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Heading to Milford Sound, New Zealand? Well, you’ve probably heard of going on a cruise, but there’s more to Milford than just that! In this blog, I’ll tell you about 18 different things to do in Milford Sound so that you can best enjoy your trip!
With its towering mountain peaks, hundreds of waterfalls, and unique wildlife, Milford Sound is a must-visit destination on the South Island of New Zealand.
But besides enjoying the view, what exactly is there to do in Milford Sound?
Well, I’m sure you’ve heard of going on a boat cruise in Milford – that is what almost every visitor does. But believe it or not, there are actually lots of different things to do in Milford Sound besides just a cruise!
I’ve been to Milford Sound a handful of times and it was during these trips that I realized there is more to Milford than what meets the eye. I mean, sure, a boat cruise in Milford is a must, but your adventures don’t need to end there.
That’s why in this blog I’ll tell you about 18 awesome things to do in Milford Sound so that you can explore this stunning fiord in the best ways possible!
18 Things to do in Milford Sound, New Zealand
1. Go on a nature cruise
The most common activity in Milford Sound is a boat cruise. Almost every tourist in Milford Sound does one, and for good reason, they’re awesome! Sure, it may be a little “touristy” (we will get to the off-the-beaten-path things to do in Milford Sound soon, don’t worry) but the views from out on the water are unmatched.
There are lots of different boat cruises to choose between in Milford Sound but my favorite is the nature cruise! Some of the boats in Milford are very large and suited to hold hundreds of people all while serving a buffet lunch.
That’s not my style.
Personally, I prefer the smaller boats that can go further into the fiord, get closer to waterfalls, and also have an easier time spotting wildlife. On a nature cruise, you will have an experienced nature guide on board that will tell you all about the area and helps you spot wildlife. It’s a much more adventurous experience and one I really enjoy.
My absolute favorite activity in Milford Sound is kayaking! You get incredible views from the water while you adventure underneath waterfalls and next to towering cliff faces.
Last time I went kayaking in Milford Sound I actually saw two Yellow-crested penguins on a rock only a few meters away! These penguins are extremely rare so I was lucky to see them.
The only downside to kayaking in Milford Sound is that you must join a tour. Companies do not rent kayaks out due to all the boats in the water, they need to ensure everyone stays safe.
You can choose between two different kayaking experiences in Milford Sound. The first is a 4–5-hour kayaking journey. This tour departs from the Milford foreshore and in your small group, you will explore the fiord extensively. You’ll eat a picnic lunch at a secluded bay and see parts of Milford most don’t.
The other option is a cruise and kayak combined tour. This tour is best for those with little to no kayaking experience. You will only kayak for about an hour, but it is combined with a nature cruise which makes for a longer experience. The cruise drops you off at Harrison Cove where you will kayak in calm waters. They also have an automated lift that makes getting in and out of the kayaks super easy!
The latter is the kayaking tour I’ve personally done, and to me, it’s actually one of the best things to do in New Zealand – a bucket-list activity for sure!
3. Take the Boat to Lady Bowen Falls
Lady Bowen Falls is likely the first waterfall you’ll notice once you arrive in Milford Sound. This huge 162-meter-tall waterfall is just across the bay from the Milford Sound pier. While you can easily see it from the pier, the only way to get really close is to take a boat there and complete a short nature walk.
The boat to Lady Bowen Falls departs at the pier regularly during the summer months. Just buy your ticket at the terminal on the pier ($10 NZD for adults and $5 for children) and jump on board! The boat will drop you off near the falls where you can complete the Bowen Nature Walk up to a viewing platform.
From here is where you’ll have the most spectacular view of the falls.
The entire experience should only take about 30 minutes or so. It’s a quick activity in Milford but totally worth it if you ask me.
Note if visiting in the winter: As of 18 January 2022 Bowen Falls Walk has been closed due to no boat transportation available. Please check the official website for current updates.
4. Milford Foreshore Walk
After your are done relaxing on a boat or paddling in a kayak, it’s time to stretch your legs on a short nature walk!
The Milford Foreshore Walk is the most popular in the area. This short 400-meter (0.3 miles) long trail starts at the parking in Milford Sound. When you’re facing the water, start walking to the left and you’ll find a large paved path. This is the Foreshore Walk!
The Foreshore Walk should only take you about 30 minutes to complete and it is totally flat. In fact, this trail is only of the few in New Zealand that is actually wheelchair accessible (and good for those with strollers/prams too!)
Since it is such a quick walk, it’s actually one of the only things you can do in Milford after your boat cruise if you’re on a day trip from Queenstown. Most day trips from Queenstown to Milford Sound have very tight time schedules, but you can easily squeeze this walk in before jumping back on the bus!
5. Find the Milford Sound Swing
While you’re on the foreshore walk, I challenge you to find the “Insta-famous” Milford Sound Swing! This swing has arguably the best seat in the house for enjoying views of Mitre Peak.
Rumor has it, one of the staff members of a cruise who lives in Milford made the swing for his girlfriend for a birthday gift. Tourists have since found it and their photos on Instagram have made the spot a popular place to visit.
See if you can find it for yourself (it is located a little way off the main path) and take some photos!
6. Go stargazing
With so little light pollution, you can see the stars like never before in Milford Sound! The only problem is that you’ll need to stay until dark for this activity. In the summer, it gets dark quite late in the day, but in the winter months, it can get dark as early as 5:30 pm.
If you really want to go stargazing in Milford then I recommend booking a night or two at the Milford Sound Lodge (more details about the lodge below.) It is the only place to stay in Milford Sound. Seriously, it’s only a 2-minute drive from the Milford Foreshore and the best place to stay if you want to do some late-night stargazing or astrophotography.
7. Go on an overnight cruise
Another way to enjoy stargazing is by going on an overnight cruise in Milford Sound! An overnight cruise in Milford Sound really is the ultimate experience with more time enjoying the views and exploring the fiord.
I have to be honest; I haven’t had the chance to join an overnight cruise in Milford Sound (yet), but I’ve heard incredible things. This overnight cruise comes highly rated and includes a 3-course dinner, private cabins, an onboard nature guide, as well as a continental breakfast.
The only downside to going on an overnight cruise in Milford is the price – it isn’t cheap! You can expect to pay upwards of $500 NZD per person depending on the season. With that said, it is easily one of the best things to do in Milford Sound, and definitely an experience on my own personal bucket list!
If you have quite a bit of money to spend on your trip to New Zealand you could really go big with this 5-day tour from Queenstown. The first overnight is actually on board the Fiordland Navigator that will adventure through Doubtful Sound (137km ( 85mi) south) and in the following days, you will explore Milford Sound and also hike through a lot of its surrounding beauty.
8. Stay at the Milford Lodge
If the overnight cruise is a little too pricey for you (like it is for me), all hope isn’t lost. Stay at the Milford Sound Lodge! If you want to have more time in Milford Sound as well as visit at sunset or at night for stargazing, this is the best place to stay.
The Milford Sound Lodge is only 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) from the Milford Foreshore. The next closest hotel is in Knobs Flat, about 55.1 kilometers (34.2 miles) away. Other than that, you will need to stay in Te Anau.
I’ve stayed at the Milford Lodge on a couple of different occasions. For me, spending the night there is totally worth it simply because I can visit Milford Sound when it is the least busy. I’ve walked the foreshore in the evening before without another person in sight – it’s a peaceful experience that most people never get in Milford Sound.
One of the best things about the Milford Sound Lodge is that they have accommodation for all budgets. You can get a powered campsite for only $60 NZD a night (a really great price if you consider the location) or if you’re looking for luxury, they have $500+ cabins too. Dorm beds, budget privates, and standard rooms are also available. All guests have access to the communal areas including a fully-stocked kitchen, hot showers, laundry, and living room.
9. Visit the Chasm
The Chasm is one of the best attractions in Milford Sound. Located only a 10-minute drive from the Milford Foreshore, the Chasm is a common stop people make when driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound along Milford Road.
The Chasm is a powerful waterfall and river that’s eroded the rocks around it over time to create interesting shapes. To see it for yourself, simply walk the short 400 meter-long (0.25 miles) walking track to various viewpoints. There are information boards along the walk that explain more about this point of interest. In total, this loop track takes about 20 minutes.
Well worth a visit if you ask me!
10. Hike the Milford Sound Lookout Track
The Milford Sound Lookout Track is one of the best walks you can do in Milford Sound. It’s short, fairly easy, and offers some beautiful views! Unfortunately, most people never hear about this hike and miss it when visiting Milford Sound.
