Everything you need to know about Milford Sound and the Fiordland National Park, how to get there, things to see and the best nature cruise!
No journey to New Zealand is completed if you have not been to Milford Sound on the south island. Be prepared that this place will leave you speechless as soon as you see the water of the fjord and the frame of the majestic mountains.
Many people describe Milford Sound as the eighth wonder of the world. And many who have taken the journey there got a more deeper understanding for the beauty and treasure of our planet we live on.
Here´s why you have to visit
Milford Sound must be on every travelers bucket list and is one of the places that you have to visit once in your life.
This post will show you how to get there and what to expect on your way through the mighty Fiordland National Park. How to make the most out of this trip, how much time you should plan and also why you should not worry to much about things like rain.
And even though many tourists visit this place every day, this post will give you a lot of helpful tips and advises how you can beat the crowds and have the best time in Milford Sound! 😉
So let the journey begin!
Where is Milford Sound?
It is located in the Fiordland National Park on the south western part of New Zealand´s south island. The closest towns are Te Anau and Queenstown. The Fiordland is only accessible via one road that goes all the way through the national park or by air.
If you look on any map, Milford Sound just seems to be a little jump away from Queenstown.
But although both places are like next door neighbors there is not such thing like a direct road that connects both places. Instead you have to drive a long way around. It will lead you along stunning scenery and will leave you many times just speechless. Perhaps when the Milford Road was build that was one of the reasons for the workers to make the way to Milford Sound as long as possible.
How to get to Milford Sound by car
From Queenstown you drive for about two hours to the next town Te Anau, located on the majestic Te Anau lake.
From Te Anau the Milford Road continues for another two hours straight deep into the Fiordland National Park, New Zealand´s biggest national park, all the way to Milford Sound.
With a lot of stunning scenery on the way!
If you wanna take in all of the Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound and you don´t wanna rush, split the trip and start from Te Anau instead of from Queenstown.
You will have more time to explore and enjoy.
Before you start driving check the weather forecast and the status of the Milford Road. It is the only way into the Fiordland National Park and can be closed if the weather is really bad, to stormy or if there is to much snow.
Another way to see Milford Sound is by air!
Flying from Queenstown to Milford Sound and over the Fiordland National Park is a once in a lifetime experience! Fly over snowy mountain peaks, and valleys, see stunning blue glacier lakes on top of the mountains and also see New Zealand´s highest waterfall. The 580 metres tall Sutherland Falls.
Taking the bus to Milford Sound
Another option if you only have limited time is to go on a day bus tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound. The buses leave very early at 07:00 AM in the morning and return in the evening. The price for the bus tour already includes the ticket for the cruise.
However if you have time I would recommend you to go with your own car. In that way you are flexible with time and can decide how long you wanna spend in one place.
The Fiordland National Park – Things to see on the way to Milford Sound
Now here starts the fun part!
On the road to Milford Sound make as many stops as you like and take as many pictures as your memory card can hold. The Fiordland National Park is New Zealand´s biggest national park and just seems to be from another world. You might think you are in middle earth. Drive around corners and discover long lakes, river beds, cliffs and valleys and endless seeming mountain views.
Here are some great photo stops on the way
Te Anau Downs
Before entering the national park take a moment to enjoy the view over the beautiful Te Anau lake with the mountains in the background and hills full of sheep.
Eglinton Valley and the Mirror Lakes
After entering the National Park you will soon come to a big mountain wall with a wide valley. The horizon seems to be endless far away and the golden color of the tussock grass makes this place a must to stop. Soon after the valley you will see a sign pointing to the famous Mirror Lakes. There are parking places on the side. A board walk leads to the viewing platforms. On calm days with no wind the mountains reflect perfectly in the clear water.
The road will lead you through big and lush forests. On clear days it just looks like magic how the sun light is fighting its way through the thick canopy. Drive further until you reach the biggest and longest lake in the National Park, Lake Gunn.
Lookouts are around every corner
But also don´t forget to watch the road!
On the way you should stop on every lookout sign, as the views are getting better and better!
They are simply stunning – and that alone is what makes it so extraordinary.
The Homer Tunnel
To reach the other side of the mountains and to access Milford Sound you have to drive through Homer Tunnel that can sometimes be closed, due to heavy rain, stone falls, or snow. But don´t worry, before you drive into the Fiordland signs will inform either if the tunnel is open or not.
The tunnel is extremely narrow and pretty much just a hole in the rock that leads through the massive mountain. It has only one lane and is operated with traffic lights.
Before you enter there is another great photo opportunity. You can park on the right side of the road and look towards a giant mountain wall with high waterfalls.
After driving out of the tunnel and back into the light the mountains will stretch into a huge valley in front of you which will make you gasp for sure!
