Cruise Milford Sound, New Zealand – 6 Best Places To Visit

Milford Sound New Zealand

Also called Piopiotahi, Milford Sound is a spectacular 22 km long fjord nestled in the southwest of New Zealand’s South Island. The area is known as the wettest inhabited place on the planet, as it receives large amounts of rainfall during the year.

Milford Sound is known for the iconic Mitre Peak (Rahotu), lush rainforests, scenic waterfalls such as Stirling Falls and Bowen Falls, carved by glaciers during ice ages, featuring magnificent effects and incredible rainbows when it rains in Milford Sound.

Described as the “eighth wonder of the world” by English writer Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound boasts an abundance of wildlife and is home to four seal colonies protected by Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) Marine Reserve, penguins and dolphins.

Visit also our cruise port guides to Akaroa, Picton, Wellington, Tauranga, Auckland, Napier, Bay of Islands, Dunedin

Cruise Milford Sound – Practical Info

  • There is no dock in Milford Sound. Cruise ships sail into Fiordland National Park, a spectacular area that covers 1.2 million hectares of mountains, lakes, fiords and rainforests, and is part of the wider UNESCO World Heritage Site Te Wāhipounamu. Cruise passengers are usually transferred to the Fiordland National Park by a local boat.
  • Conveniently located in the heart of Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound Visitor Terminal provides a warm welcome and essential services upon your arrival. It also boasts informative displays and exhibits detailing the unique ecosystem and geological formations of Milford Sound. You can admire the beautiful panoramic views, partake in guided tours and activities, explore walking tracks through pristine rainforests, or shop for authentic souvenirs in an on-site gift shop.
  • Out of all the fjords, only Milford Sound is accessible by road. That’s why Milford Sound offers a large number of activities such as kayaking, boat cruises, scenic flights, famous hiking to Milford Track, walking tours to Milford Track/Milford Road, and trips to the Underwater Observatory where you can see and enjoy Milford Sound’s unique sea life.
  • When traveling to Milford Sound, make sure you bring a rain jacket, a compact travel umbrella, closed-toe shoes/hiking shoes, warm gear, a backpack, binoculars, and a camera.
  • Wi-fi is only free in public libraries. Some bars and restaurants offer slow-speed wi-fi for an extra fee.
  • Check out Milford Sound tours and activities
Cruise Milford Sound - Milford Sound Port
Milford Sound

Milford Sound Cruise – 6 Best Places To Visit

1. Fiordland National Park

Most cruise lines offer Milford Sound cruises as a 2-day experience, with an option to stay overnight in Queenstown, the city nestled on the shores of the South Island’s Lake Wakatipu. This incredible 2-day adventure usually includes a boat cruise through the magnificent fjords, a guided historic walking tour to Fiordland National Park with its numerous fjords, waterfalls and beautiful mountain landscapes, a stop at the town of Te Anau, and a few other stops.

However, keep in mind that the Milford Sound itinerary may vary depending on the cruise line, the weather conditions, and a few other factors.

Besides overnight in Queenstown, the exploration of Milford Sound can also include a visit to Te Anau Downs and the city of Dunedin, a popular cruise port on the easter shore of New Zealand’s South Island.

This experience involves disembarking at the Fiordland National Park with a guided walking tour included and from there the drive through Te Anau Downs, which can take approximately 2 hrs. After that, the tour continues to Dunedin where the guests embark on the cruise ship.

Tip: The whole trip to Milford Sound is not wheelchair-friendly as it involves a lot of driving, boat transfers and some walking. Closed-toe shoes are mandatory. Bring warm rain gear. It’s recommended to pack a backpack for 1 night or a small carry-on.

There are no local public transport bus services operated by local authorities. Very limited private ferry and taxi services in Te Anau, with the Kepler Water Taxi and Te Anau Taxi Transfers being the notable exceptions.

Explore Fiordland National Park tours and activities

Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound, New Zealand
Fiordland National Park

2. Te Anau

“The place of the Swirling Waters” in Maori, the town of Te Anau is located on the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau in Fiordland, 171 km/106 miles southwest of Queenstown. Te Anau is served by the commercial Te Anau-Manapouri Airport located 17 km south of the town on State Highway 95.

Te Anau’s population counts 2760 inhabitants and it is the main visitor base for the exploration of Fiordland National Park. When in town, you must try delicious local delicacies like venison, seafood and fresh lobster!

Some of the top Te Anau highlights are Glowworm caves, scenic flights, Lake Te Anau cruising, kayaking, bird sanctuary visits, and fishing.

The Anau is also a town with a very busy cultural calendar that includes events celebrating music, arts, sport, and nature such as Kepler Challenge Mountain Run, Santa Parade, Milford Mountain Classic Bike Ride, Te Anau Rodeo, Te Anau Tartan Festival, Te Anau Manapouri Fishing Classic, and others.

