Milford Sound Cruise in southern New Zealand
A Milford Sound Cruise is probably one of the best things you can do in New Zealand. This boat tour takes you through New Zealand’s most wonderful fiord with all kind of wildlife to witness. Dolphins, seal families and whales are just a couple animals to see. Milford Sound astonishes people worldwide with its incomparable views of a scenic landscape, which can not be anywhere else on the planet.
When I travelled around the southern island of New Zealand, I made the Milford Sound Cruise one of my biggest points on the list of things to see. I got told by many locals, that it’s suppose to be nothing but spectecular and it really is. New Zealand makes you feel like it’s the outcome of Canada and Norway having a baby. Milford Sound, for instance, is a good example for that. The way there is full of beautifully shaped mountain ranges and valleys, which look exactly like the ones in Canada. The fiord itself and the highlights you can see on the Milford Sound Cruise will remind you of Norway’s fiords.
It’s a fantastic combination, which will probably end up being one of your best memories from travelling through New Zealand.
Milford Sound Cruise in southern New Zealand – General information
A Milford Sound Cruise is one of New Zealand’s biggest highlights. Milford Sound itself evolved over millions of years and ultimately became one of the country’s most beautiful spots to have a look at.
It attracts about 600.000 people every year and you can almost only have a look at it by going on a boat tour. There is pretty much no other option. Indeed, I met people, who did a helicopter tour. they said it was phenomenal, but most people, just like me, go by ferry.
Milford Sound is home to many different animal species and known for being almost completely untouched. It belongs to the Fiordland National Park, which is under the protection of the UNESCO. This World Heritage sight is a true jewel of the southern island and a symbol for New Zealand’s impcomarable natural beauty. Milford Sound is the most popular tourist attraction of the whole country and has previously been called the 8th Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling.
Milford Sound has been populated by the Maori back in the days until the Europeans came around. John Grono, a famous European sailor, discovered it in 1812. Today it is mainly used for tourism and conservation.
How to get there
The place this whole post is about, Milford Sound, lies by the west coast on the southern island of New Zealand. It’s about 100 kilometers west of Queenstown and 120 km south of Te Anau. These two cities are the main ones to start off from, if you want to visit Fiordland to go on a Milford Sound Cruise. The easiest way to get there is by car or by bus.
From Te Anau you’ll need about 1h and 45 minutes, whereas you’ll need about 4 hours from Queenstown. If you go by bus, just like I did, then it’ll obviously even take a little longer. There is just one main road to get there, which will take you through an unbelievably beautiful landscape that already gives you a little foretaste of what’s about to come.
Many bus tours are offered by various companies. I went with Kiwi Experience, because they can also offer better prices for the Milford Sound Cruise as well. I can definitely recommend them, if you search for a solid tour company.
As mentioned, you will be astonished by the beauty you’ll see along the way.
Short tip: Take your time. The way there is almost as beautiful as the Milford Sound Cruise
How to get around
The only way to get around on the Milford Sound Cruise is to go by ferry. I initially thought you could also go with a small motorized boat, but unfortunately that’s not possible. You can also do a helicopter ride, which is, according to people I met that did it, maybe even cooler than the Milford Sound Cruise. Just have in mind, that it will be way shorter and highly expensive (595$ NZD).
They disembark several times a day. The Milford Sound Cruise takes about 1h and 45 minutes, so it’s not really a full day tour, but the whole process of getting there, visiting some other sights along the way, doing the tour, getting back and so on, will take you about one full day.
You can also check out the area by hiking, but it will definitely not be the same as exploring it via ferry. On a boat tour you’ll see completely different spots and you get way closer to them, as if you hike. If you decide to hike, have in mind that you will only see the outer area of Milford Sound, but not the core.
The weather during a Milford Sound Cruise can be very different, depending on the season. The perfect time to go is summer (December to March). Temperature sets between 18°C and 27°C whereas in winter (June to September) it can get down to 6°C and rarely gets above 11°C.
During summer you also will also be able to enjoy the warming sun and pleasent winds.
Short tip: Bring good sunscreen! Otherwise you’ll be burned quickly. New Zealand’s sun is almost unfiltered. See here what I usually take with me on my trips.
Accommodation can be sorted out quiet easily. There are many hotels and hostels in the proximity of Milford Sound. Since Queenstown and Te Anau are the places where most people start the one day tour from to get on the Milford Sound Cruise, this is the place where you find countless options for accommodation. To give you a couple examples:
Another good option to search for would be accommodation from Airbnb, which is relatively easy to find, but not in the proximity.
The cost section is one of the most important ones regarding the Milford Sound Cruise, because it gives you an overview of what to expect and if you get a good value for the price you pay. I can tell you in advance that you get a lot for your money, at least from my point of view 🙂
These are the average prices (low budget) for one day:
- Tour: 95$ NZD per adult
- Accommodation: 25$+ NZD (dorm room)
- Food: 10$+ NZD, if selfmade
- Transportation: 195$ NZD from Queenstown (including Milford Sound Cruise + lunch)/ 169$ NZD from Te Anau
I know, this sounds like quiet a lot at first, but trust me, it’s not. Especially if you compare it to other tours you can do in New Zealand, which are usually not as brilliant as the Milford Sound Cruise.
The mentioned prices obviously adapt to your personal needs. I usually try to travel low budget. If you like to have a higher standard, then the prices for accommodation and food will probably rise.
Milford Sound Cruise in southern New Zealand – Highlights
First of all I have to mention the overall scenery as the first highlight of the Milford Sound Cruise. If you have never seen a fiord in your life before, just like me, then you’ll be absolutely blown away. It’s incredible what mother nature can do. The fiord of Milford Sound is not as narrow and spikey as the ones you can find in Norway or Iceland for example. They are way wider and also not as high as in northern Europe. Around Milford Sound and on the way there you’ll also see rainforests, a couple mountain ranges and massive cliffs, which ad another dimension to the whole trip that you usually wouldn’t even think of.
I mean, would you expect rainforests near a fiord? At least I wouldn’t… 🙂
The shape of the mountains you’ll see on the Milford Sound Cruise are very smooth and elegant. Really pretty to look at. Besides that the calm breeze, which goes through the fiord, creates a very relaxing feeling and makes it even more fun to take pictures of the beautiful scenery for your Instagram 🙂
A good example can be found on the way to the Milford Sound Cruise at a small spot called Mirror Lake, which is so clear, that the whole landscape reflects on it. It’s unbleievably beautiful!
The ocean water is also very clear, which fits perfectly into the look of the area. The Kiwis (that’s how you call people from New Zealand) do a really good job of protecting their nature, just like the Australians do.
On top of that you don’t find any houses, huts or anything similar at or near the fiord. You’ll only be surrounded by pure nature without any distraction.
The second thing from the Milford Sound Cruise, which makes this trip such a great experience, is the fascinating wildlife. Fiordland’s centre, which is basically the whole area where the Milford Sound Cruise takes place, is home to hundreds of different animal species.
The whole area is perfect for nature lovers, who love pure untouched nature, since there is almost no pollution and no hunting allowed. The only thing you’ll find is a couple tour boats.
This is the reason why seals, dolphins, and other popular animal species live a great life at Milford Sound. More than 60 bottle nose dolphins call Milford Sound their home. Sometimes you can even spot some dolphins jumping out of the water, saying hello to the visitors. Every couple hundred meters you can see a seal family taking a sunbath on rocks in the ocean. Seal Point is one of them.
Even seahawks and penguins can be seen from time to time. Many bird species actually have their breeding nests in Milford Sound.
The third thing of the Milford Sound Cruise, that made me speachless, have been the multiple massive waterfalls.
Some of them reach a hight of over 100m. All of them look very picturesque and fit into the whole scenery effortlessly. The most known ones are the Lady Bowen Falls and the Stirling Falls.
A couple times during the Milford Sound Cruise the boat driver will position the boat very close to one of these gigantic waterfalls. The masses of water that pour down on your head will completely make you soaking wet, because in combination with the wind, you won’t have any chance to escape, if you stand outside on the deck.
Luckily the boats also offer free tea and coffee to warm you up again. These waterfalls are one of the reasons, why you should definitely bring a good camera. I promise, the photos you’ll take will have high class postcard quality.
Kajaking is an acitivity you can do besides the Milford Sound Cruise. It will allow you to get closer to all the cool spots and to really connect with mother nature. Kajaking through the deep blue waters of Milford Sound is an astonishing feeling. Especially on a sunny, when the sun reflects from the crystal clear ocean, you will have a blast. You can kajak through the areas, which you see on the way to the fiord or you start where the Milford Sound Cruise begins and make your through the core of the fiord. You’ll be blessed with some majestic views, doesn’t matter where you decide to go.
If you’re lucky, one of the previously mentioned dolphin families comes by and swims along with you. They are very playful and confinding. Most kajaking tours take a couple hours, but you can also choose to go for less. It’s completely up to you.
Scuba diving is something that I can always recommend as a scuba diving lover. If you take an early Milford Sound Cruise, then you can also go on a scuba diving trip.
Diving at Milford Sound / Piopiotahi marine reserve is an icredible experience that can not be found anywhere else on planet earth. You’ll dive along the fiordwalls full of vivid marine life and unique plants. Milford Sound inhabits black coral trees and countless other wonderful underwater plants. Additonally various animals such as sharks, eels, octopus, stingray, crayfish, nudibranch and over 150 other different fish species can be seen.
The scuba diving trip takes a couple hours. Gear, food and drinks are included. So if you have the opportunity to go scuba diving, besides doing the Milford Sound Cruise, then definitely go for it. You’ll make a special memory for life. Promised!
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