The Complete Guide to Milford Sound

© Unsplash

A Travel Guide to Milford Sound

After a 120km (75-mile) journey along the valleys, tunnels and winding mountain roads or soaring the skies over glaciers and endless rainforest, you’ll arrive at Milford Sound. 400 million years in the making, Milford Sound is the most accessible yet still wildly remote fiord of the Fiordland National Park. It’s on the bucket list of many to cruise its inky black waters reflecting the dramatic cliff faces of its glacier-carved peaks. But for many, it’s also all about the journey, as the road to Milford Sound is a wonderous scenic journey in itself, hiding many hiking trails to embrace nature to its fullest. It has become one of the most visited attractions by day, but with so limited accommodation, by night, it’s blissfully uncrowded and a treat for the lucky few who get to sleep there under the vividly clear stars.

So whether you’re a couple or a family; on a budget or seeking luxury, plan the trip to what Rudyard Kipling described as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” with this travel guide to Milford Sound.

Fast Facts About Milford Sound

Location: On the southwest coast of the South Island in the Southland region.

Population: 120

Climate: Daily average temperature – 10.2°C/50.3°F, yearly average rainfall – 6,428mm/253.1″
Find out more in What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?

Time zone: NZST / GMT+12/+13

How to get to Milford Sound: Milford Sound is connected to the rest of the South Island by State Highway 94, 120km (75 miles) from the nearest town, Te Anau. While there’s no public transport to Milford Sound, there are numerous bus tours from Queenstown and Te Anau. The closest international airport is Queenstown Airport (3h20mins drive), which also has frequent domestic flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and flights to and from Milford Sound. More flights to Milford Sound are available from Te Anau, Wanaka and Haast.

The Complete Guide to Milford Sound©

Milford Sound for Budget Travellers

Sure, most travellers would associate Milford Sound with cruises or scenic flights, but you can easily enjoy the “Eighth Wonder of the World” without digging into your pockets to afford these activities. Lace-up your hiking shoes and enjoy a myriad of trails that take you through the glacier-carved landscapes that formed Milford Sound and the surrounding Fiordland National Park. There are walks at Milford Sound, but some of the best can be found along the Milford Sound Road. Find out what are the best walks, as well as how to find the cheapest cruise, in The Guide to Milford Sound on a Budget.

Budget Activities in Milford Sound

For more details on these activities and more, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Milford Sound.

Budget Accommodation in Milford Sound

The only form of budget accommodation in Milford Sound is camping. You can stay in powered sites at the Milford Sound Lodge or use the Department of Conservation campsites along the Milford Sound Road. Find out more in the 10 Best Accommodations in Milford Sound. The next nearest accommodation can be found in Te Anau, so check out the 10 Best Budget Accommodation in Te Anau too.

The Complete Guide to Milford Sound© Fiordland Discovery

Milford Sound for Luxury Travellers

With some of the most dramatic landscapes in New Zealand, Milford Sound is a destination that deserves to be experienced with finesse. From sailing under the towering fiord mountains on a blissful luxury cruise to soaring high over glaciers, mountain lakes and lush forest on scenic flights, Milford Sound’s scenery can be soaked up in a number of ways. Overnight cruises are also one of the limited ways to stay in this remote corner of New Zealand, allowing you to experience true wilderness when the tourist crowds have disappeared. Plan your premium experience using The Luxury Guide to Milford Sound.

Premium Activities in Milford Sound
  • Experience a luxury overnight cruise
  • Enjoy a guided tour of the Milford Road, Milford Sound and short walks along the way
  • Take a scenic flight over the fiord
  • Challenge yourself to the iconic Milford Track
  • See black coral on a scuba diving trip.

For more details on each experience and their locations, see the 5 Luxury Activities in Milford Sound.