It is hard to believe that the open ocean lies behind the horizon, which again shows the rich diversity of New Zealand´s nature.
It´s coming closer
Just follow the road until you spot it – the mighty Mitre Peak that is on almost every New Zealand travel guide and one of the most famous and most photographed nature sights in New Zealand.
Welcome to Milford Sound
The first part of this adventure is done. You might need a break to reflect all the different emotions and pictures you have already experienced on your way coming here.
A little paradise on earth
Take your time to walk around Milford and take in the beauty and serenity of this place.
No wifi, no phone signal, no supermarkets or big hotels. Here you find just a few houses for those who work here during the seasons, the cruise boat terminal with facilities, the Milford lodge with camping ground and a little café. A bid further away is the runway for planes and helicopters doing scenic flight.
No matter where you are from – home and the rest of the world seems to be far away when you come to Milford Sound!
Milford Sound Cruises – Let the journey continue!
Jump on a boat for a two hour cruise through Milford Sound you will always remember.
The beauty of this place is just breathtaking. The mountains standing in the water, high cliffs and waterfalls that fall into the ocean. Chances to spot some wild life are very high as well, like seals or dolphins.
The cruise goes all the way through the sound to the open sea before it returns on the same way back.
I can highly recommend you go with Southern Discoveries Cruises. They have a great service, the prices are cheap and they even offer either a breakfast or lunch buffet on board!
You can even upgrade your ticket and book a kayak tour or visit the underwater observatory which is located underneath a platform in the water. The boats will stop there on the way to let passengers visit the observatory.
Spot some wildlife!
The crew will always watch for dolphins or orcas. You can spot some seals lying lazy on big rocks or pushing themselves back into the water. There is even a chance to spot the smallest penguins in the world.
On top of that the crew is always fun and ready for a good laugh. They will tell you a lot of interesting things about Milford Sound and their life working on the boats and in the national park. They even guide the boat under a huge waterfall, so you can safe the shower in the evening. 🙂
All together a cruise on Milford Sound is one of the things in life that you must have done! Afterwards for sure you will talk about a lot to your friends and family.
By the end of the day it will be hard to leave this place behind and move on.
But if you decide to stay a night (or two) in the Milford Lodge and explore the area a bid more farewell will be easier – or maybe not. 🙂
The weather in Milford Sound – Do not forget your rain jacket!
Yes, chances are high that there will be some rain if you visit one of the wettest places in the world. However I can tell you that rain just belongs to the Fiordland and Milford Sound like tomato sauce belongs on a pizza.
After all rain should not stop you from being adventurous and excited about this place!
In fact on rainy days Milford Sound transforms itself into a place of thousands of waterfalls that run from the top of the peaks into the ocean. Clouds in between the mountains give that place a mystical appearance and make it look even more beautiful.
My first visit to Milford Sound was on a rainy and cloudy day and could not have been any better.
The other times I went the days were nice and sunny which was also great of course. But the atmosphere was a different one than it was before.
So my advise if you plan to visit Milford Sound and the Fiordland National Park and the forecast says rain – take waterproofed shoes, a rain jacket and enjoy your time and the fresh smell of rain.
But again, if you drive there also check the conditions about the Milford Road, as it can be closed if the weather is to bad.
My tip to beat the crowds and tour buses (you do need your own vehicle!)
To see the most of the Fiordland National Park and to avoid annoying tourist groups start your journey from Te Anau.
Stay there the night before (there are a lot of different accommodations and camping grounds).
Leave early, no later than 7AM! Remember you wanna leave the buses behind ya! Normally the buses start from Queenstown at 7AM and will reach Te Anau by 9:00-9:30AM for a break before they will continue their way. But if you leave early enough you will leave them behind you.
Stay over night and have breakfast on the boat
And if you wanna see Milford Sound without the crowds during dusk and dawn book a night at the Milford Lodge. If you go on the first cruise the next day at 09AM there will be also a big breakfast buffet served on the boat.
So what are you waiting for?
The opportunities are endless, Milford Sound and the Fiordland National Park are like a big natural playground. There is so much to see and discover. So plan your adventure today and you will have the best time here in the south island in New Zealand!
I hope this post could give you a lot of helpful information about what things to do and see in Milford Sound and in the Fiordland National Park.
Related New Zealand articles
- The best way to get to Milford Sound (by car, bus or plane)
- 10 beaches in New Zealand you have to visit
- New Zealand´s famous pancake rocks and the west coast
- Things to do in Maunt Maunganui
Please share your thoughts about this place in the comments and if you want check out my other posts about more beautiful places to visit in New Zealand!
Until next time!
Lot´s of love, Alice
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