One of New Zealand’s national treasures, Milford Sound ranks as one of the world’s top natural wonders. Majestic Mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls, lush green rainforest and an amazing array of wildlife make Milford Sound a major drawcard for visitors from far and wide, attracting in the vicinity of 1 million visitors each year.
Carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago, the Milford Sound fiord is situated in the southwest of New Zealand’s rugged South Island. Whether you choose to explore Milford Sound by a day or overnight boat cruise, scenic flight or get up close and personal with an adventure kayaking experience, the trip will be one of the most rewarding adventures to be had in New Zealand today.
On Milford Sound
Photo credit: Mike Holmes
Most visitors choose to explore Milford Sound by boat tour or cruise. Great views, stunning icy waters and an abundance of wildlife spotting await travellers from the comfort of a Milford Sound boat tour. Seals, Bottlenose Dolphins and Fiordland Crested Penguins are just a few of the rarer marine life species able to be viewed.
Whether you only have time for a quick trip or have all day (and the next day) there are a wide range of boat cruises and operators available in Milford Sound. Deciding which tour company to book with can be a little daunting at times so we have put together this handy guide.
Using smaller boats, Cruise Milford pride themselves on providing less crowded more personal tours of Milford Sound. Cruises depart at around 10.45 am, 12.45 pm and 2.45 pm daily at a duration of 1 hr 45 minutes. Coach/cruise combinations are available from Te Anau and Queenstown along with a cruise/fly option. Tour prices range from $95 per person.
On board the spacious Go Orange vessel sightseers are treated to a selection of free food over the two hour relaxed cruise. Tours depart 9, 12.30, 3 and 5.15 pm in the summer months and 10.30 am and 12.45 pm over the winter, coach connections are also available. Go Orange pride themselves on being respectful of the environment and safety conscious. Tour prices range from $45 to $145 per person.
At 2 hours in length, the Mitre Peak Cruises provide an intimate Milford cruise experience with all cruise numbers strictly limited to 75 people. Complimentary tea and coffee is available on-board the comfortable vessel, along with an interactive and informative commentary along the way. Tours depart 9.55am, 12.20pm and 2.55pm across May to September, and 8.55, 9.55, 11.10am and 12.20, 1.35, 2.55 and 4.30pm across October to April. For the Milford Cruise only costs range from $70 per person.
Southern Discoveries have four very different tours ranging from 1 hr 45 minutes to 3 hrs in duration. Taking a nature-based approach the cruise boats are designed for optimal viewing with spacious wide open decks and tall viewing windows. Cruises depart at regular intervals during the day in between the hours of 9am and 3.15 pm. Coach/cruise options are available from Te Anau and Queenstown along with cruise/kayak combos. Prices vary depending on your choices but as a rough guide they range between $45 to $200.
One of the few tour companies to offer an overnight cruises, Real Journeys also provide a few good sea kayaking options. Real Journeys also operate a range of tours in Doubtful Sound, Queenstown, Te Anau, Stewart Island and Christchurch. Tour prices range from $389 for multi day options down to $74 for a scenic 1 hour 40 minute cruise.
Offering a choice of day, overnight, multiday and exclusive charters, the Fiordland Discovery team provide a touch of luxury to your Milford Sound cruise experience. On board the ‘Fiordland Jewel’ luxury expedition catamaran passengers are treated to a fully catered, expertly crewed unique luxury boating encounter including an on-deck hot-tub, helipad and use of expedition equipment. Prices are available from the Fiordland Discovery team upon request.
While there are variations in the length and routes taken, most Milford Sound cruises will incorporate the same key features. Departing from the Milford Wharf boats usually complete a rough loop of the fiord, here are the highlights to expect on your Milford Sound cruise.
Lady Bowen Falls. One of several impressive waterfalls found dotted around the fiord, Lady Bowen Falls is situated very near the Milford departure point. The falls are used to generate electricity for the nearby town of Milford and also provide clean drinking water. Lady Bowen Falls are the highest waterfalls within the Milford Sound.
Stirling Falls. Best viewed by kayak or boat, the almost vertical drop of the Stirling Falls makes for ideal conditions to get right up close to the water – at times even going under the water is possible. At 151 metres tall it ranks as the second highest waterfall within the Milford Sound and is simply spectacular as it drops from the valley high above in between the Elephant and Lion Mountains.
Mitre Peak. At 1,692 metres (5,551 feet), Mitre Peak is one of Milford’s iconic landmarks. Towering steeply above the fiord Mitre Peak is one of New Zealand’s most photographed mountains. Mitre Peak is unmissable and lays on the southern edge of the fiord.
Seal Rock. Keep an eye out for this sunny spot popular with the locals… the local fur seals that is! One of the few places in amongst the steep sided fiord where groups of NZ fur seals can climb up out of the water and sun themselves on the rocks, get ready for some great photo ops.
Fairy Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Palisade Falls. Out of the hundreds of waterfalls dotted around the Milford Sound only a few are officially named. Fairy Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Palisade Falls are the main ones (not including Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls) to look out for. Keep an eye out after passing Copper Point.
Copper Point. The narrowest point of the Milford Sound, Copper Point is often very windy due to the nature of the surrounding terrain. The area gets its name from the veins of copper easily seen running through the rock.
The Lion. Officially known as Mt Kimberley, this very distinctive mountain gets its name from its resemblance to the shape of a crouching lion.
Harrison’s Cove. A natural cove facing inland away from the entrance to the fiord, Harrisons Cove provides a sheltered spot for overnight moorings.
Dale Point. Dale Point sits at the northern entrance to the Milford Sound before it opens out to the Tasman Sea. It is surrounded by sheer rock faces on either side.
Sinbad Gully. A classic ‘U’ shaped valley nestled in between the slopes of Mt Phillips, Mitre Peak and the Footstool mountain. New Zealand’s native Kakapo was rediscovered here in the 1970s after it was generally thought to have become extinct.
When looking to enjoy a cruise at Milford Sound don’t overlook the drive in getting to this wonderful little slice of paradise. The road into Milford Sound is described as one of New Zealand’s best scenic road trips, with many great little places to stop and enjoy the beautiful countryside along the way.
Whether you hire a car, a minivan or jump on a bus, the Milford Road is not just any old road, it is very much a part of the epic Milford Sound experience. Check out the NZ Rent A Car blog for more New Zealand travel and holiday advice, information on local attractions.