Premium Accommodation in Milford Sound

While accommodation in Milford Sound is more like three or four-star, rather than five-star, it’s considered a luxury to even get to stay at this remote destination amidst a world heritage area and national park. Your most upmarket options include Milford Sound Lodge and overnight cruises. Find out more in the 10 Best Accommodations in Milford Sound or look for the next nearest luxury stays in the 9 Best Luxury Accommodation in Te Anau.

The Complete Guide to Milford Sound© Jucy Group

Milford Sound for Families

The beauty of Milford Sound is best shared with loved ones. All cruises are family-friendly, where kids adore watching dolphins riding along with the boat and spotting seals on the rocks. Even scenic flights are worth considering if you have the funds, suitable for all ages with infants seats available; you could get a flight from Queenstown if the thought of the long drive is too offputting. Even if you’re on a budget, however, there’s an array of child-friendly and even stroller-friendly short walks along the Milford Sound Road. Find out more in The Guide to Milford Sound for Families.

Family-friendly Activities in Milford Sound

For more details on each activity and others, check out the 10 Things to Do in Milford Sound with Kids.

Family Accommodation in Milford Sound

Unless you pack a tent or hire a motorhome, there are very limited ways to stay at Milford Sound. Milford Sound Lodge does offer two-bedroom units, but you’ll have to get your bookings done well in advance to stay at this premium spot. Overnight cruises are available but note that families will have to stay in separate rooms as only twin and double cabins are available. Find out more in the 10 Best Accommodations in Milford Sound or check out the 10 Best Family Accommodation in Te Anau for the nearest alternatives.

The Complete Guide to Milford Sound© Unsplash

Milford Sound for Couples

While tropical sandy beaches tend to be considered the most romantic coastal landscapes, there’s arguably a more endearing quality to the rugged beauty of Milford Sound. Lush verdant rainforest, towering peaks formed by glaciers, inky black water that reflects the surroundings so vividly: there’s nowhere like Milford Sound and the Fiordland National Park. The dramatic formations of the destination are ideal to celebrate life’s most dramatic moments, whether it’s an anniversary or a honeymoon or, well, just a couples’ getaway. Start planning your romantic retreat to the wilderness with The Honeymoon Guide to Milford Sound.

Romantic Activities in Milford Sound
  • Enjoy an intimate scenic flight
  • Team up in a double kayak to explore the fiord
  • Take a scenic day cruise…
  • … Or a romantic overnight cruise
  • Walk hand-in-hand on one of the Milford Road walks.

For more details on each experience and their locations, see the 5 Romantic Activities in Milford Sound for Couples.

Romantic Accommodation in Milford Sound

An overnight cruise can sure be a romantic way to experience Milford Sound, especially at night when the tourist crowds have gone and it’s just you and your hubby under the vivid southern night’s sky. Alternatively, Milford Sound Lodge offers modern chalets nestled in Fiordland forest with mountain and river views. Check them out in the 10 Best Accommodations in Milford Sound or find the next nearest stays in the 7 Best Romantic Accommodation in Te Anau.

The Complete Guide to Milford Sound©

Milford Sound for Foodies

This is the part of the travel guide where we usually tell you about the food tours, wine tours, artisan markets and amazing restaurants of a destination. Well, in Milford Sound, the senses are so invigorated that the last thing you’ll be thinking about is your stomach. Sure, some cruises have an onboard bar serving craft beers and regional wines, while the mass-produced lunches are the last thing that visitors remember on their cruise…

There are two restaurants/cafes in Milford Sound, however. The Discover Milford Sound Information Centre & Cafe serves up crowd-pleasing burgers, pizzas, toasties and coffee, while the Pio Pio Cafe of the Milford Sound Lodge offers more premium plates of New Zealand and Fiordland-sourced ingredients.

Those on the overnight cruises, especially with Fiordland Discovery, are often amazed by the quality of the three-course fine-dining meals served onboard, as are those staying in the Ultimate Hikes lodges on the Milford Track, despite being far from anywhere. All in all, finding good food in Milford Sound is like finding a piece of greenstone; it’s a rare but a rewarding find.

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