The Milford Sound cruises are one of the must things to do on New Zealand’s south island. If you want to experience the majestic fiords and waterfalls of Milford Sound from up close, then booking a cruise is the best way to go. From the water you can really take in the scale of the bluffs and feel the power of the waterfalls. If you’re lucky you might even see some wildlife such as seals, dolphins and penguins. There are different Milford Sound tours available, either from Queenstown by coach or flight. But you can also just book a Milford Sound Cruise and get there with your rental car. In this complete guide you will find out about the different Milford Sound cruises, what to expect, the best time for a Milford Sound cruise and much more!
Best Milford Sound Cruises
If you think there’s only one type of cruise in Milford Sound, think again! There are actually quite some different Milford Sound scenic cruises varying in type of boat, duration of the cruise (there is even an overnight cruise!), and additional activities you can book. So which Milford Sound Cruise fits you the best depends on your preferences! Let’s dive into the different options below. Just make sure to book your cruise in advance as tickets sell out quickly because a cruise in Milford Sound is such a popular activity in New Zealand!
This is the most popular Milford Sound tour with Southern Discoveries. Depart from Milford Wharf and cruise past Mitre Peak and the cascading waterfalls. You will see Bowen Falls, Stirling Falls and Seal Point while searching the deep fiord for marine life including bottlenose dolphins and New Zealand fur seals. A lunch is optional if selected at time of booking this Milford Sound nature cruise.
This Milford Sound Cruise is more intimate than the general nature cruise. Depart during a morning cruise on a smaller boat that travels outside of peak hours. This will give you prime viewing and more time on the water than other tours. You will listen to the informative commentary from the passionate skippers of Southern Discoveries and enjoy a provided picnic lunch. If you want to, you can include a kayak excursion and paddle Harrison Cove in a small-group. Limited to 8 people you will have a very intimate experience to really take in the immense scale of the bluffs and explore Milford Sound in a unique way.
Enjoy this hassle free round trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound by premium coach including the Milford Sound Cruise. You won’t be tired of the drive and you can admire the sweeping views of Fiordland National Park from the comfort of the glass-roof coach. Once in Milford Sound you will go on an unforgettable 1,5 hour cruise including lunch. A specialist nature guide on board provides informative commentary while you can take in the breathtaking scenery of Milford Sound. This is one of the most popular Milford Sound day trips and a great option of you don’t have a rental car.
Book this once in a lifetime experience! Seriously it’s a must when you’re in New Zealand to do at least one scenic flight! And what a better way then to combine a flight to Milford Sound with a cruise?! You will get a round trip flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound followed by a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Take in the spectacular views of the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps, remote valleys and waterfalls. During the flight you will have an amazing aerial view of Lake Quill and Sutherland Falls as can be seen on the picture below. This experience will take your breath away and is a must do if your budget allows it. Without a doubt some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand.
This is without a doubt the most in depth Milford Sound cruise experience. Discover the natural beauty and wildlife of Milford Sound during a cruise that includes admission to the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory. Besides seeing the impressive landscape of Milford Sound, you will also see the aquatic world through the windows of the observatory. Lunch, as well as onboard coffee and tea are included.
For a special way to experience Milford Sound after all the day tours have finished, this overnight cruise is a must. During this tour you can truly take in the peace and beauty of Milford Sound on the Fiordland Jewel cruise boat. During the day, you will cruise Milford Sound and go on kayaking excursions. You will sleep in an ensuite cabin with sea views and a three-course dinner plus breakfast is included. The boat is also equipped with a top-deck hot tub where you can soak in the breathtaking views and completely come to rest.
Experience this incredible helicopter flight over Mitre Peak in Milford Sound. It’s the perfect way to see the impressive landscape of Fiordland NP from the air. Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound. Climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks. After the 20 minute flight you will return to Milford base.
How to get to Milford Sound
Easily said there are two ways to get to Milford Sound. Via the road, or by airplane from Queenstown.
You can either drive yourself to Milford Sound or book a day tour from Queenstown including transport. This can either be transport by coach, or a scenic flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound. However, this is highly depended on the weather!
If you’re planning to drive to Milford Sound by yourself with a rental car or camper van, then it’s important to know a few things. There are so many amazing stops along the way, especially from Te Anau to Milford Sound, that you really want to plan enough time to make some stops.
Another thing to take into account is to add some space in your planning for the wait time at the Homer tunnel. Especially if you’ve booked your Milford cruise at a certain time, you have to make sure to leave early enough.
If you’re coming with your own car and you want to park at the main car park of Milford Sound close-by the terminal, then you have to pay $25 for 5 hours. This is just one fixed price, you can’t pay per hour.
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots, but for some of them you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we personally recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for these kind of roads. We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car!
The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies and terms and conditions. You can also check Rental Cars to compare at which platform you can get the best deal. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pick up date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a roadtrip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower or not because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will you give you a true feeling of freedom and connects you with nature.
