that come to life with thousands of gushing waterfalls when the rain falls over the fjord. This spectacle is truly mesmerizing and should not be missed during your New Zealand itinerary.