One sunny day in late June we left the small town of Te Anau, and started the two hour drive into Milford Sound National Park. Taking a Milford Sound cruise in winter can deter some travelers… Just know that it’s worth the trip all year round! We cover everything from the road to Milford Sound New Zealand, cruising tours, and even all about camping at the lodge.
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7 Tips for Visiting Milford Sound New Zealand
1. The Wild Road to Milford Sound
When we left Te Anau the sky was bright blue and filled with sun. Yet, just a short distance into our ride that quickly changed. Traveling on the road to Milford Sound we had rain, sleet, and even snow on our two hour ride.
Nevertheless, on our actual Milford Sound cruise we were lucky enough to have a perfectly sunny day! Know that when visiting Milford Sound the drive in is just as important as the final destination.
There is only one road in and out of town. Due to the weather, unique location, and difficult terrain, the route is almost constantly under construction. Expect delays for removing boulders, flooding, and other random occurrences.
The best thing to do is check for updates before you head out from Te Anau. For example, we were stopped and had to wait two hours before being allowed to pass through the famous Homer Tunnel! Below are some of the best things to see on your way to Milford Sound New Zealand.
- Mirror Lakes
- The Chasm
- Homer Tunnel
- Falls Creek Waterfall
- Eglinton Valley
2. Planning Your Visit to Milford Sound
1. Gas: No matter how much gas you have, make sure to top it off in Te Anau before starting on your drive to Milford Sound. There is no fuel stations once you start onto the Milford highway.
2. Accommodation: We stayed at Milford Sound Lodge and loved it. They have spots for campervans and tents, with both dorms and high end rooms also available.
3. Dining: There is VERY limited dining options in Milford Sound. For this reason you should bring your own food if possible. Still, if you need something quick head to Discover Milford Sound Cruises Information Centre & Café.
4. Cruising Milford Sound: There are several tour companies for those looking to take a Milford Sound cruise. Some of the most popular are Southern Discoveries, Cruise Milford, Mitre Peak Cruises, Real Journeys Milford Sound, and JUCY Cruise. We talk more about the companies below!
3. Hit the Trails Before Your Boat Tour
In the same area as your Milford Sound cruise departs from there are two small trails. This is a great way to get some different views of the mountains before sailing right through them! Wander along the planked walkways to the Milford Sound Lookout before making the short climb to the observation deck.
The loop walking from the car park to both lookouts took us around 45 minutes roundtrip, but leave an hour or more for photo stops. It ends right at the marina so it was perfect timing for us right before our Milford Sound cruise. Definitely make time for these before your boat tour!
4. Milford Sound Weather Warning
With its reputation as one of the wettest places in the world, it’s important to be prepared for any weather on your visit. Believe it or not, this area gets almost 200 days of rain per year!
So no matter if you’re visiting Milford Sound New Zealand in the summer or winter, it’s very likely you’ll get a little wet. Don’t let that get you down though. The more rain, the harder the waterfalls will gush over the cliffs into the ocean below.
Even though we had a perfectly clear day visiting Milford Sound, the boat ride was chilly and the wind was whipping. Also, be warned that the boats go right underneath the waterfalls!
While the outdoor deck is 100% the best place to be cruising Milford Sound, you know what isn’t fun? Getting soaked completely from head to toe! Wear a rain jacket, warm layers, and hiking boots to stay warm on the boat.
→ South Island New Zealand Itinerary: 4 Amazing One Week Routes
5. Arrive Early to Your Milford Sound Cruise
After camping at the Milford Sound Lodge the night before we could hardly contain our excitement the morning of our cruise. We made sure we were the first to get in line, and we quickly climbed the stairs to claim one of the coveted top deck seats.
Depending on what company you travel with the boats might be different sizes. Yet, know that they generally do the same route. We circled the sound in a large clockwise fashion and even went out into the open ocean outside the fjord.
