How to Visit Milford Sound on a Budget
Is Milford Sound still worth visiting if you don’t have the money for a cruise or a scenic flight? Absolutely! In fact, Milford Sound is very easy to explore without spending a dime (apart from fuel costs, of course). The myriad of walks at Milford Sound and along the Milford Road will literally keep you busy for days, while the Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites allow you to stay in the great outdoors in your campervan or tent. Other than the campsites, however, budget accommodation is virtually non-existent, so you might want to stay in Te Anau for more cheap accommodation.
Learn about the ins and outs of planning a budget trip to New Zealand’s most famous fiord with this guide to Milford Sound on a budget.
Budget Tips for Milford Sound
- There’s no cheap public transport to Milford Sound but you can take day bus tours from Queenstown and Te Anau, which offer good value. Check out your options in the 10 Best Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown & Te Anau
- Accommodation in Milford Sound is extremely limited, but DOC campsites offer affordable places to pitch your tent or park your campervan. Fees are approximately NZ$15 a night.
- With so many walks in Milford Sound, you don’t have to pay to enjoy some spectacular scenery – check some out in the 11 Milford Sound Walks You Can’t Miss
- If you want to take a cruise, look out for early-bird specials and compare all of the cruise options in the 6 Best Cruises in Milford Sound
- Bring your own food, as there are no supermarkets along the Milford Road nor in Milford Sound. Cafes are limited but food prices are at a premium
- Visit in the off-season (May to September) to get the best rates on activities and accommodation.
For more general budget advice, check out the 11 Ways to Save Money When Backpacking in New Zealand.
Free Activities in Milford Sound
Spoiler alert: pretty much all of the free things to do in Milford Sound are walks. Some of the free walks that are well worth doing include the Milford Sound Foreshore Walk, a 30-minute walk giving you those postcard views of Mitre Peak (the highest peak in Milford Sound) without having to take a cruise. The Milford Sound Lookout Track is another good one to enjoy views of the famous fiord, which only takes around 20 minutes to complete.
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 and panoramic views of mountains. The Lake Marian Track is also a popular half-day walk, taking you to a series of cascading waterfalls before climbing to the stunning Lake Marian in a hanging valley surrounded by mountains. The walk takes approximately three hours return.
Some of the other free activities along the Milford Road include sights, such as the iconic Eglinton Valley, which is a flat-bottomed valley with golden tussock grass and a worthy photo stop. The Mirror Lakes might be classed as a walk but it’s more like a roadside attraction with viewing platforms overlooking a lake with vivid reflections of the Earl Mountains. You might also want to stop by Monkey Creek to fill up your water bottle with pure mountain water. Find out where these sights are in the 16 Stops You Can’t Miss on the Road to Milford Sound.
For more free walks, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Milford Sound.
Cheap Activities in Milford Sound
If it’s not free, then you’re going to have to dig deep into your pockets for the other activities and tours in Milford Sound. However, we can help you with the cheapest cruises in Milford Sound, as well as one walk that’s available via an affordable ferry transfer. The latter is the Bowen Falls Walk, Milford Sound’s hidden gem and accessed via a short ferry ride from the Visitors Terminal at the Milford Marina. Costing NZ$10 return for adults and around NZ$5 for kids, the boat trip gives you access to a 30-minute walk 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.
The Cheapest Milford Sound Cruises
One of the most affordable ways to actually explore the famous fiord of Milford Sound is by cruise. There are plenty of options, which we list in the 6 Best Cruises in Milford Sound.
The cheapest cruise at Milford Sound is usually with Go Orange. Their two-hour cruise takes you to all the highlights that other cruises see, majestic mountain views, seal rock and under Stirling Falls, for around NZ$70 per adult (of course, price is subject to change). Alternatively, JUCY Cruise has regular deals on their retail price of NZ$100, typically bringing it down to NZ$60 on their “Early Bird” cruise (departing around 9am) or around NZ$70 throughout the day.
Again, check out the 6 Best Cruises in Milford Sound to compare all of your options, as well as the 10 Best Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown & Te Anau with cruises included in these bus tours.
Cheap Eats in Milford Sound
This section of our budget travel guide is usually more relevant for destinations not quite as remote as Milford Sound. We recommend that you bring your own food supplies to Milford Sound, as dining is limited. That said, if you must eat out, then you can still get a coffee, pizza, a burger or a toastie from the Discover Milford Sound Information Centre & Cafe. They offer some of the cheapest eats in the Milford Sound area, but still, pizzas are over NZ$20 and burgers are around NZ$15…
Alternatively, try the Pio Pio Cafe at the Milford Sound Lodge, which serves hearty sandwiches and burgers for around NZ$16 for lunch and mains for around NZ$40 for dinner.