An enchanting area where one can get close to nature, Milford Sound is one of my favourite places in New Zealand. Jon and I have visited Milford Sound a few times since we moved to New Zealand but I still have the same feeling of awe every time I see its raw beauty. Located in the vast and remote Fiordland National Park of New Zealand’s South Island, Milford Sound is the most popular of the major fiords and the only one accessible by road. With its lush forests, towering mountains, tantalizing waterfalls and spectacular waters, Milford Sound is a gem that is waiting to be explored.
Here are some the best things to do at Milford Sound:
Things to Do at Milford Sound
Milford Sound Cruise
One of the highlights of Fiordland National Park, the Milford Sound cruise offers a wonderful journey across the stunning scenery of Milford Sound. Truly an experience to behold, the Milford Sound cruise showcases amazing scenery with stunning cliffs, alpine peaks, and captivating waterfalls which includes Bowen Falls, Stirling Falls and Fairy Falls. There are also opportunities to see wildlife including fur seals and if you’re lucky, dolphins and even penguins!
We did the Milford Sound Cruise with Go Orange. Their newly refurbished ship, the Milford Haven is such a charmer. Apart from the cozy and comfortable lounges, they also offer barista-made coffee and craft beers and local wines on board!
There are three options for a Milford Sound day cruise: You can either do it from Queenstown, from Te Anau, or from the Milford Sound Cruise Terminal if you plan to self-drive. The Milford Sound cruise takes about 2 hours and the price starts at NZD 49. Note that from Queenstown, the return trip can take up to 12 hours including the shuttle transfers so make sure to set aside enough time for your trip.
Depending on the amount of time you have at the Milford Sound ferry terminal, there are a few short walks / viewpoints to explore in this area:
Milford Sound Breakwater Walkway
This walk takes about 5 minutes return from the ferry terminal itself. It’s a great way to spend your time while waiting for your cruise to depart and get a different vantage point of Milford Sound.
Milford Sound Walkway and Foreshore Walk
The Milford Sound Walkway and Foreshore Walk starts for the public car park next to the Visitor’s Centre of Milford Sound. It’s a great place to get a first glimpse of Mitre Peak and capture reflection photos during sunrise or sunset. This walk takes about 30 minutes return from the Milford Sound ferry terminal but you can just decide how far you want to go from the car park.
Milford Sound Lookout
The Milford Sound Lookout track is short uphill viewpoint. It has an awesome view of Milford Sound and depending on your pace, you can easily do the track in about 30 minutes return from the Milford Sound ferry terminal. It’s about 15 minutes return from the car park.
Must-See Attractions on the Way to Milford Sound
Most people travelling on a day trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown or Te Anau will stop at some of these attractions on the way to Milford Sound. If you are doing a self-drive (note that there is only one road to Milford Sound), I highly recommend to make a quick stop at these great attractions:
Eglinton Valley, which was once filled with glacier ice, is a great place to stop to appreciate the vast natural scenery near Milford Sound. It’s a really cool spot with its tussock laid flats surrounded by steep rock cliffs.
My favourite spot on the road to Milford Sound, the Mirror Lakes offers a perfect reflection of the Earl Mountains on a clear day. Even when the place is surrounded by mist (which it usually is), it’s still very beautiful.
Hollyford Valley (Pops View) Lookout
This lookout offers spectacular views over the Hollyford Valley. If you come at the right time of year, you’ll see snow-capped mountains towering over lush rainforest in this area.
Monkey Creek has icy cold, clear water from the glaciers. Fill up your water bottles with the pristine water here. Legend has it you become years younger after drinking the water from Monkey Creek.
Homer Tunnel and Cleddau Valley
One of the engineering marvels of Milford Sound, Homer Tunnel is the gateway into the impressive Cleddau Valley. Despite the winding hairpins of this road, the surrounding scenery is stunning with lots of little waterfalls cascading over steep rock cliffs.
The advantage of doing a self-drive to Milford Sound is that you have more flexibility with your time. With plenty of cool sights along the way to Milford Sound, you’ll want to take a leisurely pace to stop and embrace the magnificent views. There are also a lot of not-so-hidden gems that are easy to explore even if you only have a day in Milford Sound. Make sure to add these other things to do near Milford Sound to your itinerary:
A 20-minute Lake Gunn nature walk takes you to the solace of Lake Gunn, a clear lake surrounded by magnificent mountains. It’s a great place to stop at sunset!
Humbolt Falls, one of New Zealand’s tallest waterfalls at 275 metres. The short nature walk towards Humboldt falls starts 17 km of a gravel road (Hollyford Road). Don’t worry, there are a few other sights to see along the way.
On the way to Humboldt Falls, along Hollyford Road, take a quick stop at Moraine Creek. A suspension bridge crosses over this stunning creek with electric green water.
Tutoko Suspension Bridge
The Tutoko Suspension Bridge, built in 1940 is the last remaining steel suspension bridge on the Milford Road. From the bridge, you’ll see fine views of the Tutoko river.
A short 15-minute loop track takes you through spectacular water-sculpted rock formations and a series of small yet impressive waterfalls.
