You cannot miss seeing Milford Sound if you are travelling the South Island of New Zealand. The scenic bay offers fantastic views of sheer mountain cliffs plunging into the water, and countless waterfalls along the way. You’re bound to see some wildlife too; the sound is a popular hangout spot for New Zealand fur seals as well as dolphins and whales. Make sure you set aside at least a day to see this New Zealand scenic wonder!
Since we were at the end of our trip and pressed for time, we tackled the trip in one day by booking a bus from Queenstown to Milford Sound and back, and the cruise of the sound through Jucy for $109 each. The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is 5-6 hours, and the cruise itself was 1.5 hours, so doing that all in one day while driving yourself (Devon doesn’t have her drivers license…) is a strenuous time. If you want to drive yourself and you have the time, we’d recommend you spend a day driving to Milford Sound, catch an early ferry the next morning, then drive back in the afternoon. We wish we could’ve driven ourselves, as the trip to the sound was almost as exciting as the cruise itself, and it offered many cool hikes and picture opportunities that were skipped by the driver to keep us on schedule.
Our Jucy Tour Bus picked us up at a location of our choosing (usually your hostel but ours was a little out of the way) at 5:45am. We chose the early bird one as it was cheaper and the sound was less busy when we got there, but there are later buses as well. Our first stop was in a large valley where we got off for a short 5 min walk beside the Mirror Lakes. On a calm day the lakes show a perfect reflection of the mountains in the valley, it’s pretty cool to see. After that we stopped in Te Anau for some coffee and snacks (you buy them yourself) for about 20 mins. At this point you really get into the mountain range, and the views are spectacular. We passed through a one way tunnel through a mountain and drove through a huge valley surrounded by snowy mountains! We arrived at Milford Sound at 11:00am, just in time for our 11:15am cruise.
The town of Milford Sound is very small, almost exclusively a hub for the cruises of the sound, but there are some places to stay overnight. We pulled right up to the pier and the bus driver gave us our tickets to get on the boat. You don’t even need to go inside the pier building, you can just walk right over to the Jucy slip and hop on the boat. We brought our own lunch, but the cruise ship actually had a Pita Pit on board where you could buy pre made pitas for $8! Pretty cool. We snagged a bench on the second level of the boat and waited for launch.
The first thing you see as you head out is the largest permanent waterfall in Milford Sound. It looked pretty small at first, but that’s just because it’s dwarfed by the massive cliffs and mountains in the sound. It was actually 150 meters high. Apparently when it rains there are literally thousands of waterfalls running down the cliffs into the water. We passed by a bunch of other waterfalls, and just took in the beautiful cliffs and snow capped peaks in the background during the 45 min trip out to the Tasman Sea. There is a guide providing facts through speakers on the boat, but it was often hard to hear him.
We were greeted by dusky dolphins at the Tasman Sea, and they came right up beside our boat to play in the wake. Our captain played with them for a little while, but then we had to head back into the sound. We made our way down the other side of the bay, and stopped for a little bit to get right up close to some New Zealand fur seals lounging on some rocks and swimming around. After that we got up close and personal with the second largest permanent waterfall, and pretty much put our bow right through it. Some people stayed outside for this portion and got drenched, but we were pretty cold at that point so we stayed under cover. We were there in December, when the New Zealand weather had just started to warm up, but we would recommend being prepared for cold sea winds on your cruise during any season so bring a warm jacket or at least a raincoat/windbreaker and some sweaters! The whole cruise took about 1.5 hours, and we were very pleased with it.
We got back on the bus and headed back to Queenstown, making two stops along the way. The first was at Monkey Creek, a fresh mountain river that you can drink from. We filled our water bottles there and the water tasted amazing. We encountered a Kia bird ripping apart a car bumper with it’s beak, so watch out for those if you’re driving yourself! The stop also provides a great view of a snow capped mountain in the background. The second stop was a 20 min walk called The Chasm. We saw a super powerful waterfall there, and some crazy rock formations. You also get some more great opportunities for pictures of the surrounding mountains.
We arrived back in Queenstown around 6pm, and were justifiably exhausted so we called it an early night. The trip was awesome, the only draw backs being the early morning and lack of opportunities for pictures along the way. Both Milford Sound and the road to it are amazing sights to visit while in New Zealand.