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Milford Sound is one of my favorite places in the whole world. I’m not kidding – I’ve been here over 10 times and I leap at any opportunity to go. I always bring friends and family here when they come to visit me in Queenstown, and they always end up falling in love with it, too.
It’s one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand that you’ll have to pinch yourself to make sure that you’re not dreaming.
You can visit Milford Sound independently, but the quintessential experience involves taking a cruise in Milford Sound, so it’s not the same if you don’t book one! Besides, the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is really long, so I definitely recommend coming with a tour if you’re doing a day trip.
Tours to Milford Sound are definitely not a one-size-fits-all. There are so many different ways you can experience this unique and special fiord. I’ve done pretty much every kind of Milford Sound tour you can think of, so I’ve rounded up the top 10 to help you choose!
My Top Choices
Premium Milford Sound Small Group Tour from Queenstown
I love this premium tour because it delivers the complete Milford Sound experience, from lots of scenic stops along the way to break up the journey from Queenstown and a boutique nature cruise. Small boat cruises are so much better because you’re able to get closer to the shore and really appreciate all of the unique and rare wildlife at Milford Sound. It’s a full-day tour in a small group for only $289 NZD when you book in advance.
Milford Sound Overnight Cruise Fiordland Jewel
I dreamt of doing this overnight Milford Sound cruise for a long time, and it still exceeded my expectations! The boat is so luxurious but what’s even better is that you get to marvel at this beautiful part of the world when there’s no one else around, which isn’t something many people ever get to do. It’s a splurge type of experience at $1,149 NZD per ticket, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing! It books up months in advance, so you’ll need to reserve a spot here.
Half-Day Milford Helicopter Flight and Cruise from Queenstown
This combo helicopter and cruise tour is an amazing option if you’re short on time, because it only takes a half day, and flying over Milford Sound is such an incredible experience. You’ll even get to land on a glacier – how many people get to do that?!? Plus, it includes a nature cruise, so you get to experience its beauty from two different perspectives. You can check availability and book online here.
Best Milford Sound Tours
1. Cruise Milford NZ Small Boutique Cruise Experience (Cruise Only)
A nature cruise is without a doubt THE best thing to do in Milford Sound, and I personally love going on the smaller boats because you get to explore nooks and crannies that the bigger boats just can’t get to. I got close enough to the waterfalls to feel the spray! This also means that you get to see the fiord’s wildlife up close, and you’re likely to spot penguins, seals, and even dolphins!
You get to see all of the highlights of Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park, like Mitre Peak and the gorgeous waterfalls, and you won’t have to battle with hoards of other passengers, because there’s a maximum of 75 people on board, which is only half of the vessel’s capacity. This means you’ve got plenty of space to relax and chill, either on deck or in the luxury indoor lounge.
There’s no food on board this cruise but since it only lasts for 2 hours, I don’t think that that’s a problem. There are also complimentary hot drinks to warm you up along the way, and there’ll be a friendly skipper on board to explain what you’re seeing and teach you about the fiord’s wildlife.
All in all, I think this is the best choice as far as standalone Milford Sound cruises go! It costs $149 NZD for adults and $79 NZD for kids, and under 5s can cruise for free. It’s available daily and you can reserve a spot in advance online.
Related Read: Need tips on how to get here? Here are the four ways to get to Milford Sound!
2. Premium Milford Sound Small Group Tour from Queenstown
It takes almost 4 hours to drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound, so if you’re planning on taking a day trip, then this premium tour is a fantastic option. It’s a small group tour with a maximum of 16 people, so it feels nice and personal, which I think makes a huge difference.
Although the journey is long, it will be broken up with some fantastic stops along the way. You’ll stop at some beautiful viewpoints and places like Eglinton Valley, where scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed.
I also loved having time to stretch my legs in Te Anau and take a quick stroll around the Mirror Lakes, which are so named because they reflect the Earl Mountains. This makes the long journey into a fun road trip, and the guides are super friendly and really inject energy and enthusiasm into the group.
Once you get to Milford Sound, you’ll get to do the boutique nature cruise that I talked about above. This is one of the best cruises you can do, since it’s a small boat that allows you to see much more scenery and wildlife than the larger boats do, and passenger numbers are limited so that the boat doesn’t get too crowded.