There are plenty of companies to choose from, but they do fill up fast. Make sure to book your boat in advance especially in the summer months!
So What’s the Most Popular Boat?
Really, you should pick based on the time the boat runs and availability. Both Mitre Peak Cruises & Pure Milford are extremely popular. Also if you are traveling with a Jucy Van you can get a discount when you combine your rental with a Milford Sound cruise.
Looking for a more unique experience? Book a tour with Underwater Observatory & Lunch. Also, for the more adventurous travelers you can actually take a scenic helicopter tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound for your cruise!
6. What to Expect While Cruising Milford Sound
Somehow, someway… After rain, snow, and fog the sun actually peaked out for us! The salty ocean water was clear and still as our boat cruised right through the mountains.
While we passed along the humungous cliffs our jaws dropped to the floor as thousands of waterfalls cascaded from the sky. The few hours we spent on our Milford Sound cruise will always be one of our favorite days in New Zealand.
The ONLY thing that would have made our time in Milford Sound New Zealand even better is if we did an overnight tour! The two day trips were not running when we visited due to the time of year. Honestly, this is the biggest downside you might experience if you’re here during the winter.
7. Spend the Night at Milford Sound Lodge
We’ve mentioned this already, but it needs to be said again! If you’re going to make the trip all the way to Milford Sound then we highly recommended staying a night or two. Not only will it break up a long travel day, but you will also be able to see a side of Milford Sound that day trippers miss out on.
We stayed at Milford Sound Lodge which is the only spot for campervans in the area. If are are traveling in the popular summer months be sure to make a reservation well in advance to guarantee yourself a spot.
While the camping facilities were some of the nicest that we came across, the upscale lodges also looked amazing. Whether you’re checking into the plush lodges or sleeping in the comfort of your home on wheels, you can’t really go wrong. Waking up surrounded by waterfalls rolling off the mountains will be absolutely unforgettable!
Have any questions about our visit to Milford Sound or want to share your own tips for traveling in New Zealand? Let us know in the comments below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
New Zealand Travel Planning
Jucy Van: The best way to explore New Zealand is with a Jucy camper! We spent over six weeks driving around the North and South Islands in a van and loved every moment.
Rental Car: If you’re not renting a van you’ll still need a vehicle to get around. We use Discover Cars when traveling and enjoy having the freedom to get around.
Flights: It’s easy to find cheap flight deals using Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we got flights from Auckland to Queenstown for $40 USD, and New Zealand to Fiji for less than $150!
Accommodation: Compare multiple sites for the best deal such as Booking.com and Agoda! Also, Hostelworld should be your go-to source if you’re traveling on a budget.
Tours: Check out Get Your Guide to find activities all over New Zealand! They have everything from a Milford Sound cruise with underwater observatory, to a Otago wine tour with gourmet wine & lunch, and even a Kaikoura whale watching cruise!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for insurance the last few years and they are always there when we need them.
Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials!
South Island New Zealand
Travel Tips & Guides: 10 Helpful NZ Travel Tips – North Island Itinerary – South Island Itinerary – 25 Beautiful Beaches – Wellington to Picton Ferry – 15 Freedom Camping Tips – 27 Delicious Food & Drinks
Queenstown: Ben Lomond Track – Fergburger (Is it Worth It?) – Tiki Trail Hike – Fun Wine Tour – Queenstown Hill Hike – 18 Fun Queenstown Things to Do – Queenstown Restaurants – Arrowtown NZ
North Coast: Abel Tasman Day Hike – Wharariki Beach & Archway Islands – 6 Picton Things to Do
East Coast: Banks Peninsula – French Town of Akaroa – Tunnel Beach Dunedin – Hanmer Springs – Kaikoura
Mt. Cook & Tekapo: 10 Mount Cook Tips – Hooker Valley Track – 5 Can’t Miss Lake Tekapo
→ Explore all our North Island New Zealand Travel Tips & Guides
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