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5 BEST Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown (Comparing the Types of Tours)

5 BEST Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown (Comparing the Types of Tours)

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A day trip to Milford Sound is one of the most popular activities to do in Queenstown. In fact, no visit to New Zealand would be complete without a visit to Milford Sound, in my opinion.

Trust me, I’ve personally been to Milford more than a dozen times!

There are a few ways to get to Milford Sound, but I think it’s best to visit by taking a tour as the road can be rather daunting and there is a lot to learn about the area. Luckily, these tours from Queenstown to Milford include transportation (either by scenic flight or driving) and a cruise through the gorgeous fiord!

To make your planning simpler, I have compared 5 (excellent, but VERY different) tours to Milford Sound from Queenstown that you can choose from. This way, visitors like yourself can make the right decision for you!

Don’t have time to read the whole article? My personal FAVORITE tour to Milford from Queenstown is this group coach tour with a cruise! This tour stops at all the best places on the road to Milford before going on a cruise to get up close to wildlife and waterfalls. Plus, it’s also more affordable than the other tours. I loved this tour so much that I can’t wait to do it again with my father-in-law when he visits this summer! You can book the exact same tour that I did and LOVED online here with free cancellation up to 24 hours before the tour!

What to Consider Before Choosing a Milford Tour from Queenstown

A cruise floats through Milford Sound
On a calm day, the fiord is just pure beauty!

Not all tours from Queenstown to Milford Sound are created equal. And while I’ve carefully selected 5 amazing tours to feature in this blog, they are all very different than one another – so there a few things you need to think about before deciding on what tour is best for YOU!

  • All Milford Sound tours listed here include pick-up in Queenstown and drop-off back here at the end of your tour – you do not need to drive at all! If your hotel is in central Queenstown, most tours will pick you up and drop you back at your accommodation at the end of the tour. If not, you may need to get a ride closer to town (bus or Uber is a good option.)
  • All tours include commentary from your guide/driver/pilot on the way there and guide/captain on your cruise. That way, you can learn all about Milford Sound along the way. This is something that is standard with all tours.
  • As for meals, you need to check each specific tour for inclusions and be prepared to bring some snacks with you for the longer days. Some tours include lunch, and some don’t. Bring money if your selected tour doesn’t include food.
  • How you get to Milford Sound is up to you, and is largely the biggest decision you’ll need to make. For example, if you choose one of the coach tours, you will be taken on a large coach into Milford with the journey taking around 4 hours each way. Keep in mind – it will be a long day! A flight is quicker, but more expensive and doesn’t include all the road trip stops!

When making your decision on what Milford Sound tour from Queenstown to choose, keep in mind what’s the most important feature of a tour to you. Do you want a boat cruise included? Do you want to splurge and experience it from the air? Or, do you want a combination of these? Whatever’s important to you, I’m sure the perfect Milford Sound tour for you is included in the list below.

Important Note: Milford Sound tours from Queenstown are POPULAR, and as such, book up sometimes weeks in advance. If you want to go on a tour, book it ASAP to avoid missing out. Browse all Milford tours available for your intended travel dates online here!

Related Read: Looking for more high-flying adventure? Learn about the different types of helicopter flights you can do in Queenstown!

7 DIFFERENT Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown (that I LOVE!)

1. Coach to Milford, cruise, and coach return to Queenstown (Cheapest option!)

Mirror Lakes on the road to Milford Sound
The stunning reflections of Mirror Lakes on the road to Milford Sound!

Pros:

  • Cheapest tour available
  • You can to see all of the attractions on the road to Milford
  • The coach is a large luxury bus that is comfortable and includes a glass roof so that you can see the mountain tops easily
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the tour starts

Cons:

  • It’s a long day, about 12 hours in total
  • A lot of time is spent driving on the road
  • Larger tour group because of the larger bus size (maximum 49 travelers)

This is the most popular tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound! It involves a coach ride from Queenstown to Milford Sound, a cruise in Milford, and then a return back to Queenstown via coach, making it the most cost-effective option and you get to enjoy the incredible views all day!

On the journey to Milford via coach (a large comfortable bus) you will get to see the spectacular scenery of Fiordland National Park including photo stops in Te Anau, Eglinton Valley, and Mirror Lakes.

Worth noting is the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound takes a minimum of 3.5 hours each way so it’s a long travel day. However, the journey there is split up with plenty of stops to stretch your legs.

Once you reach Milford Sound you will board your boat for a 1.5-hour cruise on a luxury catamaran boat. Spot waterfalls and wildlife like seals, Fiordland penguins, and if you’re lucky, dolphins! Mitre Peak is perhaps the most staggering sight sitting 1,692 meters (5,551 feet) above sea level, you can’t miss it. You’ll also be offered a picnic-style lunch on board the boat as well as complimentary tea and coffee.

What I love about this specific tour is it includes a nature cruise. This is my favorite cruise in Milford because it’s on a smaller boat so you get as close as possible to the action. That includes the famous “glacial facial” from the 15,000-year-old Stirling Falls.

The whole day is 12.5 hours total with an early 7:00 am departure from Queenstown and arriving back in town in the late evening around 7:30 pm. Thus, if you get travel sick or are traveling with young kids this may not be the ideal tour for you. It’s a long day – trust me!

This tour is $274 NZD per person and I recommend booking this tour in advance online here since it is one of the best and most popular tours in Queenstown!

2. Small-group mini-van to and from Milford and a cruise (BEST reviews!)

Lady Bowen Falls a seen on  Milford Sound tour from Queenstown
The stunning Lady Bowen Falls as seen from a Milford Sound cruise!

Pros:

  • Very affordable (almost as cheap as the coach tour above)
  • You get to see all of the attractions on the road to Milford
  • Small group tour with a maximum of 16 travelers
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the tour starts
  • Incredible reviews! (Seriously, this tour has over 1,000 5-star reviews – check them out here!

Cons:

  • It’s a long day, about 13 hours in total
  • A lot of time is spent driving on the road
  • Transport is in a minivan, which can sometimes feel a little cramped
  • Small group means the tour is often fully booked. You should book this tour well in advance. You can check availability here!

Avoid the crowds of the larger coach tour and opt for a small personalized mini-van trip to Milford Sound which also includes a cruise. Your mode of transport is a luxury Mercedes minivan built for long journeys so you will be traveling in comfort and style on the 3.5-hour journey each way.

This specific tour is very similar to the above and you’ll be stopping along the way at popular stops including Mirror Lakes and Eglinton Valley. On this tour, there is a maximum of 16 people so the experience is much more personal. Because of this, you can also request a quick stop or two depending on how much time you have.

The nature cruise once you reach Milford is 2 hours in total and includes a picnic lunch. Because this tour is a smaller group and is a longer cruise, you’ll be able to really explore the fiord and enjoy it’s incredible sights!

Remember, this is a long day approx. 12 hours in total, but you’re with a smaller group and the mini-van is both spacious and comfortable. This type of tour starts from $289 NZD per person which is great value given the group size!

You can book this Milford Sound tour here!

3. Fly to Milford, cruise, and fly back to Queenstown (Best tour without driving!)

A plane fly's into Milford Sound on a tour from Queenstown
The views from above are magnificent!

Pros:

  • You get to see Milford Sound and Queenstown from the best vantage point – the sky!
  • The total tour time is only 4.5 hours, so you can fit more into your day!
  • No time spent sitting on a bus on a long road trip
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the tour starts

Cons:

  • The price – scenic flights are more expensive than bus tours
  • You’ll miss out on the attractions on the road to Milford

This tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound involves a flight there, a cruise once you arrive in Milford Sound, and then a flight back to Queenstown. A 40-minute return scenic flight in a small fixed-wing plane is a fantastically quick option to get to Milford Sound and also boasts stunning views along the way!

On this tour, you get the best of both with a fly-over Milford Sound and a 2-hour boat cruise through it.

Like the above-mentioned tours, this cruise is on a smaller vessel (as you can see I’ve learned these are the best cruises in Milford Sound) allowing you to get up really close to famed Stirling Falls as well as some of the cutest wildlife.

On your 40-minute flight back to Queenstown your pilot will take you a different route so you can see another side of the national park, giving you even more amazing views of Fiordland National Park – you can’t complain about that!

This whole tour is around 5 hours in total so it’s a great option if you’re short on time. During the summer months in Queenstown, you can choose either a morning or afternoon departure from Queenstown.

Unfortunately, these tours aren’t cheap and prices for this tour start from $645 NZD per adult. However, for such a once-in-a-lifetime experience it’s really great value and less than double the cheapest tours by coach. You can also book this type of tour in a helicopter for $1,116 NZD online here!

Worth Noting: For all flying tour options listed here – infants are classed as under 11kgs and are free of charge. Children over 11kgs will require their own seat and will be charged at a child rate.

It’s a very popular tour and one of the best scenic flights offered in Queenstown. You can book this specific Milford Sound tour here!

Why I Book Tours on Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book all of my tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here

4. Coach to Milford, cruise, and fly back to Queenstown (the most comprehensive tour!)

A lady stands on the side of a boat by a waterfall on a cruise through Milford Sound
Getting so close to the waterfalls you get wet (if you want of course!)

Pros:

  • You get to see Milford from ALL angles (on the road, on a boat, and then from the air too!)
  • You get to see all of the attractions on the road to Milford
  • Perfect tour length at 8.5 hours in total
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the tour starts
  • Not a ton of time spent on the road since the drive is only one way, and this is when the coach stops at attractions frequently
  • Large and comfortable coach bus with windows on the roof
  • View of both Milford Sound and Queenstown from the sky on your return scenic flight

Cons:

  • A bit pricey when compared with the bus tours that don’t include a scenic flight
  • It can be hard to secure a booking. This is what I consider to be the best all-around tour from Queenstown to Milford, and many others agree with me, so it is often fully booked in advance. You can check availability online here!

This tour is a very popular option as it combines a coach tour that takes the scenic road from Queenstown to Milford, a cruise in Milford, and then you return to Queenstown with a scenic flight. Basically, it’s the entire package in one!

This is an 8.5-hour tour in total, so not as long as the coach options described earlier (which typically last a whopping 12.5 hours). You literally cut the driving time in half on this tour!

Your coach will depart Queenstown at 7 am to take you to Milford. As with the other tours, it’s a long journey but it includes lots of photo stops along the way. When you reach Milford you will board for your 2-hour scenic cruise through the fiord. You will be given a packed picnic lunch as part of the tour package which is lovely to enjoy on the cruise!

At the end of your cruise, you will be taken to the Milford Sound airstrip to board your small fixed-wing plane for the 40-minute scenic flight back into Queenstown. You’ll enjoy uninterrupted views of Fiordland National Park while your pilot points out hidden lakes and tall mountain peaks.

This tour, in my opinion, is one of the best options because it gives you the chance to see Milford Sound from all angles – by bus, on the water, and from the sky! It’s perfect for anybody who suffers from FOMO (like me) because you really get to experience it all!

At 8.5 hours in duration, it is classified as a full-day tour but you will make it back to Queenstown with plenty of time for dinner at one of its fantastic restaurants. The only issue with this tour is the scenic cruise. Because it’s on a larger vessel you won’t get as close to the waterfalls, but with that said, many people prefer the amenities on these larger boats.

Prices for this tour start from $732 per person and you can book the tour in advance here!

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5. Milford Sound from the air (Quickest tour!)

View of Milford Sound from a helicopter flight
Flights make the trip a lot quicker!

Pros:

  • You get to see Milford and Queenstown from the air (the best view!!)
  • Total tour time is only 1 hour and 20 minutes – perfect if you are super short on time
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the tour starts
  • No time wasted driving
  • Small group with a maximum of 12 travelers

Cons:

  • A bit pricey when compared with the bus tours that don’t include a scenic flight
  • This is ONLY a scenic flight, it does not include a landing in Milford Sound or a boat cruise.

This short and sweet 1-hour scenic flight is a popular option with couples or visitors short on time. The small fixed-wing plane which holds a maximum of 12 people will fly you through the Wakatipu Basin, across the Southern Alps, above the famous Milford Walking Track, over Sutherland Falls, and finally into Milford Sound to check out the scenery.

It’s an incredibly scenic and quick way to see Milford Sound. However, the only downside is you don’t get to land in Milford itself and experience a boat cruise there.

With that said, this tour is ideal if you’re short on time so you can pack the rest of your Queenstown itinerary with other activities. It’s an excuse to return to Queenstown in the future to experience a boat cruise in Milford Sound! Or, it’s the perfect option for those who have already seen Milford Sound on a cruise.

Seeing Milford from the air is not something many people can say they’ve done so, this experience is truly something for the bucket list. This tour is $558 NZD per person.

You can book this exact Milford Sound tour here.

Related Read: If you only have time to visit one fiord while in Queenstown, be sure to check out my unbiased review of Doubtful Sound vs. Milford Sound!

Why Book a Tour to Milford from Queenstown

Bailey from My Queenstown Diary before going kayaking in Milford Sound
Getting ready to go on a kayaking tour in Milford Sound!

Honestly, you have to visit Milford Sound – even if you’re only spending a few days in Queenstown. Of course, if you rent a car in Queenstown, you can drive yourself to Milford Sound, but keep in mind that after Te Anau, the road is narrow and winding so care should be taken at all times. It’s a 3.5-hour drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound directly. For ease of mind and a more relaxing trip, you can take a scenic flight to Milford Sound from Queenstown or a coach tour.

Booking a tour to Milford Sound has many benefits including a knowledgeable guide who will tell you all about the area and its history as well as the chance to meet like-minded travelers. If you do plan on visiting without a tour, it’s best to spend the night in Te Anau beforehand.

Must-Do Activities While in Queenstown

bailey stands at the front of the TSS Earnslaw in Queenstown
The TSS Earnslaw cruise is an iconic activity in Queenstown!
Bailey enjoys wine at Gibbston Valley Winery near Queenstown
The wine is so good!

While in Queenstown there are plenty of other activities that will keep you busy… Honestly, there are so many it’ll be hard to choose which ones to do! Below are some of my favorites.

  • Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting – This is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best value for money, for $239 NZD your tour bus will stop at 4 different boutique wineries in the Otago region that include a wide range of wine samples and a provided gourmet lunch platter. As you hop between wineries you’ll gaze out the window at spectacular views.
  • Queenstown Canyoning Adventure – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek your way down a part of a Queenstown canyon with a qualified guide. This thrilling full-day activity is perfect for those who love adventure and exploration! As long as you aren’t afraid of heights and have a basic swimming ability you won’t need any other skills.
  • Queenstown Lakes Lord of the Rings Tour – This tour is fun for both major LOTR fans and those who have some level of interest in seeing and learning about the filming locations. You will be guided around in a 4×4 vehicle that is equipped to cross rivers and rugged terrain. There are 8 different stops over 9 hours, it’s a long day but it will be filled with so many breathtaking views and you’ll learn a ton from your guide.

Where to Stay in Queenstown

Hot Tub over looking the river and mountains at Kamana Soak in Queenstown, New Zealand
Photo credit: Kamana Lakehouse

Finding the right place to stay in Queenstown can be hard. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of awesome choices, but things book up fast! For that reason, I highly suggest booking your accommodation well in advance.

Honestly, during peak times, any of the best hotels in Queenstown will be fully booked several weeks in advance…you have been warned! To help you plan ahead, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.

Kamana Lakehouse – $$$

For a luxurious stay, I highly recommend Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel is located just on the outskirts of town. Although it’s super peaceful, it’s just a 5-minute drive into the center of town. The place overlooks both the lake and the mountains, and the onsite restaurant uses local, seasonal ingredients to create the freshest meals. To top it off, many of the rooms boast lake views, and some even have outdoor baths!

The trick will be snagging this for your dates (it’s a popular place!). Rooms start around the $400 NZD mark, and you can check availability and book online here.

La Quinta Queenstown – $$

If you’re looking for a mid-range hotel, then you should seriously consider La Quinta Queenstown. This beautiful hotel is right by the airport but still very quiet. Plus, the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!). The rooms are all studio or one-bedroom apartments, which is really handy if you want to cook or even just have breakfast in your room.

Prices start at $200 NZD and you can book online here.

Absoloot Hostel Queenstown – $

My top choice for budget travelers is the Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget private rooms, and it’s really clean and comfortable. The location is in the heart of Queenstown – the window from the kitchen looks out over Lake Wakatipu!

Dorms are around $55 NZD, and private rooms begin around $210 NZD. The Absoloot Hostel is easily one of the top cheap hostels in Queenstown and can be booked on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey smiles at the camera on the back of a Milford Sound cruise
Thanks for reading!

Wow, and there you have it, a detailed breakdown of all the different styles of Milford Sound tours on offer from Queenstown. I know there are a lot to choose from but deciding really shouldn’t;t be too hard once you consider your budget and the time you have to spare.

I hope this blog will help you in choosing the best Milford Sound tour in Queenstown for you.

If you did find this blog helpful, then don’t run away just yet. Check out more blogs on My Queenstown Diary! Seriously, I have so many Queenstown, Milford Sound, and New Zealand blogs that are packed with info! Check out these few in particular that I think you might like:

Hiking Roy’s Peak – The Most Beautiful Hike in New Zealand

5 Types of Milford Sound Tours from Te Anau (The BEST Tours & Cruises)

ULTIMATE Guide to Visiting Queenstown in December  

RealNZ Review (Real Journeys) – What I think of RealNZ!