The journey back to Queenstown also has some great stops, including the Pops View lookout where you get an amazing view of the divide in the Alps. I love stopping here!
This tour costs $289 NZD and has hundreds of 5-star reviews! The price includes all transport, lunch, snacks, and the boutique cruise. I think it’s worth every penny and an incredible way to experience Milford Sound. So if this sounds like your perfect day too, make sure to book a spot on this highly-rated tour!
3. Milford Sound Coach Tour with Lunch from Queenstown
This day trip tour is easily one of the best Milford Sound tours from Queenstown. You’ll be in a super comfortable, glass-roofed coach, which is great for admiring the beautiful views on the journey. There’s also WiFi on board, so you can upload all of your snaps as you go.
There are tons of cool stops along the way, including Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, and Monkey Creek, which is a beautiful valley where you’ve got a good chance of spotting cheeky keas. You can even refill your water bottle here because the glacier water is so fresh and clean – albeit cold!
One of the best things about this tour, though, is that you get to take a cruise on the Gem of the Sound. You’ll be on the only cruise in the Milford Sound that has a glass roof, which is really cool. There are also spacious viewing decks where you can enjoy the open air and feel the spray of the waterfalls as you glide past. Plus, it’s a really swanky catamaran, so you’ll definitely be comfortable.
This tour costs $274 NZD including hotel pick up and drop off, a gourmet lunch, and the cruise. Everything is taken care of for you and the whole experience has a big focus on comfort and luxury.
Tickets for this Milford Sound tour from Queenstown can be booked here and you’ll see why it has a badge of excellence award from the tour company Viator!
4. Full-Day Milford Sound Extraordinaire Tour from Te Anau
You don’t have to visit Milford Sound from Queenstown. Taking a Milford Sound tour from Te Anau is a great way to cut down the journey, but don’t worry, there are still plenty of great stops on the way.
On this Milford Sound Extraordinaire tour, you’ll treated to highlight after highlight that makes Milford Sound so special. There’s a chance to check out the stunning Mirror Lakes to stroll along the scenic boardwalk. You’ll also see Bluegum Bay and Eglinton Valley which has spectacular mountain views.
What I love most about this tour is that it includes my favorite boutique cruise on Milford Sound, which is the best way to see the scenery and wildlife up close. Then, afterward, you get to explore the area on foot and do a guided nature walk to check out the pretty Marian Cascade waterfall. This is a nice extra, and I like the fact that you have a little more time to explore the area on foot because there’s less travel time involved.
If you do end up coming back to the area on your own after the tour, I highly recommend hiking the Lake Marian Track to see the gorgeous turquoise-hued Lake Marian up close.
This tour costs $249 NZD per person. I love the fact that it’s a small group tour as I think this really does make the experience so much better, especially when visiting somewhere as remote as Milford Sound.
5. Milford Sound Full-Day Tour from Te Anau
This Milford Sound tour from Te Anau is a bit more budget-friendly as you travel in a larger group of around 40, but it still delivers a great experience.
On the way there, you visit Monkey Creek and the Mirror Lakes, and your guide will help you make the most of these stops and give you plenty of time to snap photos.
You also get to do the Chasm Walk near the Homer Tunnel, where you’ll walk through native bush and see some unique rock formations that have been shaped by the sheer amount of rainfall that this part of the country receives!
Then, you’ll arrive at Milford Sound, where you’ll take a luxurious catamaran cruise. You can view the amazing wildlife, mountains, rock formations, and waterfalls from the indoor lounge or the open-air decks as you glide through the fiord. I spotted dolphins and if you’re really lucky you might see a Fiordland penguin!
There’s food and drinks available to purchase on board, but this tour also includes a substantial packed lunch. The tour costs $210 NZD per person and lasts for 7.5 hours, so it’s not such a long day, but you’ll still get to explore the area in depth! You can easily book this experience online.
Related Read: If you want to stay nearby, check out the top 10 hotels I recommend in Te Anau.
