9 best Milford Sound Cruises New Zealand – Our honest reviews

Embarking on a Milford Sound cruise is one of the highlights on New Zealand’s South Island. It is unquestionably the best way to experience the majesty of Milford Sound with its towering fiords and gushing waterfalls. On the boat, you can truly take in the scale of the sheer rock faces and sense the force of the waterfalls. If you’re lucky, you might even see some local wildlife such as seals, dolphins and penguins. There are many different Milford Sound tours available, either including transport from Queenstown by coach or flight, or just the Milford Sound Cruise if you have your rental car to get to Milford Sound shore. 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! 

Table of Contents

Best Milford Sound Cruises

There are many different Milford Sound Cruises to choose from, all varying in type of boat, duration of the cruise (there is even an overnight cruise!), and additional activities you can book such as kayaking in Milford Sound. 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! 

Nature cruise on Premium glass roof Catamaran

Embark with the newest vessel in Milford Sound to cruise in the fiord! The so called ‘Gem of the Sound’ of Pure Milford is the only glass roof premium vessel in Milford Sound which is specifically designed to capture the beauty and sheer size of the fiords.

The spacious viewing decks, glass roof ceilings and large windows for unlimited viewing including comfortable booth seating provide a relaxing and luxurious experience. The high-definition cameras project live outdoor footage onto TV screens throughout the vessel. So no matter where are in the vessel, you won’t miss a thing! 

Book here your glass roof catamaran cruise in Milford Sound

Small Boat Nature Cruise  

This Milford Sound cruise uses smaller boats which allows you to enjoy Milford Sound in a less crowded way. And besides that, this boat tour can get closer to wildlife because they can navigate closer to the rocks to see wildlife. The friendly crew provides great commentary and aims to give you a more personal experience. In our opinion, this small boat cruise is the best cruise if you like a more low-key experience instead of the bigger catamaran. The free tea, coffee and biscuits are also a huge plus and their price is very fair! 

Book here your small boutique nature cruise in Milford Sound


Milford Sound Sightseeing Nature Cruise

This 2-hour cruise is a very popular option and is provided by Mitre Peak Cruises. Just like all other boats you will depart from Milford Haven and cruise past Mitre Peak and Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls. Then you continue along Stirling Falls and Seal Rock while searching the dark waters of the Sound for marine life including bottlenose dolphins and New Zealand fur seals. Lunch is optional if selected at the time of booking. This is without a doubt one of the best Milford Sound day cruises.

→ Book here your Milford Sound Nature Cruise with optional lunch

Milford Sound Cruise with Kayak Tour

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 tour. 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.

→ Book here your Milford Sound Cruise with Kayak Tour


Milford Sound Coach and Scenic Cruise with Buffet Lunch from Queenstown

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 spectacular 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 here your Milford Sound Coach and Scenic Cruise with Buffet Lunch from Queenstown

Milford Sound Scenic Fly-Cruise-Fly departing from Queenstown

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 better way than to combine a flight to Milford Sound with a cruise?! You will get a return 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 in 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.

→ Book here your Milford Sound Scenic Fly-Cruise-Fly departing Queenstown


Milford Sound Cruise Including Underwater Observatory and Lunch

This is undoubtedly 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 complimentary tea are included.

→ Book here your Milford Sound Cruise Including Underwater Observatory and Lunch

Milford Sound overnight cruise

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 one of the private cabins 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. 

→ Book here your Milford Sound overnight cruise


Scenic flight over Milford Sound

Experience and 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.

→ Book here your scenic flight over Milford Sound


Other scenic flights from Milford Sound

What is the best time to cruise Milford Sound?

In terms of the best time of the day for a Milford Sound Cruise, I would say to take the earliest option of the day. Opting for a morning cruise in Milford Sound has a couple of advantages. Firstly, there are fewer visitors as day tours typically arrive around midday. Additionally, wildlife tends to be more active in the morning, offering better opportunities for observation.

The great thing about cruising Milford Sound is that the weather doesn’t matter! Milford Sound is mesmerizing under any weather circumstances. On sunny days, the scenery is beautiful and calm, while on rainy days, Milford Sound transforms into a spectacular moody display with cascading waterfalls and fog creating a mystical ambiance. In fact, there are many more temporary waterfalls during a rainy day. And when it stops raining, 90% of these waterfalls dry up within hours!

The absolute perfect time for a Milford Sound cruise is right after it rains when the sky clears up and the sun peeks through the clouds. But that’s just a matter of being lucky!

What is the best season for a Milford Sound Cruise?

The Milford Sound landscape undergoes significant seasonal changes. In winter, the surrounding mountains are covered in snow, while they are much greener in the summer months. Generally, you can expect the Milford Sound Cruise to be much busier in the summer months from December to February, March when it’s peak season in New Zealand. During the winter months, it’s much quieter.

Just keep in mind that Milford Sound receives average high rainfall. It is the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand, and even 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. 


How to get to Milford Sound

Easily said there are two ways to get to Milford Sound. Via the road, or by scenic flight from Queenstown

You can either drive yourself to Milford Sound on a road trip, 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.

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 lots of stops along the way from Queenstown to Milford Sound, especially from Te Anau to Milford Sound. So make sure to plan plenty of time to make some photo stops and enjoy this spectacular journey!


Another thing to take into account is to add some space in your planning for the wait time at the Homer Tunnel because it is a one-way 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 in 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.


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 where the waves are getting much 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.


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, sandfly 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 in Milford Sound and just one restaurant at Milford Sound Lodge serving food.

  • Sandfly spray and insect repellent
  • Waterproof jacket 
  • Camera 
  • Water and food 

FAQ Milford Sound Cruise

How long is a Milford Sound Cruise?

A Milford Sound Cruise typically lasts 1.5 – 2 hours. If you choose the Milford Sound Cruise including another activity such as kayaking or the underwater observatory, the tour will last around 3 hours. The Milford Sound tours departing from Queenstown including transport are full-day tours.  

Is a Milford Sound Cruise worth it?

Yes, absolutely! A cruise is the best way to experience the majesty of Milford Sound with the best views on the towering cliffs and waterfalls. A Milford Sound Cruise is accessible to everyone, affordable, and a great experience. Another option for a Milford Sound tour is the scenic flight and kayak tour.  

Can you see Milford Sound without a cruise?

Yes, you can see Milford Sound without taking a cruise, but it’s not the most encompassing way to experience the stunning scenery. While you can get to Milford Sound shore and enjoy a short walk, you won’t be able to get deeper into the Sound to see the Sound in its full glory. If you want to experience Milford Sound from an aerial perspective, then there are there are scenic flights available

What to wear during a Milford Sound Cruise?

Because of the variable weather conditions in Milford Sound, it is advisable to dress in layers and bring a waterproof jacket. Comfortable, moisture-wicking clothing is recommended, and don’t forget sturdy, non-slip footwear, as the decks may be wet. A hat and sunglasses can protect you from the sun, and it’s a good idea to bring sunscreen 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-meter-high rock faces that soar from the water as it is today. 

British writer Rudyard Kipling described Milford Sound as the eighth 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 without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. 

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 its location in Fiordland National Park. 


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’ comes 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 pros and cons about one or the other place. So the answer to which Sound you should visit isn’t exactly straightforward. 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 area 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. 

The 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 this unique part of Fiordland National Park, 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. 

→ Book here your guided tour to Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound cruise
Milford Sound waterfalls

How to get around in New Zealand 

To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a carcampervan 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 in 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 road trip 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 give you a feeling of freedom and truly connects you with nature.

We recommend to book your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Station wagons, 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, a 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 roadside assistance & long-term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream road trip!

Must do tours in Fiordland National Park

Exploring the untouched wilderness of Fiordland National Park is a must-do 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, there are plenty of hikes and a huge variety of other activities to do. 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.

Check here the best Milford Sound tours on GetYourGuide

Check here the best Milford Sound tours on Viator

Cruise to the hidden Doubtful Sound

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. You might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins if you’re lucky. Your naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.  

→ Book here your cruise to the hidden Doubtful Sound


Wander through the Te Anau Glow Worm Caves

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.

→ Book here your Te Anau Glow Worm Caves tour

Scenic cruise on Lake Te Anau

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 sunset over the Southern Alps and customize your cruise on this small-group cruise. 

→ Book here your scenic cruise on Lake Te Anau

Milford Sound Hiking Tour with Cruise from Te Anau

Book this full-day Milford Sound hiking tour including a cruise to explore the best of Fiordland National Park. Travel along 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. Afterward, enjoy short guided walks and explore Fiordland’s spectacular natural scenery with a local nature guide.

→ Book here your Milford Sound Hiking Tour with Cruise from Te Anau


Jet boat journey through Fiordland National Park

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. 

→ Book here your jet boat journey through Fiordland National Park

Scenic flight over Milford Sound

Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound, climb alongside Lady 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.

→ Book here your scenic flight over Milford Sound


Where to stay near Milford Sound

The best way to explore most of Fiordland National Park is to stay in either Milford Sound or Te Anau. Milford Sound only has one accommodation and restaurant option which is 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 is the closest town from Milford Sound and has more options for accommodations and facilities. Here you will find great options for restaurants, supermarkets and a variety of places to stay.

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 one of the most unique accommodations in New Zealand. Being the only accommodation close to Milford Sound, you will be immersed in 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 mesmerizing views you can have from an accommodation. We personally stayed here for 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 recharge in your cozy cabin and order delicious food at Pio Pio restaurant. 

→ Book here your stay at Milford Sound Lodge


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 its central location, we couldn’t recommend Radfords on the Lake enough. We have stayed here ourselves and fully enjoyed it!

→ Book here your stay at Radfords on the Lake


More New Zealand travel guides

I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the different Milford Sound Cruises. 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.

Fiordland National Park

Best things to do in Milford Sound – The Ultimate Guide

20 best things to do in Te Anau – The Complete Guide

6 best scenic flights in Milford Sound

Lake Marian track – The Complete Guide

Mirror Lakes New Zealand – The Complete Guide

Key Summit track – The Complete Guide

Gertrude Saddle hike – The Complete Guide


30 best things to do in Queenstown – The Ultimate Guide

16 best hikes in Queenstown – The Ultimate Guide

12 best Queenstown helicopter tours

10 best wine tours in Queenstown

Queenstown Hill walk – The Complete Guide

Ben Lomond track – The Complete Guide

Moke Lake loop track & viewpoint – The Complete Guide

Bobs Cove Nature Walk – The Complete Guide


20 best things to do in Glenorchy – The Ultimate Guide

Glenorchy walkway & lagoon track – The Complete Guide

Earnslaw Burn glacier valley and waterfalls – The Complete Guide

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