Milford Sound Cruise: The Most Famous Milford Sound Activity
Taking a Milford Sound Cruise is the top thing to do in New Zealand and a great Milford Sound activity. This blog tells you everything you need to know about the best Milford Sound cruise and some other cool Milford Sound activities.
Carved by glaciers a long ago, Milford Sound is a natural wonder and a sight not to be missed for anyone visiting the South Island of New Zealand.
Located in the Fiordland National Park on the west coast of Southern New Zealand, Milford Sound was first discovered by the Māori people and legend has it Milford Sound was created by a godly figure in
Later on Milford Sound was “discovered” again by European settlers and was wrongly named as a Sound when it’s really a fjord (A sound is a river valley that’s been flooded by the ocean, whereas a fjord is formed by glacier).
There is a reason why Milford Sound is considered the 8th wonder of the world! One will be astonished by the stunning view on a Milford Sound Cruise surrounded by waterfalls and the towering peak of Mitre Peak, one of the most photographed peaks in New Zealand.
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Milford Sound Weather
Rain is one word you can use to describe Milford Sound weather.
It rains over 200 days of the year there and Milford Sound is considered one of the wettest places on earth.
During the early summer months of December and January Milford Sound sees the heaviest rainfall even though temperature during these early summer months is higher at around 55-65F (13-18C) degrees during the day.
You can still visit Milford Sound in the winter month (June to August). Temperature during these winter months at Milford Sound is a bit lower but you have a better chance of seeing dolphins and penguins during the cold season.
Even though Milford Sound weather sounds wet and gloomy, you should not feel discouraged because you will be able to see numerous waterfalls from the cliffs surrounding Milford Sound if you do a Milford Sound cruise in the rain.
These waterfalls are only there when it rains so as long as it doesn’t rain very heavily (the type that causes the cruise to be canceled), you will still have a great time. Unfortunately rain could affect the other Milford Sound activities such as hiking.
We got lucky when we went to Milford Sound on Christmas Eve it was sunny without a cloud in the sky. However the day before it was rainy and grey so you never know how Milford Sound weather will turn out.
Which Milford Sound Cruise?
How to Get To Milford Sound?
There are several different ways to get to Milford Sound and they include
1) Self drive from either Queenstown to Milford Sound or from Te Anau to Milford Sound
2) Take a coach from Te Anau or Queenstown to Milford Sound
3) Take a plane or helicopter from Queenstown to Milford Sound (the most expensive option)
Driving from Queenstown or Te Anau to Milford Sound
You can rent a car and drive from either Queenstown or Te Anau. It takes about 2 hours from Te Anau to Milford Sound and 4 hours from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
Driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound (4-5 Hours)
If you are driving from Queenstown, you might want to consider taking a later cruise as it takes 4-5 hours to drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound (Distance from Queenstown to Milford Sound is about 288km).
You will first drive about 2 hours from Queenstown to Te Anau, the last town before Fiordland National Park. As you drive towards Te Anau, you will be driving on the side of Lake Wakatipu the first 20-30 minutes.
There is a rest stop called Devil’s Staircase where you can get out of the car to really enjoy the view of the lake and the windy drive. Unfortunately after you reach the town of Kingston the drive to Te Anau gets a bit boring.
Once you get to Te Anau I suggest filling up on fuel, grab something to eat from the gas station before continuing on your drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound.
Driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound (2-3 hours)
Start your day in Te Anau bright and early to leave no later than 8am to catch your 10:45 Cruise Milford cruise. Budget 2-3 hours to drive on highway 94 to the Milford Sound Cruise terminal.
The actual distance from Te Anau to Milford Sound is only 121km but there are a lot of cars and buses in the morning to Milford Sound and you will inevitably get stuck behind a slower vehicle.
I personally stayed in Te Anau for two nights and absolutely would recommend it as it allowed me to do a few of the hikes in Fiordland National Park and see all the beautiful photo stops on the drive to Milford Sound.
Milford Sound Driving Tips
Fuel: Make sure you have enough fuel to drive to/back from Milford Sound as Te Anau is the last town that you can fill up. From Te Anau it’s still a two hour drive (one way) to Milford Sound.
Cellular Reception: There is NO cellular reception. If your car doesn’t have GPS, you should download a Google offline map and mark all the stops you want to make. Technically you won’t get lost because there really is only one road to Milford Sound and all the photo stops are well marked.
Photo Stops: Map out places you want to see on highway 94. Even though the photo stops are well marked, it’s still good to do your research ahead of time to figure out which ones you want to stop at because you probably won’t be able to stop at all of them. If you plan to do Milford Sound hikes definitely plan out which hike you want to do and bring enough food, water and clothes.
Ice & Snow: Watch out for ice and snow on highway 94 in the winter: if you are visiting Milford Sound in the winter you will need to put chains on your tires and watch out for ice and snow.
Don’t speed: One of my friends said they actually got caught speeding while driving to Milford Sound and I did see a couple of police cars myself while driving there. The speed limit is 100kmph but you probably won’t be driving that because the road gets really narrow and windy with hairpin turns at 15kmph.
Get there early! There are a few car parks near the Milford Sound cruise terminal. The closest parking lots get filled by 9:30am and the closest parking lot is already a 10 min walk to the Milford Sound cruise terminal. If you arrive late and need to park at a further lot then expect to walk 20-30 minutes.
Taking a Coach From Te Anau or Queenstown to Milford Sound
If you don’t feel like driving the windy Highway 94 to Milford Sound worry not, there are options for you to just sit back and relax.
With the cruise company I used, they also offer day tour options from Te Anau or Queenstown to Milford Cruise so you do not need to drive yourself.
There are also many other tours that offer day trip options to Milford Sound.
Flying to Milford Sound
If you really want the ultimate Milford Sound experience, then you can choose to either fly by plane or fly by helicopter from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
Flying by plane costs about between $NZ500-600 a person and taking the helicopter is around NZ$1000, which is the most expensive option. However if you have the money the view and the experience is definitely worth it.
What It’s Like to Take a Milford Sound Cruise
After driving on the narrow and windy road for hours you will eventually come to a huge parking lot at the end.
There are several different parking lots used for the Milford Sound Cruise terminal and unless you are the first ones there the first parking lot is prob full. We got there around 10am and was able to get one of the last spots in a parking lot closest to the cruise terminal.
What You See On the Milford Sound Sightseeing Cruise
After you check in with Cruise Milford, you will be given a boarding pass. Hold onto it otherwise you won’t be able to board. Cruise Milford’s boarding process was easy since it’s a small ship and I also appreciated the fact that they offered free coffee, tea and cookies on board given how early we had to get up to drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound.
The route of the cruise is pretty much making a big circle starting on the left side of the fjord, continuing to the Tasman Sea then coming back on the right side of the fjord.
One of the first things the cruise will pass by, Sinbad Gully is a U shaped Valley on the base of Mitre Peak. A rare bird called the kakapo bird was discovered in Sinbad Gully.
Above Sinbad Gully is the most iconic peak of Milford Sound, the Mitre Peak. Towering at 1692m, Mitre Peak is perhaps the most photographed peak in the entire South Island.
Shortly after we passed by Mitre Peak we spotted some seals! A couple of them were sunbathing on the rocks not too far from the first waterfall we encountered.
Fairy Falls & Bridal Veil Falls
Two semi-permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound, on a rainy day or right after heavy rain, you will be able to see these two gushing waterfalls. However since we went on a super sunny day, we actually only saw Bridal Veil Falls.
The captain got us really close to the waterfall and you can literally feel the spray on your face (cover up your camera and hopefully you have a rain jacket). It is amazing to see a waterfall from almost right under it; having a rainbow in from of your boat doesn’t hurt either.
Anita Bay & Tasman Sea
As the cruise continues you will pass by Anita Bay and go into Tasman Sea. This is generally the point where your Milford Sound sightseeing cruise will turn around to go back to the cruise departure point.
Because Milford Sound is a protected area, there are a lot of wild lives here such as penguins, dolphins and seals. There is even a rock named Seal Rock where you can see seals sunbathing on the rocks. We actually got very lucky that we saw seals both on Seal Rock and near Bridal Veil Falls earlier during the cruise.
Perhaps my favorite waterfall in Milford Sound, this stunning waterfall is about 150m high and is a permanent waterfall. This means that even on a sunny day you will be able to see Stirling Falls. The captain gets you really close to the waterfall and you can feel the power of the gushing water. Be prepare to get wet but amazed! Also if you are a X Men Wolverine fan, you may recognize this waterfall!
As you sail back to the wharf your captain will point out a mountain range that looks like a lion crouching. This mountain apparently sits 700 meters above sea and its real name is Mt. Kimberley.
Second to last sight on your Milford Sound cruise, Harrison’s Cove is a sheltered cove that allows visitors to kayak in peace sheltered the wind and the waves. The main thing to do in Harrison’s Cove is the Milford Discovery Centre & Underwater Observatory, a floating underwater observatory that lets you see the underwater world.
Lady Bowen Falls
The last waterfall you will see on the Milford Sound cruise, Lady Bowen Falls is also the tallest waterfall in Milford Sound at 168m. It is named after the wife of one of the first New Zealand governors. Apparently Lady Bowen Falls is the sole source of electric power and energy in Milford Sound, therefore it’s extremely important.
Other Milford Sound Activities
Although most people visit Milford Sound to do the sightseeing Cruise, there are actually a ton of other Milford Sound activities you can do.
Camping in Milford Sound
If you are traveling by camper van in New Zealand then you simply have to stay one night in Milford Sound. It’s a completely different feeling when you wake up and have Milford Sound all to yourself.
Kayaking in Milford Sound
As mentioned earlier, Harrison’s Cove is a kayaker’s heaven. Even though you cannot go as far as a cruise can, it is still an amazing experience to kayak in the calm waters of Milford Sound to enjoy the stunning view.
Diving in Milford Sound
If you are a fan of diving and the underwater world then you simply have to do a diving tour in Milford Sound.
Hiking in Milford Sound
There are a number of multi-day hikes located in Fiordland National Park, 3 of which are part of New Zealand’s Great Walks: Milford Track, Kepler Track and Routeburn Track. Another multi-day track called the Hollyford Track is also located not too far from Milford Sound.
If you are not into multi-day hikes, there are a number of amazing Milford Sound day hikes you can do. These include Gertrude Saddle, Key Summit Track (part of the Routeburn track), Lake Marian Track (one of my favorites), Tutoko Track and Grave Talbot Track.
Is Milford Sound Cruise Worth It?
If you are looking for a relaxing experience visiting one of the most famous natural attractions in New Zealand then absolutely! Milford Sound Cruise is definitely worth it.
Be sure to visit Milford Sound on a nice day. If it’s pouring and you can’t see anything then I don’t think it would be the best experience for you.
In addition, self-drive is the best way to visit Milford Sound. After the cruise you can check out other beautiful spots or do a hike near Milford Sound. This whole day experience makes the Milford Sound Cruise day trip even more fun and worthwhile.
Final Thoughts on Milford Sound Cruise and Activities
Regardless of how long you are in New Zealand, you will inevitably find your way to the amazing Milford Sound, whether it’s one day or one week there.
If you only have one day in Milford Sound then you simply have to do the Milford Sound sightseeing cruise like I did. If time allows in your 1 day in Milford Sound, then add in another hike along the way. But seriously, no matter what you do in Milford Sound, this place will amaze you.
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Cruise Milford but all opinions are mine!
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