6. Milford Sound Scenic Fly-Cruise-Fly departing Queenstown
Not only is taking a scenic flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound incredibly beautiful, but it’s also way quicker than driving. In fact, this round-trip plane tour allows you to fly to Milford Sound, enjoy a nature cruise, and then fly back to Queenstown in just half a day.
So if you’re short on time but don’t want to sacrifice the views Milford Sound is known for, I highly recommend this option. It’s also a good choice if you’re prone to motion sickness!
One thing I love about this tour is how much time you get in the air. It’s about an hour to fly from Queenstown to Milford Sound, and another hour back, so you get two hours in the air. Not only are the aerial views of Milford Sound incredible, but you also get amazing views of Queenstown and the Southern Alps, too. I also really like the fact that you take a different flight path on the way home and get to see even more scenery.
When you get to Milford Sound, you also get to enjoy a nature cruise. I never get tired of these, no matter how many times I travel to Milford Sound, and I’m sure that my future contains many more of them!
This tour is an incredible experience and an unbeatable way to experience Milford Sound if you’ve got the budget for it. It costs $645 NZD per person, so it’s not cheap, but I do think it’s good value since you get two scenic flights and a nature cruise. I’ve paid a lot more for much shorter scenic flights elsewhere in the world, so I recommend taking advantage of this deal with Viator and booking a spot here if you can!
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book 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!
7. Milford Sound Cruise with Optional Kayak Tour
This Milford Sound tour stands out from the others for a few reasons.
The first is that it includes a visit to the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory. This is the only one in New Zealand, so it’s a pretty special spot! It’s a unique way to see what goes on under the surface of Milford Sound, and an opportunity to learn about its history. You’ll descend 10 meters (33 feet) to see rare black coral and other sea creatures … and you won’t even need to hold your breath!
The second reason is that this tour includes a kayaking excursion, during which you’ll paddle through the calm waters of the fiord, spotting rare wildlife. I got to see so many Fiordland crested penguins up close when I went kayaking in Milford Sound – it was really exciting.
Kayaking is such a great way to really take in the beauty of the area, and I highly recommend it. Plus, it’s a small group of only 8 people, so it feels really peaceful as you paddle for 90 minutes – believe me, the time flies by!
And of course, the tour includes a Milford Sound cruise. It’s a small boat cruise with a maximum of 90 people on board, and this is definitely the kind of experience that I prefer! You also get a picnic lunch on the boat, which is pretty cool.
The tour costs $295 NZD and I think it’s an awesome choice for nature lovers and adventure travelers. There are typically morning and afternoon departure times. I always recommend going for the morning slot as this is the best time to visit Milford Sound since you’ll arrive before a lot of the other boats are on the water.
8. Half-Day Milford Helicopter Flight and Cruise from Queenstown
For one thing, the scenery between Queenstown and Milford Sound is just gorgeous, and you get super interesting info from your pilot on the flight. Plus, flying over the fiord is so cool, because you get to see how vast it is and take in the dramatic landscape from high above.
Then, you land in Milford Sound and get to go on a nature cruise, where you get close-up views of the mountains, waterfalls, and wildlife.
And if experiencing the fiord from two different perspectives wasn’t enough, the helicopter actually lands on a glacier on Mt. Tutoko just for you! I mean how many people get that experience in their life? Plus you get some epic photos to show off once you get home!
This is an insanely cool way to experience Milford Sound and I feel so lucky that I got to do it. The tour costs $1,330 NZD per person, including hotel pickup and drop off in Queenstown, flights, and the cruise. I highly recommend it! You can book your ticket for this unforgettable trip to Milford Sound here.
9. Milford Sound Overnight Cruise Fiordland Jewel
Okay, so if you’ve made it this far, then you will have worked out that I have experienced Milford Sound in a lot of different ways. However, I think that this overnight cruise on the Fiordland Jewel might just be the best of them all.
This cruise only runs from December to April, and it’s the most luxurious Milford Sound cruise around. Most of them last for 2 hours during the day, but on the Fiordland Jewel, you head out during the mid-afternoon and get to see the fiord after all of the other visitors have gone home. It’s insanely cool, and the boat itself isn’t crowded either – it only carries around 20 passengers.
Plus, there are fun activities like kayaking and tubing, so you can get super close to the fiord and get an even deeper appreciation for its beauty.
And the boat itself isn’t to be sniffed at, either. In fact, it’s super luxurious. You get to sleep overnight in a king-sized cabin with huge windows, so you can enjoy amazing views from the comfort of your bed!
I also had an amazing 3-course dinner which definitely exceeded my expectations, and after dinner, you get to watch underwater film footage. There’s also a hot tub on the roof of the boat, and since there are so few passengers on the boat, you can actually end your day with a peaceful soak up here and look at the stars.
If you couldn’t tell, I absolutely loved this cruise. I wrote a full review of my overnight cruise experience if you want more info, but trust me, this is one you don’t want to miss.
It costs $1,149 NZD per person so it is pricey, but honestly, this is a bucket list experience and I thought it was totally worth it. It does book up months in advance (and I actually missed out a couple times when I went to book!), so if this tour is calling your name, reserve a spot now.
10. Milford Sound and Big Five Glaciers Scenic Flight
Last, but certainly not least, this scenic flight is a fantastic way to experience Milford Sound. It’s only an hour long, so it’s an excellent choice if you’re short on time, but you still get to see a ton of amazing natural beauty!
You’ll depart from Queenstown and fly over five of the South Island’s beautiful glaciers. These glaciers are less famous than the Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier, and relatively few tourists get to appreciate them from the air. Some of them are pretty hard to reach, so a scenic flight is a great way to observe them!
Then, you’ll fly over the stunning Milford Sound. Even though you don’t get to land here, seeing it from the air truly is incredible and one of the best scenic flights from Queenstown. You’ll also fly over Shotover Canyon and Mt. Aspiring, which is the highest peak outside of the Mount Cook region.
Your pilot will provide commentary the entire time, so you get to learn about the mountains, glaciers, and fiords that you get to see. It’s a great way to soak in a lot of the South Island’s beautiful landscapes in a short amount of time, so it’s perfect for travelers who don’t have long here, or just for anyone who wants to take a breathtaking scenic flight!
The flight costs $481 NZD per person and lasts for an hour. The price includes hotel pickup and dropoff in Queenstown, which makes everything nice and easy. This tour tends to sell out, so you’ll want to book a spot on this scenic flight as soon as you know your travel dates.
Where to Stay near Milford Sound
If you’re wondering if you can stay in Milford Sound, the answer is yes!
Staying in Milford Sound is the most convenient choice if you pick a tour that doesn’t include transportation. However, there’s only one hotel here: the Milford Sound Lodge. It’s lovely, but since it’s the only option, it also books up far in advance (you can check availability here) and can be pricey. You can’t beat the location though!
However, there are also several campsites on the road between Te Anau to Milford Sound, which can also be a great option for those wanting to stay close to the fiord.
Cascade Creek Campsite is around 40 minutes south of Milford Sound and has 120 tent sites, which do not have power. The facilities are clean and it’s the closest Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite to Milford Sound, so it’s a popular choice. For this reason, you’ll need to book in advance. It costs $15 NZD for adults and $7.50 NZD for children per night. There’s also a $10 NZD booking fee per party.
Deer Flat Campsite is a 50-minute drive from Milford Sound. It’s a small, primitive camp, with only 15 tent sites, although caravan and RV access is also permitted. It’s absolutely beautiful, located next to the Eglinton River and surrounded by beech forest. You can’t book here, so it’s first-come, first-served. The prices for Deer Flat are the same as Cascade Creek, minus the booking fee.
Alternatively, there are plenty of hotels in Te Anau to choose from, and from there you’re only a 2-hour drive to Milford Sound. Some of the tours in this blog leave from Te Anau, so that might be the most convenient option for you!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
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 is what most budget backpackers get 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! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually purchase it as soon as we land in the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
I hope this blog has helped you prepare for one of the best experiences in New Zealand! Seriously Milford Sounds leaves me in awe every time I visit and I can’t wait to go back. These Milford Sound tours will help make sure you maximize your time here and get to see all the highlights while you’re in New Zealand.
If you need more ideas for your upcoming trip, make sure to check out my other blogs on New Zealand. This country has captured my heart and I love exploring and sharing everything I discover!