Milford Sound… what can we say. Its raw natural beauty has inspired poets, painters and authors. Visitors travel from all of over the world to witness its staggering beauty on a clear day and its mystical eeriness on a rainy day. Fiordland’s unique wildlife delights any visitor who cruises the deep, dark body of water carved by ancient glaciers. It’s widely agreed that Milford Sound is the most spectacular fiord environment in the southern hemisphere.
Does it live up to its accolades?
Yes. Yes, it does.
But the only way you’ll know that for sure is to go there yourself (something we highly recommend).
Located on the remote, pristine southwest coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Milford Sound lies within the World Heritage area of Fiordland National Park. Funnily enough, Milford Sound is not a sound at all; it’s a fiord (if you want to get technical). Milford Sound is a body of water carved out by a network of glaciers that once flowed to the sea. What’s left behind is a sea flooded inlet of water surrounded by staggeringly steep cliff walls. Glaciers once carved a path through this ancient, lush rainforest.
So, with all that staggering beauty offering limitless photo opportunities, it’s no surprise that Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations. If you’re visiting Queenstown, make sure you put a visit to Milford Sound on your itinerary.
HOW TO GET THERE
Getting to Milford Sound is a journey in itself. The journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound is not quick or easy, but then, the good things never are.
For most travellers to Milford Sound, Queenstown is the starting point. The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is around 4 – 4.5 hours, there are a few options for getting there.
Our best advice for a self-drive journey to Milford Sound is ‘be prepared’. Be prepared for some of the most amazing (and challenging) driving you’ll encounter in New Zealand. The road to Milford Sound passes through the full range of South Island landscapes so the hardest part will be keeping your eyes on the road. Be prepared for the Homer Tunnel, a 1.2klm tunnel passing through solid rock offering just enough room for a bus and a car to squeeze past each other. Make sure you’re prepared for the road conditions that can range from ‘packed with tourist vehicles’ in summer to ‘covered in snow’ in winter. We recommend checking the road conditions with NZTA before you head off.
For those not wanting to tackle the drive, a more relaxing option is a return sightseeing tour departing from Queenstown. Whether you choose to bus or fly, a guided tour will give you a chance to take in every last drop of the breathtaking scenery. The informative commentary along the way is an added bonus. Sightseeing tours include your cruise on Milford Sound. There are options to do a bus-cruise-fly if you’d prefer to do the journey on land one way, and in the sky the other. There are a number of operators who offer bus and flight tours to Milford Sound, our front desk has all the info you’ll need to make a booking. Check out the tour operator Real Journeys whose coaches offer tiered, angled seating and windows in the roof so you don’t miss any of the spectacular scenery.
WHAT TO DO THERE
You may think the road to Milford Sound is stunning, but it’s nothing compared to the scenery you’ll see when you arrive. Getting out on the water is what a Milford Sound trip is all about and there’s no better way to appreciate the natural spectacle of the fiord than taking a scenic cruise. The 16klm journey from the Milford Sound marina to the open sea is a visual treat. Milford Sound’s highest peak, Mitre Peak soars above the fiord, dwarfing the cruise boats as they cruise through waterfall territory.
Apart from the marina and the airport there is not a lot else available at Milford Sound. There is one café and one lodge (and no petrol station). Be prepared!
WHAT YOU WILL SEE THERE
Out on the water you’ll enjoy stunning waterfalls cascading down from the steep cliff walls (hundreds more appear on a rainy day). The dense lush rainforest is native beech and podocarp forest. Inhabiting the dense rainforest is some of New Zealand’s finest bird specimens like Takahe, Kakapo and Kea. The Fiordland Crested Penguin is one of the world’s rarest penguins and luckily for us is pretty common in Milford Sound. You may also see dolphins (Bottlenose, Dusky or Hector’s) and New Zealand Fur Seals.
If you want to linger longer in Milford Sound, check out a kayaking trip in the fiord, an overnight cruise on Milford Sound or nearby Doubtful Sound, or The Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
Our Top Tips for getting the most out of Milford Sound
- Most of the Milford Sound area is out of cellphone reception. Enjoy some time offline and upload your pictures to Facebook when you’re back in Queenstown.
- Don’t be deterred by a bit of rain. In fact, many locals think Milford Sound is at its most spectacular on a rainy day. The waterfalls multiply and the fiord is shrouded in mist making for spectacular photographs. Our best advice is to pack a good rain jacket and get out and enjoy it.
- Milford Sound is just about heaven for sand flies. Sand flies are Milford Sound’s most infamous inhabitants. There’s no real way to beat them, so it’s best to join them. Cover up with clothing and don’t let them get to you.
Milford Sound really is one of New Zealand’s most outstanding features. If you’re travelling all the way to the South Island, make sure you include a visit to Milford Sound into your itinerary.
There’s nothing else like it.