Awesome Hikes Near Milford Sound
If you plan to spend more than a day in Milford Sound, there are a lot of easy walking tracks and awesome hikes in Milford Sound that you can do.
Lake Marian and Marian Falls
One of the best hikes near Milford Sound, Lake Marian is an alpine lake (695 metres elevation) located in a hanging valley. The steep yet rewarding hike takes you though lush forests and emerges into the pristine lake surrounded by magnificent snow-capped mountains. It takes about 3 to 4 hours return. If you time your hike perfectly, you can enjoy lunch at this very scenic landscape.
Another feature on the Lake Marian track is Marian Falls, located at the start of the track. This captivating set of wild rapids and small waterfalls is easy to reach so if you don’t have enough time to do the full hike to Lake Marian you can opt to do the walkway along Marian Falls and head back. I highly recommend doing the whole track, if you have the time and energy.
Wouldn’t you like to get a taste of one of New Zealand’s Great Walks? Key Summit is part of the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Enchanting scenery awaits at the summit, which includes views of the Darren and Humboldt Mountain ranges as well as numerous small tarns. You can also see views of Mount Christina and Lake Marian from afar. While steep in parts, the Key Summit track is well-defined and easy enough at 3 hours return from the Divide car park.
Starting off on the same trail as Key Sumit, the Earland Falls is a great extension to your day trip of the Routeburn track. Earland Falls takes about 4 to 5 hours return and can easily be combined with Key Summit for a 5 to 6 hour day hike. Earland Falls follows the same track as the Key Summit hike but instead of turning up to Key Summit you continue down to Lake Howden / Howden Hut and then up to Earland Falls, a spectacular 174 metre high waterfall. The rainbow underneath the falls was also a surprise!
Considered one of the greatest day hikes in New Zealand, the Gertrude Saddle track is a demanding hike with lots of variety in terrain. From a lush valley surrounded by spectacular rock cliffs to scrambling rocks, walking on snow and even using cables to keep your balance! Despite the intricate trail, Gertrude Saddle is definitely one of the most incredible hikes in New Zealand. The views along the track and at Gertrude Saddle are truly unforgettable. At the top, spectacular views of Milford Sound and the surrounding mountains will be your reward. The terrain towards Gertrude Saddle and the Black Lake is outstanding, which reminded us so much of some of the high elevation hikes in South America.
A good level of hiking experience is recommended for this hike as good navigational and route finding skills are required. There are also parts of the track that are unformed, steep and could potentially be dangerous in adverse conditions. Do not attempt to do this hike in poor weather as the area is prone to avalanches.
Tutoko Valley River Track
A challenging 4 – 5 hour return track, the Tutoko Valley River track takes you through virgin beech forest for several hours and eventually emerging into a grassy alpine valley with fine mountain views, in particular Mt Tutoko. While the track is mostly flat, it is quite muddy in parts, with lots of streams to cross and logs to scramble over. I recommend doing this only if you have heaps of time and if you have already done Lake Marian, Key Summit, Earland Falls and Gertrude Saddle.
Travel Tips for Your Trip to Milford Sound
Check the Weather Before You Go
It rains a lot in this part of New Zealand and in winter, adverse weather conditions may result in road closure. You can check the Milford Road status here. Note that rains would mean more dramatic waterfalls on the Milford Sound cruise but expect to get wet! Also, most of the hikes in Milford Sound, especially Gertrude Saddle are recommended only in good weather. If you choose to travel in summer, New Zealand has long daylight hours (the sun rises at about 5am and sets around 9pm) which means plenty of time to explore even if you are only at Milford Sound for a day.
Where to Stay at Milford Sound
There are a few camping grounds close to Milford Sound, most of them are Department of Conservation Camp (DOC) sites. If you’re looking for a room, you can also check Milford Sound accommodation here.
What to Wear in Milford Sound
Bring some warm clothes for the Milford Sound cruise and sturdy footwear for the alpine hikes. The weather changes quite a lot at Milford Sound so do prepare for various conditions.
Bring Enough Food If You Are Staying for More than a Day
Te Anau is your last chance to get some food supplies before Milford Sound. There is a cafe near the Milford Sound ferry terminal but there is no supermarket or small shops anywhere near Milford Sound so make sure you have enough food, especially if you are doing any hikes.
Bring Some Insect Repellent
Insect repellent is essential for this part of New Zealand (especially in summer). There are lots of sand flies in this area — we use a sand fly repellent made of citronella and almond oil, which works alright.
Prepare for the Hikes in Milford Sound
Some of New Zealand’s most impressive day hikes can be found in Milford Sound. Make sure to plan ahead before undertaking any of the hikes – wear the right hiking gear, bring enough food and water and ensure you have the right level of fitness and confidence to do the longer hikes.
Map of Things to Do at Milford Sound, New Zealand
Disclaimer: We were hosted by Go Orange for the Milford Sound Cruise. All thoughts and opinions in this post are our own. Some of the links in this post may be affiliates. If you click on one and book something we’ll get a small cut – it won’t cost you any extra and it really helps us out!
Looking for accommodation for your trip to Milford Sound? Check here.
Do you have plans to visit Milford Sound in New Zealand? Which of these attractions in Milford Sound are you most excited to visit? Let us know.