The Must-Dos in Milford Sound!
The “Eighth Wonder of the World” is often seen as the most picturesque place in a country renowned for its scenery. Where do you begin knowing what is the best way to experience it? 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. If, like most people, you have limited time in Milford Sound, then check out this list of the best things to do in Milford Sound so you don’t miss any of the highlights!
For more trip-planning advice, be sure to head over to The Complete Travel Guide to Milford Sound.
1. Enjoy a Milford Sound Cruise
Ok, if you have heard anything about Milford Sound then this is going to seem like a pretty obvious choice. Rain or shine, a cruise of Milford Sound showcases all the highlights, including Stirling Falls, Sinbad Gully, Mitre Peak, Seal Rock and more. Plus, cruises are affordable and don’t take up too much time out of your day, freeing you up for more awesome Milford Sound must-dos! 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. Hike to the Key Summit
When making your way on the Milford Sound Road (or back again) spare three hours for the Key Summit Track! This hike is part of The Routeburn Track Great Walk. After a steep zig-zagging climb, you’ll be amazed at how immersed in the mountain scenery you will feel. Around the boardwalk on the Key Summit, you have spectacular mountain views on every side (if the weather is clear). This walk is a great taste into the Fiordland National Park scenery and wilderness so that’s why it has a solid position in this list of the best things to do in Milford Sound! 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.
3. Stop by the Mirror Lakes
It’s so accessible that it would be a crime to just drive right past it! The Mirror Lakes is right on the roadside when taking the road to Milford Sound. A 2-minute walk will bring you to a super reflective lake holding the image of mountains in its waters. 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.
4. Admire the Views from the Milford Foreshore Walk…
So you’ve probably taken a million photos on the Milford Sound cruise. But that one view that a lot of people forget to capture is from the Milford Sound foreshore. Take the 20-minute loop walk from the waterfront car park to arguably some of the best views of Milford Sound where you’ll see Mitre Peak, Stirling Falls, Bowen Falls, Lion Rock and Sinbad Gully all from one place.
Location: Starts at the main visitor car park of Milford Sound, State Highway 94, Milford Sound.
5. … And Soak Up More Scenery from the Milford Sound Lookout Track
We can’t resist sharing this other view of Milford Sound seen from the Milford Sound Lookout Track. The 20-minute walk is a short but steep climb to a viewing platform overlooking the famous fiord. For more activities like this, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Milford Sound.
Location: Behind the cafe at the visitor parking area of Milford Sound, end of State Highway 94.
6. Soar the Skies on 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 (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) 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.
7. 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 (learn more on Viator and Tripadvisor) 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.
8. 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 (available on Viator and Tripadvisor) 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.
9. 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.
10. Tackle a New Zealand 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. The Milford Track is a 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 (see Viator and Tripadvisor for more info) 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.
11. Check Out the Underwater Observatory
Finally, an alternative and interesting way to experience Milford Sound is at the underwater observatory with Southern Discoveries (find out more on Viator and Tripadvisor), 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.