We personally recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Stationwagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 road side assistance & long term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream roadtrip!
Best time to do the Milford Sound Cruise
The best thing about Milford Sound Cruises is that the weather doesn’t matter! On a sunny day, it is beautiful and on a wet day it is spectacular with pumping waterfalls and mystical moody circumstances. You will see the Milford Sound waterfalls cascading down the massive cliffs into the sea during every weather type. But right after or during rainfall you can expect many more temporary waterfalls and the permanent waterfalls will be in full power. So don’t be sad when it’s raining. It might limit your time a little bit outside on the deck, but on the other hand if you’re wearing a raincoat there’s not much to worry about.
It’s good to know though that Milford Sound is the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand, and one of the wettest places in the world! The annual rainfall in Milford Sound is 7000mm, and it rains on average 182 days a year. So to be well prepared you should always bring a rain jacket when going out in Milford Sound.
In terms of the best time of the the day for a Milford Sound Cruise, I would say to take the earliest option of the day. A few reasons are that in the morning fewer people are in Milford Sound because the day tours arrive around midday. Another reason for an early morning cruise is that wildlife is mostly more active in the morning.
Best month to do a Milford Sound Cruise
There isn’t really a best time of the year to go on a Milford Sound Cruise. It all depends on the weather as the best timing would be to go right after rain with sunshine. But that’s just having luck! Generally you can expect the Milford Sound Cruise being much busier in the summer months from December to February, March and more quiet during the winter months. The landscape also changes a lot during these different seasons as the surrounding mountains will be covered in snow during the winter and are much greener in the summer months.
About Milford Sound, the 8th wonder of the world
Milford Sound is a geological wonder that was once under the sea. Due to tectonic activity 400 million years ago the ground started to rise from the ocean to form the mountains that now tower over New Zealand’s Fiordlands. The valley of Milford Sound was then carved out by erosion of ancient glacial ice to become the 1,200 metres high rocks that soar from the water as it is today.
British writer Rudyard Kipling described Milford Sound as the 8th Wonder of the World. Once you see it with your own eyes you will totally understand why. Milford Sound is widely considered to be one of the World’s top travel destinations and is something you can’t miss to add on your New Zealand’s South Island itinerary.
A fun thing to know about Milford Sound is that it’s actually not a sound! Because the word ‘sound’ is being used to describe when a river valley is flooded with the sea and forms a gorge or valley. Whereas Milford Sound is actually a glacier-carved valley and therefore a fiord, hence it’s location in Fiordland National Park.
What to expect during the Milford Sound cruise
After you’ve checked in at the terminal you will head to your boat where you can find a spot to sit, either indoor or outdoor. You can easily walk around during the tour which is highly recommended to see the fiords from every possible angle.
All the cruises will take the same route but depart on slightly different times. From the wharf you will first pass the iconic Mitre Peak and Bowen Falls before you make your way along the fiords to the other Milford waterfalls. Some boats can get so close to the waterfalls that you almost stand under them where you will feel the spray and power of the falls. So if you feel like it, then make sure to grab a raincoat and get under the spray. Maori legend says it makes you ten years younger!
The tour goes all the way to where the Tasman Sea begins and will then do a u-turn and head back the same route. You will definitely feel the difference of the water once you enter the sea as waves are getting bigger. Along the way back you should keep your eyes open to spot some Milford Sound wildlife. Look out for the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin, Southern Fur Seal and pods of Bottlenose Dolphins.
If you miss all the wildlife, you can choose to get off at the underwater observatory. If you’ve pre-booked the cruise and kayak tour, this is where you start your kayaking trip around Harrison’s Cove.
Milford Sound vs Doubtful Sound – which one is better?
If you didn’t know yet, Milford Sound isn’t the only glacier-carved fiord in Fiordland National Park. In fact, there are a total of 15 glacier-carved fiords in the National Park where the name ‘Fiordland’ is coming from! Many of these fiords are far too remote to visit on a tour and for the most part, remain untouched by tourism. But there is one other option besides Milford Sound to visit. It’s called Doubtful Sound which is an untouched off the beaten path paradise.
Although I don’t like to call places ‘better than the other’ because every destination has its own beauty, there are always pro’s and con’s about one or the other place. So the answer on which Sound you should visit isn’t exactly straight forward. There are a few things you’ll need to consider before making your choice.
Accessibility to Milford and Doubtful Sound
Milford Sound is easily the most visited place in Fiordland National Park and is the last fiord in the national park. Doubtful Sound on the other hand, is located much further south and is roughly in the middle of Fiordland National Park. Therefore it’s more difficult to visit Doubtful Sound as there is no direct road going to the sound. This makes the journey a little more complicated as it only can be done on a guided tour or scenic flight. This makes the trip to Doubtful Sound relatively more expensive than Milford and there are fewer options when it comes to activities and cruises in the fiord. But you’ll share the journey with fewer people than in Milford Sound.
Difference in landscape between Doubtful and Milford Sound
Doubtful Sound is also three times longer and 10 times larger than Milford Sound. The cliffs at Doubtful are greener than Milford Sound but with a little less waterfall action. If you choose to visit Doubtful, you’ll be treated to the ‘Sound of Silence’. This is the moment when the cruise boats turn off their engines and ask everyone to ‘listen’ to the silence. Pure peace. So if you’re looking for a more secluded and exclusive way to experience NZ’s Fiordland, then Doubtful Sound is a perfect choice. If you’re looking for more waterfall action down the bluffs and more facilities, then Milford Sound is the place to go.
Doubtful Sound cruise
Milford Sound waterfalls
What to prepare for the Milford Sound cruise
There are a few things you should prepare and bring with you to make your Milford Sound Cruise as comfortable as possible. Some of the most important things are a rain jacket and eventually rain pants, sand fly spray and of course a camera to capture the majestic landscapes. You should also bring plenty of water and food as there are no shops and just one restaurant at Milford Sound Lodge serving food. Some cruise tours do include food though, so check this before you bring a bag full of food which you won’t eat.
- Sand fly spray
- Rain jacket
- Water and food
Must do tours in Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is some of the most beautiful National Parks in New Zealand. Known for the glacier-carved fiords of Doubtful and Milford sound and home to beautiful alpine lakes, ancient rainforests and huge waterfalls. With plenty of hikes and a huge variety of other activities to do, it is highly recommended to spend at least three to four days in Fiordland National Park. Three of New Zealand’s Great Walks are found in Fiordland, known as Kepler, Milford track and Routeburn Track. But if you’re not prepared for multi day hikes, then there are also plenty of day walks options and other fun activities to do. Here are some tours we highly recommend to do in Fiordland National Park.
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. You naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
See the magical natural phenomenon of glowworms in the caves of Te Anau. An informative guide takes you on this underground adventure starting with a cruise across Lake Te Anau. Once arrived at the caves you can marvel at the shimmering illumination of thousands of glowworms as you glide through the quiet darkness of this magical underground world.
Marvel at the majestic views of Fiordland wilderness on this luxury sunset cruise. Including champagne and canapés, this tour on the impeccably-preserved 1930s sailing yacht is a unique experience. You can watch the sun set over the Southern Alps and customize your cruise on this small-group cruise.
Book this full day Milford Sound hiking tour including cruise to explore the best of Fiordland National Park. Travel along the Milford Road from Te Anau and enjoy panoramic views over the beautiful countryside. Enjoy a relaxing boat cruise through the fjord and out to the Tasman Sea, and gaze over soaring clifftops and plummeting waterfalls. Afterwards, enjoy short guided walks and explore Fiordland’s spectacular natural scenery with a local nature guide.
No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen.
A slip during hiking is made before you realize it, and the consequences can be bigger than you want to think of.
We are very happy with SafetyWing and highly recommend getting an insurance with them!
Step into a powerful Fiordland Jet boat and cruise down the mighty Waiau River on this roughly two-hour adventure into the heart of Fiordland National Park. You will pass some famous landmarks and Lord of the Rings filming locations along the way. Departure is from Lake Te Anau with morning, afternoon and evening trips.
Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound, climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks before returning to our Milford base during this 20 minute flight.
Where to stay near Milford Sound
The best way to explore the most of Fiordland National Park is to stay in either Milford Sound or Te Anau. Milford Sound only has one accommodation and restaurant option as the Milford Sound Lodge. If you have a self contained campervan then you have the option to stay at some camping sites.
Te Anau on the other hand has more options for accommodations and facilities such as restaurants and supermarkets. However, from Te Anau it is 80 kilometre drive to Lake Marian trailhead. If you’re planning to explore Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound for a few days, then having your base in Te Anau is a great idea. With the ever changing weather circumstances in Fiordland National Park, it is always a surprise to see how the landscape changes. And with so many places you can explore along Milford road it is a great day trip into Fiordland National Park.
Milford Sound Lodge
Milford Sound Lodge is some of the most unique accommodations in New Zealand. Being the only accommodation close to Milford Sound, you will be immersed by nature. The mountain and river view chalets look out over the towering peaks of the Darran Mountains with waterfalls pouring down along the cliffs. Truly some of the most mesmerising views you can have from an accommodation. We personally stayed here two nights and highly recommend booking a stay at Milford Sound Lodge. You are not only close to the action of Milford Sound cruise and the hikes you can do. But you can also fully recharged in your cosy cabin and order delicious food at Pio Pio restaurant.
Radfords on the Lake Te Anau
Radfords on the Lake is located across the road from Lake Te Anau with stunning lake and mountain views. The fully self-contained suites offer everything you need during your stay. From cooking utensils to a desk and comfortable bed, Radfords on the Lake in Te Anau is your home away from home. With lovely staff, daily cleaning and it’s central location, we couldn’t recommend Radfords on the Lake enough. We have stayed here ourselves and fully enjoyed it!
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about Milford Sound Cruise. Make sure to put this incredible experience on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides.