The Best Milford Sound Activities
What most travellers know about Milford Sound is that there’s a bus to get there all the way from Queenstown, a cruise and that’s about it, but there’s so much more! Spectacular walks, helicopter and fixed-wing flights, daytime and overnight cruises, scuba diving, kayaking and an underwater observatory are all on the cards at this iconic New Zealand destination. Make your dream Milford Sound bucket list with this list of amazing things to do in Milford Sound!
For more advice on planning a trip to Milford Sound, check out The Complete Guide to Milford Sound.
1. Take a Milford Sound Cruise
Rain or shine, a cruise of Milford Sound is one of the most popular ways to experience Milford Sound. Cruises are not only a relaxing way to soak in the scenery of Sinbad Gully, Mitre Peak, Seal Rock and Stirling Falls, but it’s sure fun in the rain when the temporary waterfalls come out to play! But with multiple cruise options, how do you know which one to pick? Well, most of the cruises that run throughout the daytime offer the same deal; they last about two hours to check out the same attractions. With that in mind, we recommend going with the one with the best price at the time. You can also compare your options in the 6 Best Cruises in Milford Sound. Pro tip: catch a cruise in the morning or late afternoon for the quietest cruises.
Location: Cruises depart from the Milford Marina at the end of State Highway 94.
2. Go on a Paddling Adventure on a Milford Sound Kayak Tour
An alternative way to get on the inky black waters of the famous fiord is to jump in a sea kayak and join Roscoe’s Milford Kayaks for a spectacularly scenic trip. Get closer to the action, whether it’s the seals basking on the rocks or a magnificent waterfall. Either way, being in a tiny kayak makes the towering fiord cliff faces all the more majestic. The most popular kayak tour is the Sunrise Classic tour, gliding across the reflective waters of the fiord at the calmest and most peaceful time of the day.
Location: Deepwater Basin Road, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Milford Sound.
3. Soar the Skies in a Milford Sound Scenic Flight
Many would argue that no other view than a bird’s eye view captures the majesty of the fiord and its surrounding mountains, waterfalls and glaciers. With that mantra in mind, book yourself onto a scenic flight of Milford Sound. If you’re making your own way to Milford Sound, Milford Sound Helicopters can handle the rest, offering spectacular scenic flights from the Milford Sound Airport. Alternatively, there are a ton of flights, especially from Queenstown, that swaps the lengthy drive to Milford Sound for staggering aerial views of the Fiordland National Park. Check out your options in the 5 Best Scenic Flights to Milford Sound from Queenstown.
Location: Milford Sound Airport, State Highway 94, Milford Sound.
4. Get That Iconic View from the Milford Sound Foreshore Walk
You don’t have to blow your travel fund on cruises and flights. You can still get those iconic Milford Sound views from the Milford Sound Foreshore Walk. This 30-minute walk takes you through a small tract of forest to the sandy foreshore with postcard views of Mitre Peak (the highest peak in Milford Sound). A bonus walk: check out The Milford Sound Lookout Track, a 20-minute walk which is another good one to enjoy views of the famous fiord. Find it behind the cafe at the visitor parking area. For more activities like this, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Milford Sound.
Location: Starts at the main visitor car park of Milford Sound, State Highway 94, Milford Sound.
5. Experience Part of a Great Walk on the Key Summit Track…
For those looking for a walk with more substance, don’t miss the Key Summit Track. Part of the Routeburn Track Great Walk, the Key Summit Track is a three-hour return walk zigzagging up to a mountain summit with alpine lakes to cross over boardwalks and panoramic views of majestic mountains. For more walks in the area, check out the 11 Milford Sound Walks You Can’t Miss.
Location: The Divide Shelter car park, State Highway 94, approximately 34km (21 miles) from Milford Sound.
6. … Or a Full Great Walk on the Milford Track
It’s no secret that Milford Sound is also where one of the most famous multi-day hikes in New Zealand ends its journey. This three-day 53.5km (33.2-mile) pilgrimage through ancient rainforests, carved glacial valleys awash in waterfalls, and habitat of unique wildlife is what many would describe as the adventure of a lifetime. No wonder it’s the most popular of the New Zealand Great Walks! With hut accommodation bookings and boat transfers required, however, it’s a trail that does require a lot of forward-planning. Check out A Practical Guide to the Milford Track for advice. Alternatively, if you don’t have five days to spare for the full Milford Track, Trips & Tramps offers one-day guided experiences of the famous trail. There is also a more luxurious way to experience the Milford Track, which we detail in the 5 Luxury Activities in Milford Sound.
Location: Boat transfers from the start depart from Glade Wharf, Te Anau.
7. Stay Overnight in a World Heritage Area
With only one lodge that’s open to the public, saying that Milford Sound’s accommodation options are limited would be an understatement. Nevertheless, with campsites and overnight cruises, there are some more creative ways to stay in this remote area and experience Milford Sound when the day’s tourist crowds have gone. Real Journeys and Fiordland Discovery both offer spectacular overnight cruises with three-course dinners, breakfast, the use of kayaks and tender excursions to explore the nooks and crannies of Milford Sound. There are also eight Department of Conservation campsites along the Milford Road, that not only allow you to break up the notoriously difficult drive but allow you to sleep under the vividly clear starry skies of this remote area. Learn more about some of our favourite campsites in the 10 Best Accommodations in Milford Sound.
Location: Cruises depart from the Milford Marina at the end of State Highway 94. See the locations of the campsites on the Department of Conservation website.
8. See Black Coral on a Scuba Diving Trip
For something utterly unique, enter the underwater world of a glacial fiord with Descend Scuba Diving NZ. Dive down the steep fiord cliff faces to see a colourful and mesmerising eco-system of black coral – a habitat usually only found in deepsea trenches. This is due to Milford Sound’s heavy and frequent rainfall that creates a layer of freshwater above the saltwater, which casts shadows for beautiful coral trees to thrive. With more than 150 species of fish seen in Milford’s waters, each dive is diverse and exciting. See more experiences like this in the 5 Luxury Activities in Milford Sound.
Location: Tours depart from Deepwater Basin Road, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Milford Sound.
9. Check Out the Mirror Lakes
There are many sights along the Milford Sound Road with one of the must-sees being the Mirror Lakes. This small roadside lake offers spectacular reflections of the Earl Mountains in its dark tannin-filled waters. Although it’s classed as a walk, it’s more like a 30-second stroll to a viewing platform overlooking the lake. Look out for the New Zealand scaup, i.e. the diving ducks, on the lake too! For more sights along the Milford Road, check out 16 Stops You Can’t Miss on the Road to Milford Sound.
Location: State Highway 94, approximately 61km (38 miles) from Milford Sound.
10. Check Out the Underwater Observatory
An alternative and interesting way to experience Milford Sound is at the underwater observatory with Southern Discoveries, only accessed as an add-on on the Southern Discoveries’ cruise. Tucked away in Harrison Cove, the underwater observatory is New Zealand’s only floating observatory, taking you 64 steps down to a viewing chamber some 10m (30ft) under the water. Due to Milford Sound’s dark waters, it gives you a unique opportunity to see black coral species that are usually only seen in deepsea trenches. See snake stars and starfish as your guide gives commentary on Milford Sound’s fragile marine life. This is one of the attractions that are ideal for families, as listed in the 10 Things to Do in Milford Sound with Kids.
Location: Southern Discoveries cruises depart from the Milford Marina at the end of State Highway 94.