If you are planning to independently visit the Milford Sound, Te Anau town is the best place to find accommodation.

Useful info:

  • The tour of Te Anau is usually included on the first day of the 2-day Milford Sound experience. Besides exploring Te Anau highlights, on this day guests normally have a guided walking tour through Fiordland National Park, known for exceptional natural beauty and rich historic heritage. After that, the tour continues to Queenstown.
  • Make sure to bring water and light snacks as there’s a lot of driving involved from Te Anau to Queenstown (up to 2 hrs) with only one toilet stop on the way.
  • Depending on the tour you booked, your itinerary may involve a stop at a local countryside farm where local lunch is served.
  • Check out Te Anau tours and activities

3. Queenstown

Milford Sound overnight cruises usually include a stay in Queenstown, located 1 hr 45 minutes/2 hrs driving distance from Te Anau. Guests are usually offered a guided tour of Queenstown with free time included, with options such as a Milford Sound scenic cruise with a live piano performance or a dinner at a local farm with a sheep demo. The scenic cruise is absolutely breathtaking as it allows you to see whales, dolphins and fascinating wildlife, not to mention the spectacular views of glacial lakes.

Queenstown Skyline Gondola is another must-do activity, and it’s normally included in the guided tour of the town highlights. The iconic Skyline Gondola is the steepest cable car lift in the Southern Hemisphere that takes visitors 480 meters above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, offering a stunning panorama of the surrounding mountain peaks and natural landscapes.

Queenstown offers plenty of other attractions like walking tracks, mountain biking trails, cultural experiences, adventure activities, and great dining options, all with incredible views and spectacular sceneries.

Check out Queenstown tours and activities

Lake Wakatipi - View from Queenstown Gondola
Lake Wakatipu – View from Queenstown Gondola. Image by

4. Arrowtown

Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town in the Otago region, located approximately 20 km/12 miles northeast of Queenstown (20 minutes drive). It is a charming and delightful gold rush village nestled along the sparkling Arrow River at the foot of magnificent mountain peaks. The town is known for its old architecture, lack of traffic and beautiful scenery, and has a population of 2880 according to the latest statistics.

Called Haehaenui in Maori, Arrowtown boasts a rich cultural and historic heritage and is one of New Zealand’s iconic visitor destinations in the Otago region of the South Island. Depending on the itinerary, the tours may include a short visit to the town with lunch included.

5. Dunedin

Your 2-day Milford Sound itinerary may end in Dunedin port where your cruise ship is normally waiting for you. Time permitting, you may be offered a guided tour of Dunedin highlights. For more information on Dunedin, read my article 11 Best Things to Do in Dunedin Port + Cruise Port Guide

6. Doubtful Sound/Patea

When Milford Road is closed and depending on weather conditions, visitors may be offered an alternative activity that includes a visit to the magnificent Doubtful Sound/Patea via Lake Manapouri.

Doubtful Sound, also called Patea, is a beautiful fiord in Fiordland National Park located in the same region as Milford Sound/Piopiotahi. Doubtful Sound is the deepest (1381 ft/421 meters) and the second-longest (40 km/25 miles long) of New Zealand’s Sound Island’s fiords.

Its scenery is less dramatic than Milford Sound but is equally captivating, with dense vegetation, vertical cliffs, mountainous landscapes, more waterfalls and a higher chance of seeing local wildlife.

Popular waterfalls are Browne Falls near Lake Browne (619 meters high) and Helena Falls near Deep Cove and the Hall Arm inlet, located at the “entrance” to Doubtful Sound.

Wildlife is another reason to visit this beautiful fjord, home to dolphins, fur seals, penguins, and an abundance of birdlife such as South Island robins, kākā, tūī, and more. Kayaking is also a popular activity. Peace, serenity and unspoiled nature are key selling points for Doubtful Sound, over the striking views in Milford.

Milford Sound waterfall
Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu

The distance between Lake Manapouri and Queenstown is approximately a 2-hour drive and about a 20-minute drive from Te Anau to Manapouri. Doubtful Sound is also accessible by scenic flight from Te Anau or Queenstown but you will need to take a seaplane flight if you want to land in the fjord itself rather than on one of the mountains.

Keep in mind Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are known for being wet and wild. It rains about 200 days of the year. Wear non-slippery, closed-toe shoes. If you decide to do boat cruise activities, keep in mind that Doubtful Sound is more expensive than Milford Sound.

Explore Doubtful Sound tours and activities

Wrapping Up

Before you embark on a New Zealand cruise, make sure you carefully plan your days to get the most out of its wonderful ports of call.

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New Zealand & Australia Cruise Port Guides

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Western Europe Cruise Port Guides

Cruises to USA and Canada

This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see my disclaimer here.




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