Planning a trip to New Zealand’s South Island? Make sure a trip to Milford Sound is on your itinerary!
Milford Sound is a beautiful fjord on the South Island’s west coast. Pristine water, waterfalls, seals, glaciers, and soaring mountains create an unforgettable experience.
Keep reading for tips on planning the ultimate day trip to Milford Sound.
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- 8 Can’t-Miss Things To Do In Queenstown, New Zealand
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1. Decide how you’re getting there
Many travelers to Milford Sound start their journey in Queenstown. When a friend and I visited New Zealand’s South Island in February, we stayed in Queenstown as our home base and took day trips around the South Island, including a trip to Milford Sound.
From Queenstown, you have a few options for getting to Milford Sound:
- Fly round-trip: This is the option we went with. We wanted to fit as much as possible into our schedule, so we wanted to take the fastest option to get to there. I am so happy that we went with this option. New Zealand is stunning from the ground and from the air. I loved seeing both viewpoints. Keep in mind that the flights to/from Milford Sound are on smaller airplanes. This is great for people who don’t mind to fly because everyone gets a window seat. This is not so great for nervous flyers since the smaller planes get bounced around a little more in the turbulence.
- Take a bus round-trip: If you have any nervous flyers in your group and don’t mind a long bus ride, then taking a bus to/from Milford Sound might be the best option for you. Know that the bus trip is 4-5 hours each way (8-10 hours roundtrip). If you don’t have a lot of time to spare, this might not be ideal for your travel plans.
- Take a bus there and fly back: With this option, you get to see both the aerial view and ground view of the trip to/from Milford Sound.
2. Plan your activities
The trip itself to Milford Sound is an activity in itself. Either via bus or plane – the scenery is spectacular to see!
Take a Water Cruise
Once you arrive at Milford Sound, plan on taking a water cruise of the fjord. If you booked a tour that provided transportation from Queenstown like this one, then your tour will most likely include a water cruise once you arrive.
If you do nothing else at Milford Sound, you need to take a water cruise. This is how you’ll see the fjord. You’ll see seals, dolphins (if you’re lucky like we were!), and waterfalls on a relaxing boat ride. Many boats get super close to at least one of the waterfalls, so you’ll get to feel the soft spray of pristine water from the waterfall.
Visit the Observatory
Many of the water cruises offer an opportunity to stop by the Milford Sound Discovery Center and Underwater Observatory. If you have time in your schedule, be sure to stop here! You’ll be able to walk underneath the water in their glass-enclosed observatory. Here you’ll be able to watch the underwater happenings as the fish swim by in their native environment of Milford Sound.
If you’re coming from Queenstown, a stop by the Milford Sound Discovery Center and Underwater Observatory may not be included in your tour. If you’d like to add this stop, call the tour company to see if you can add-on this stop without missing your transportation back to Queenstown.
In our case, the timing of our flight back to Queenstown didn’t allow for the stop, so we missed out. But if you can make it happen, you should!
If you’re not on a tight schedule to get back on a bus or plane to Queenstown, consider taking a walk around the Milford Sound area or going kayaking in the pristine waters of Milford Sound. This again may be tricky if you’re on a tour with transportation to/from Queenstown, so call your tour company to see if these are options that will work for your schedule.
3. Be flexible with your plans
If you’re planning on flying to or from Milford Sound, know that flights can be canceled due to bad weather. Even if it’s beautiful in Queenstown, it can be foggy and rainy at Milford Sound.
If you choose to fly, don’t select the first flight of the day. We picked the 10AM flight and had no problems flying to and from Milford Sound. However, we learned that the flight before ours had been canceled due to fog. Pick a later flight to give the fog a chance to clear at Milford Sound and increase your chances of having the flight go.
If you’re planning on flying, book the Milford Sound excursion early in your trip. Then if it’s canceled due to weather, you still have a chance to reschedule it for later in your trip.
4. Dress for the weather
Even during the middle of summer, it can be chilly at Milford Sound. Our boat cruise was also pretty windy, which increased the chill.
Plan on wearing plenty of layers. Being on the water and in the wind can make a mild day feel cold, so don’t underestimate how chilly you’ll be on the water. There’s plenty of room for you to shed layers if you get hot.
Some cruises will take the boat right to the edge of a waterfall. Although it’s usually just a mist, you still might get wet if you’re outside. Plan on wearing a waterproof jacket or raincoat. While you can avoid the experience by ducking inside, why miss out if you instead are prepared to enjoy it?
And don’t forget sunscreen. Boat rides can trick you into thinking that you’re not getting burnt, but the sun is still doing its work. Even if it’s cloudy, put some sunscreen on before you board to make sure you’re covered.
5. Pack snacks & water
We made the mistake of assuming that we’d be fed on our cruise. Although our cruise did have food on it, you had to book it in advance, which we failed to do.
We then discovered that our only real alternative for food was vending machines. So a vending machine lunch it was!
Don’t be like my friend and me! Either plan on bringing your own food (keeping in mind that it needs to be portable and easy to eat on the boat) or work with your cruise tour company to book your meal in advance.
I hope you love your trip to Milford Sound as much as I did!
Want to learn more about traveling to New Zealand? Read this post to find out what you need to know before visiting New Zealand.