The track is somewhat hidden and starts behind the café in Milford Sound. Walk to the rear parking lot behind the café in Milford and past the two brown buildings. When you pass Donald Sutherland’s grave you should find the track.
The Milford Sound Lookout Track is only 400 meters long (0.25 miles) in total and takes you up above Milford Sound via some stairs. From up there, you’ll be able to enjoy Milford from a completely different point of view than you’ve seen before.
Most people complete this entire trail in about 20 minutes or so.
11. Tour the Milford Underwater Observatory
Okay, so by now you’ve seen Milford from a cruise out on the water, from the foreshore and at the swing, as well as from the lookout above – now it’s time to see beneath the water’s surface! That’s right, you can actually see under the water of the Tasman Sea in Milford Sound if you visit the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory!
The Milford Underwater Observatory allows you to walk three floors down to a viewing platform under the surface of the water in Milford Sound! The glass walls allow you to see what goes on under the sea including seeing rare block coral, fish, and maybe even dolphins if you’re lucky!
The Milford Observatory is located out in an isolated bay in the middle of Milford Sound, and as such can only be reached on a boat cruise. Only certain boats stop here and allow visitors to get off the cruise and explore the Observatory with a knowledgeable nature guide. This particular cruise is one of them.
To me, visiting the Milford Underwater Observatory is one of the most educational things you can do in Milford. It’s actually really unique and interesting – kids also love it!
12. Enjoy a Milford Sunset
Sunsets at Milford Sound are my favorite! Not only is it the most beautiful time of day, but it is the quietest.
If you can, stay in Milford until the sun goes down. Walk the foreshore track, visit the swing, and just take in the serenity that is Milford Sound during unset. For photographers, this is one sunset you won’t want to miss!
To be able to enjoy a sunset at Milford, you should spend the night at either the Milford Sound Lodge (mentioned above), a DOC-operated campsite in Fiordland National Park, or even Te Anau! Te Anau is a town only a 1.5-hour drive away so it is totally doable after the sun goes down – and there are lots of different places to stay to choose from!
For more information on the campsites near Milford, check out our blog, where to stay in Milford Sound!
13. Find some glowworms
Have you heard about glowworms before? This natural phenomenon is only found in New Zealand (and a few places in Australia) so it’s easily one of those must-do things to do in New Zealand!
Glowworms are actually the larvae of a fly that lights up at night to attract bugs. Sound gross, right? Well, it actually isn’t and at night these glowworms light up caves and bushes like a starry night sky. It is really neat and really pretty!
You can find glowworms on walking tracks around Milford Sound. Sometimes they can be a little tricky to spot, so my best advice is the ask the visitor center in Milford Sound where to look. Staff who live in Milford will know where the glowworms are currently hiding and will be able to point you in the right direction at the time of your visit.
Alternatively, one of New Zealand’s most famous glowworm tour departs from Te Anau (an hour and a half from Milford.) So, if you’re staying the night in Te Anau, this is a great activity to do after a day of exploring Milford Sound. On the glowworm tour from Te Anau, you’re guaranteed to see thousands of glowworms!
Related Read: If you want to see glow worms for free in New Zealand, then you need to head to Northland and check out Waipu Caves!
14. Make friends with Keas
Keas are New Zealand’s own native alpine parrot. That’s right – a parrot that lives in alpine weather! Keas are often described as friendly and mischievous. Those that hang around Milford Sound are not strangers to people and will likely walk (or should I say ‘waddle’) right up to you.
Hold on to your belongings! Keas are also often referred to as ‘mischievous’ because they love to steal things. Food, keys, you name it – they might take it! They’ve also been known to enter motorhomes to help themselves to the kitchen, or even open up hikers’ backpack zippers on trails! These birds are smart and encountering one is an experience unique to New Zealand.
Keas are also rare and native in New Zealand., They are cute and playful, and if you’re lucky enough to see one fly, you’ll see the bright colors under their huge wingspan. So, sit back and observe the cute Keas while you’re visiting Milford!
Note: Please don’t feed the Keas, we want to keep them wild and hunting for food that is meant for them!
15. Go scuba diving
One of the most special things to do in Milford Sound is scuba diving! The Tasman Sea in Milford is the perfect place to explore a unique underwater environment with the help of your scuba gear – there’s nowhere else in the world quite like it!
Descend Milford Sound is the name of the only company that operates scuba diving tours in Milford Sound. They offer a variety of different experiences for qualified divers, and unqualified divers, as well as training and overnight packages.
Scuba diving in Milford Sound experiences starts at about $300 NZD per person. These experiences include all of your gear (with an 8mm thick wet suit – the water is very cold!), a guide, a boat out to a dive site, and a warm tea and snack for afterward.
16. Drive Milford Sound Road
The scenic drive through Fiordland National Park from Te Anau to Milford Sound is often referred to as one of the best parts of visiting Milford. I have to agree, along the road to Milford there are dozens of stops and attractions well worth visiting. Some of my personal favorites include:
So instead of rushing this drive, give yourself some time to check out some of these amazing attractions. Without stopping, this drive takes about 1.5-2 hours, but with stops and maybe even a hike or two, you should allow at least half of a day.
Related Read: If you’re driving yourself from Queenstown read about the best places to stop and important info for driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
17. Hike the Milford Track
Hands-down the most famous thing to do in Milford Sound is to hike the Milford Track. As one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks, you must book this hike well in advance to ensure you don’t miss out.
The entire track is typically hiked over 4 days. It is 53.5 kilometers (33.2 miles) long and hikers must stay in DOC-operated huts along the way. These huts are what books first and what you must book in advance if you want to hike the entire trail.
Alternatively, you can book this half-day Milford Track guided walking tour. This tour completes 11 kilometers (6 miles) of the Milford Track. The reason you must do a guided tour is that the Milford Track can only be accessed by boat. The guided tour linked above includes the boat ride to the track before exploring one of the most beautiful places on earth!
Booking Tip: If you try to book the Milford Track huts on the DOC website and find that you’re too late, use the company NZ Huts. For a small fee, they will monitor hut bookings and if your selected dates become available due to cancellations (which is common), notify you immediately.
18. Take a scenic flight
Scenic flights are super popular in New Zealand, and Milford Sound is one of the best places to do one! From up in the sky you’ll have views of waterfalls, the towering Southern Alps, and of course, the Tasman Sea.
There are literally dozens of different scenic flights to choose from in Milford Sound. You can choose from a small fixed-wing plane (the slightly cheaper option) or a helicopter. You can also choose a flight that both departs and returns to Milford Sound, flights that depart in Milford and land in Queenstown or depart from Queenstown and land in Milford.
Oftentimes, scenic flights are used as a mode of transport for those who don’t want to drive to Milford both ways. In fact, if you’re visiting Milford Sound on a day trip from Queenstown, then I highly recommend taking a scenic flight one-way. On a coach, cruise, and flight experience you’ll really get to explore Milford (plus you don’t have to sit on a bus for 8 hours!)
Related Read: Visiting Milford Sound from Queenstown is one of the best things to do in Queenstown – find out what else you can do in New Zealand’s adventure capital!
Getting to Milford Sound
Getting to Milford Sound can be done one of three ways: drive yourself, join a guided coach tour, or fly! Below I’ve summarized each option so that you can decide what’s best for you.
Drive Yourself to Milford Sound
Milford Sound is a must-visit on any New Zealand road trip itinerary – and rightly so! Personally, I think the adventurous and scenic drive to Milford Sound through Fiordland National Park is one of the best parts of visiting Milford Sound.
I recommend renting a campervan in New Zealand (or a motorhome if your budget allows) and hitting the road! Give yourself plenty of time to drive to Milford Sound and consider camping in Fiordland National Park for a night or two.
Alternatively, simply rent a car in Queenstown for a couple of days to make your journey to Milford Sound and back again. Use our blog about the best stops on the road from Te Anau to Milford to ensure you check out the best attractions!
Related Read: Save some money and learn how you can score a cheap campervan rental in Queenstown!
Guided Coach Tours
Guided coach (bus) tours to Milford Sound depart daily all year round from both Queenstown and Te Anau. These tours include a comfortable mode of transport either on a large coach or a mini-van as well as a tour guide and a cruise once you arrive in Milford.
