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.
Common Questions About Milford Sound
Before we get into this complete travel guide to Milford Sound, here are a few common questions travellers have about visiting this corner of New Zealand.
Is Milford Sound Worth Visiting?
Boasting some of the most dramatic glacier-carved scenery in New Zealand, Milford Sound is absolutely worth visiting for anyone who appreciates nature. However, Milford Sound is perhaps not worth the detour if you are visiting one of the other fiords, such as Doubtful Sound, due to the scenery being very similar. Find out more about Doubtful Sound tours on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook and KKday.
When is the Best Time to Visit Milford Sound?
The most popular time to visit Milford Sound is during New Zealand’s summer season (December to February) when temperatures are at their mildest. The daily average temperature is 10.2°C/50.3°F and the yearly average rainfall is 6,428mm/253.1″, making Milford Sound one of the wettest places on earth. Whether you visit in summer or winter, there is a high probability that you’ll experience some rain (luckily, Milford Sound still looks amazing under the rain). Those seeking fewer crowds are best to visit in winter (June to August) but note that there are frequent road closures and snow chains should be carried if you decide to drive yourself. Another way to avoid the crowds, whatever the season, is to visit Milford Sound in the morning or late afternoon.
Where is Milford Sound Located?
Milford Sound is on the southwest coast of the South Island in the Southland region. It is 120km (75 miles) from the nearest town, Te Anau.
How Do You 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, as well as flights to and from Milford Sound. More flights to Milford Sound are available from Te Anau, Wanaka and Haast.
Can You Do Milford Sound in a Day?
Milford Sound is a popular day trip from Te Anau and Queenstown. You can drive or take a bus tour comfortably from Te Anau, which includes approximately three hours of driving for the return journey. If day-tripping from Queenstown, however, we strongly recommend doing the day trip with either a bus tour (10 Best Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown & Te Anau) or a scenic flight (6 Best Scenic Flights to Milford Sound from Queenstown). Otherwise, a DIY drive involves seven hours of driving.
How Long Should You Spend in Milford Sound?
Although Milford Sound can be done comfortably in a day with bus tours and scenic flights, it is possible to enjoy Milford Sound overnight through overnight cruises, or longer by staying in a lodge or the campsites along the Milford Road (11 Best Accommodations in Milford Sound). We recommend staying two to four days in Milford Sound if you want to do several of the activities we list in the 15 Best Things to Do in Milford Sound.
What is the Best Way to See Milford Sound?
The most popular way to see Milford Sound is on a scenic cruise (7 Best Cruises in Milford Sound). However, those on a tight budget might prefer sampling the walks in Milford Sound, those looking for a more intimate experience might prefer kayaking or a scenic flight, while adventure travellers might like to check out the scuba diving – all of which is elaborated in the 15 Best Things to Do in Milford Sound.
What to Do in Milford Sound
A cruise through the famous fiord is a staple of a Milford Sound visit, but did you know that there’s so much more to do here? Enjoy the views from countless hikes and short walks, get a different perspective of the fiord from a flight or kayaking trip, or even dive into its depths on a scuba diving excursion.
The Top Experiences in Milford Sound
What are the must-dos? Here are some of the Milford Sound highlights:
- Join one of the 7 Best Cruises in Milford Sound
- Hike the Key Summit Track
- Stop by the Mirror Lakes
- Admire the views from the Milford Foreshore Walk
- Soar the skies on a Milford Sound scenic flight (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Go on a paddling adventure with Rosco’s Milford Kayaks (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- See black coral on a scuba diving trip with Descend Scuba Diving NZ…
… And the list goes on over in our 15 Best Things to Do in Milford Sound.
Where to Stay in Milford Sound
Milford Sound is in the heart of a protected national park, which means the accommodation options are extremely limited. Choose one lodge, an overnight cruise, as well as campsites found along the road between Te Anau and Milford Sound. Check out all of the options for Milford Sound’s closest accommodations in the 10 Best Accommodations in Milford Sound.
Alternatively, accommodation is available in Te Anau, 118km (73 miles) away. Check out our Te Anau recommendations in the following lists:
- 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Te Anau & Milford Sound
- 10 Best Hotels in Te Anau
- 10 Best Motels in Te Anau
- 5 Best Holiday Parks in Te Anau
- 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Te Anau
- 10 Best Family Accommodations in Te Anau
- 9 Best Luxury Accommodations in Te Anau
- 7 Best Romantic Accommodations in Te Anau
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 too far into your pockets. 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.
Things to Do on a Budget
- Get those iconic views of Milford Sound from the Milford Sound Foreshore Walk
- Take the ferry to the Bowen Falls Walk
- Hike to waterfalls and a lake on the Lake Marian Track
- Fill up your water bottle with fresh mountain water at Monkey Creek
- Hang out with a kea – the world’s only alpine parrot.
For more details on these activities and more, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Milford Sound.
The only forms of budget accommodation in Milford Sound are the powered sites at the Milford Sound Lodge, the Department of Conservation campsites and the backpackers at the Fiordland National Park Lodge 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 Accommodations in Te Anau and 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Te Anau & Milford Sound too.
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.
- Experience a luxury overnight cruise with RealNZ (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook).
- Enjoy a guided tour of the Milford Road, Milford Sound and short walks along the way with Trips & Tramps (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Take a scenic flight over the fiord with Milford Sound Helicopters (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- 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 Best Luxury Experiences in Milford Sound.
While accommodation in Milford Sound is more like three or four stars, rather than five stars, 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 Accommodations in Te Anau.
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.
- Look out for wildlife and see spectacular waterfalls on a Milford Sound cruise
- Stop by the Mirror Lakes
- Enjoy the forest and lake scenery of the Lake Gunn Nature Walk
- Check out the underwater observatory with Southern Discoveries (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
- See spectacular waterfalls on the Lake Marian Falls Track.
For more details on each activity and others, check out the 10 Things to Do in Milford Sound with Kids.
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. Alternatively, check out the Fiordland National Park Lodge, which offers family rooms along the Milford Road.
Find out more in the 10 Best Accommodations in Milford Sound or check out the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Te Anau for the nearest alternatives.
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 & Romantic Getaway Guide to Milford Sound.
Romantic Things to Do
- Enjoy an intimate scenic flight with Milford Sound Helicopters (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Team up in a double kayak to explore the fiord with Rosco’s Milford Kayaks (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- 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.
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 Accommodations in Te Anau.
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 multi-day cruises, especially with Fiordland Discovery, are often amazed by the quality of the three-course fine-dining meals served on board, 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 rewarding find.
More About Milford Sound
That’s it for our complete guide to Milford Sound, but, unbelievably, not the end of our advice about this mind-blowing corner of New Zealand. Check out the following guides to learn more:
- The Guide to Milford Sound and the Milford Road
- 18 Stops You Can’t Miss on the Road to Milford Sound
- 11 Stunning Sights Seen From a Milford Sound Cruise
Finally, if you found this guide useful then you might find planning the rest of your trip super easy with The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand, as well as our South Island in Two Weeks: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary.