Fiordland National Park

How to Plan a Milford Sound Cruise

Milford Sound is one of those places in New Zealand that you really shouldn’t miss. It looks spectacular enough from the foreshore, but chances are you’ll want to take a Milford Sound cruise to really experience it properly. These generally go for two hours and take you out through the shelter of the sound to the edge of the Tasman Sea.

What can you see on a Milford Sound cruise?

It’s mostly about the scenery, and why wouldn’t it be! This is a special place — it was heavily featured in Alien Covenant, standing in for an exotic (and very dangerous) alien world. The movie isn’t great, but it’s worth watching for the scenery alone.

The calm waters of Milford Sound are surrounded by jagged cliffs and mountains. You can almost imagine a dinosaur (or a face hugging alien) emerging from the forest. ┬áThere are a couple of permanent waterfalls, one of which can be navigated under for a refreshing (and potentially camera damaging) spray. If you go on a Milford Sound cruise when it’s raining dozens more waterfalls will appear — I’ve heard it’s a pretty amazing sight.

It often gets cold out on the decks, but it’s worth sitting outside to appreciate those views. You might also spot some dolphins or penguins.

Which cruise should you book?

There are quite a few companies doing Milford Sound cruises and they seem pretty similar. There’s a set route which would be hard to deviate from, so in some respects it doesn’t matter which one you choose. Some boats are bigger than others and some (apparently) have better food and drink. I can’t even remember which company we ended up with (we booked it through Naked Bus).

A lot of people visit Milford Sound on a day tour from Queenstown, and many of these tours will include the cruise in the price. These tours are in the $110 – $160 price range and are good value if you’re in Queenstown for a short time and don’t want to drive. Otherwise, I’d strongly suggest driving there yourself and spending a couple of days in the area. You can book a cruise at the terminal — the companies have prices and departure times clearly displayed so just choose one that suits (they start from around $55).There are some great hikes close to Milford Sound, and plenty of easy to reach viewpoints, waterfalls and lakes. It’s one of the most picturesque places in New Zealand and you won’t regret spending a little longer there!

When is the best time to do a Milford Sound cruise?

We did it in the early afternoon in autumn and the light wasn’t ideal for photography. We considered doing another one on our most recent trip to Fiordland but it was an early morning and winter and it was a bit dark. It seems tough to get perfect light, but that should only matter to photographers (and bloggers with limited photography skills). As I said before, the best time to go on a Milford Sound cruise is any time that it rains, with waterfalls and moody light making for a surreal experience.

Other Things to Do Near Milford Sound

There are heaps of great hikes, both short and long, close to the road between Te Anau and Milford Sound. Check out my other posts on Fiordland National Park for all the details!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who has just returned home after 6 years abroad. Join me as I see as much of the South Island as I can.
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