Tours from Te Anau are slightly shorter as Te Anau is about 2 hours closer to Milford Sound than Queenstown. Going on a coach day trip to Milford from Queenstown is actually a 12-hour day with more than 8 hours spent driving – just something to keep in mind!
However, for those short on time, without the budget for a flight, or without their own wheels, this is the only option. And honestly, although a long day, it’s better than not seeing Milford at all.
Flight to Milford
The most extravagant (and expensive) way to get to Milford Sound is with a scenic flight. Flights are most common from Queenstown and often cost upwards of $400 NZD. However, scenic flights are definitely one of the best things to do in Milford!
I recommend only taking a flight one-way though. If you join a guided coach tour on the way there you’ll stop at all of the best attractions along the road to Milford and then skip the repetitive part on the drive back, replacing it with a scenic flight! This is called a coach, cruise, and fly tour – I highly recommend it if your budget allows!
Related read: Mount Cook is another beautiful place to visit in New Zealand! Read about our experience on a Mount Cook helicopter flight!
Where to Stay in Milford
It’s a really good idea to spend the night in the area the night before and after your Milford Sound cruise so you will be less rushed and able to spend one full day at Milford Sound (and even stick around after the cruise to wait for sunset!).
There are not many options to stay directly in Milford, your only two options are the Milford Lodge or camping at the attached Rainforest Campervan Park. Camping can be done, but if you are visiting in the winter it will be very cold unless you have the right setup (heater, clothing, blankets, or RV with the option to hook up to electricity). The nearby city of Te Anau on the other hand has a few more options.
There are quite a lot of different places to stay including really nice caravan parks with rooms available at great prices. We stayed at the Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park and it was great! But there are lots of other options too!
Some great options for where to stay in Te Anau are:
Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers (budget hostel)
Located right in the town center this is the perfect choice for the budget traveler. They offer dorm beds as well as private rooms and have communal kitchen facilities and common spaces available. This a great social hostel – perfect for meeting other travelers.
Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park (mid-range budget)
This holiday park is where we stayed as it had budget private rooms as well as powered campsites (perfect for Daniel’s parents who were with us and had rented a campervan,) It is located just outside of town but in a very beautiful and peaceful area. There are tons of communal facilities and the park is kept very clean.
Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments (high budget)
If you want a beautiful, comfortable, and somewhat luxurious place to stay then this is it! Right on the edge of the lake, this motel offers apartments that suit couples or families. Every room has a balcony, WiFi, air conditioning, a kitchen, and there are BBQ facilities onsite!
Milford Sound FAQs
Tips for Visiting Milford Sound
Before you head to Milford, make sure you keep in mind these important tips:
- Bring insect repellent – There are lots of bugs in Milford Sound. The Black fly or also known as Sandfly bites and it is so itchy!
- Be prepared for any weather – Milford Sound is known for having four seasons all within a matter of hours. Layer up, bring waterproof gear, but also be prepared for sunshine with sunscreen and a hat.
- Fuel up in Te Anau or Mossburn – The last place to get fuel (gas) for your car is in Te Anau so be sure you have a full enough tank for the drive there and back with stops or behind slow-moving traffic.
- Be prepared to pay for parking – You now need to pay $10 NZD per hour to park in Milford Sound. I know, a hefty parking price, but that’s your only option if you self-drive (unless you’re staying at the Milford Lodge and leave your car there and walk – a good idea if I do say so myself.)
- Pack food and snacks – There is a cafe in Milford but it is ridiculously overpriced. I recommend bringing your own packed lunch, and if you’re staying overnight at the Milford Lodge, bring groceries to cook within their communal kitchen.
- Bring binoculars and/or your zoom lens – A cruise in Milford Sound will present opportunities to see wildlife. Binoculars will come in handy, or at the very least, a zoom lens on your camera.
- Give yourself tons of time – Whether you’re driving yourself or on a coach tour, be prepared for a longer drive than expected. Sometimes traffic on Milford Road can be slow-moving and delays are frequent.
- Consider visiting in winter – Milford Sound is beautiful in the winter. Plus, it is much less busy if you visit Milford in the winter than in the summer months. Just something to think about!
Thanks for reading!
Well, now you know that there are plenty of things to do in Milford Sound! In fact, you probably could spend a couple of days there just crossing a handful of these activities off your bucket list.