The Must-Dos in Milford Sound
The “Eighth Wonder of the World” is often seen as the most picturesque place in a country. 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. What’s more, we list more than just cruises!
For more trip-planning advice, be sure to head over to The Complete Travel Guide to Milford Sound.
1. Experience an Iconic 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 things to do in Milford Sound! 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 when boats are less crowded.
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 swap 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 Rosco’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. We also list this experience in the 5 Most Romantic Things to Do in Milford Sound for Couples.
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. RealNZ (more info on Klook, Viator and Tripadvisor) offers a spectacular overnight cruise while Fiordland Discovery boasts multi-day cruises, both 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. Take the Ferry and Walk Up to Lady Bowen Falls
A short (and more affordable) boating adventure in Milford Sound is the ferry and walk combo to Lady Bowen Falls. The Bowen Falls Walk, Milford Sound’s hidden gem, is accessed via a short ferry ride from the Visitors Terminal at the Milford Marina. The boat trip gives you access to a 30-minute experience (ferry included), meandering through native bush and beech trees until you reach a viewing area of Milford Sound’s highest waterfall, Lady Bowen Falls at 162m (530ft) high.
Location: The ferry departs from the Milford Marina at the end of State Highway 94.
12. Check Out the Underwater Observatory
An alternative and interesting way to experience Milford Sound is at the underwater observatory with Southern Discoveries (find out more on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook), 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.
13. Enjoy the Forest and Lake Scenery of the Lake Gunn Nature Walk
One to enjoy on your way in or out of Milford Sound, the Lake Gunn Nature Walk is a 45-minute loop walk. It takes you through magnificent red beech forest to the shores of Lake Gunn with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. While wandering between the moss-covered trees, keep an eye out for native birds like riflemen, tomtits and more.
Location: Cascade Creek car park, State Highway 94, approximately 43km (27 miles) from Milford Sound.
14. See Spectacular Waterfalls on and an Alpine Lake on the Lake Marian Track
A stunning sight if you have the time to take the quick detour up the Hollyford Road, the Lake Marian Falls Track is an easy walk taking 20 minutes to complete. Cross a swingbridge to see a spectacular series of cascading waterfalls. The Lake Marian Track continues from here, which is three hours return which is well worth the jaunt for the breathtaking lake at the top. Note that the track here is steep and sometimes muddy.
Location: Lake Marian car park, Hollyford Road, approximately 32km (20 miles) from Milford Sound.
15. Enjoy a Stroll to Peaceful Lake Mistletoe
Easily accessed from the Milford Road more toward the Te Anau end, the Lake Mistletoe Track is a 45-minute return walk to a small picturesque lake. You might be lucky to see New Zealand scaup (those diving ducks again!), frogs and other wetland wildlife.
Location: State Highway 94, approximately 90km (56 miles) from Milford Sound.
More Must-Dos and Things to Do in Milford Sound
That’s it for the list of things to do in Milford Sound, but not for the advice we can offer you about Milford Sound! Check out these articles to learn more:
- The Complete Travel Guide to Milford Sound
- The Guide to Milford Sound and the Milford Road
- The Travel Guide to Milford Sound on a Budget
- The Travel Guide to Milford Sound for Families
- The Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to Milford Sound
- The Luxury Travel Guide to Milford Sound.