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BEST Time to Visit Milford Sound (My Advice After Visiting in ALL Seasons!)

BEST Time to Visit Milford Sound (My Advice After Visiting in ALL Seasons!)

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Everyone has that one destination they keep on going back to, and for me, it’s Milford Sound. I honestly can’t get enough of this place! It’s the ideal nature getaway, with spectacular scenery, fresh air, and fun outdoor activities.

I’ve visited in every single season, and I always have a great time. So regardless of when you choose to visit New Zealand, I’d recommend a trip to Milford Sound. However, you do get a different experience depending on the time of year you go. 

Whether it’s summer or winter, Milford Sound is definitely one of those places where you can experience all four seasons in a matter of hours. That being said, every season has its pros and cons. And depending on when you visit, you might want to consider a different mode of transport and itinerary. 

If you’re debating when to visit Milford Sound, you’ve come to the right place! I’ve put together this guide so you can know what to expect in all four seasons. So keep reading to figure out when to visit and how to plan the perfect trip. 

Don’t have time to read the full article? There really is no bad time to visit Milford Sound. The summer months (December, January, and February) are the most popular. The weather is warm, the waterfalls are at their peak, and lots of cruises leave every day. December and January are pretty rainy, so plan for February if you’d like drier weather.

Table Of Contents
  1. About Milford Sound
  2. Visiting Milford Sound in Summer (December, January, and February)
  3. Visiting Milford Sound in Fall (March, April, May)
  4. Visiting Milford Sound in Winter (June, July, August)
  5. Visiting Milford Sound in Spring (September, October, November)
  6. So when is the best time to visit Milford Sound?
  7. What are the best tours to Milford Sound?
  8. Tips for visiting Milford Sound
  9. Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
  10. Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
  11. Thanks for reading!
  12. Why I Book Tours on Viator

About Milford Sound

A breathtaking waterfall on the edge of Milford Sound
The waterfalls are a highlight!
A boat travels right up to Stirling Falls in Milford Sound

Milford Sound is a stunning fiord in the southwest of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s part of Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage site.

Europeans only discovered this hidden gem in the 1800s. However, Maori tribes have been visiting for thousands of years to hunt, fish, and collect precious stones. Today, it’s become one of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand – which isn’t surprising.

Despite being a top tourist destination, the area still feels super remote and almost untouched by humans. This gorgeous fiord is surrounded by cascading waterfalls, towering mountains, and lush nature.

Milford Sound manages to stay so remarkably green year-round thanks to its high amount of rainfall. It’s one of the wettest places in New Zealand (and the world!), with an average of over 250 mm (10 inches) of rain per day. You can expect rain regardless of when you visit, which shouldn’t discourage you! Trust me, it only adds to its natural beauty.

While Milford Sound might feel remote, it’s the only fiord in New Zealand that’s accessible by car. Many people that come here travel from Queenstown or Te Anau. The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound takes 3.5 hours. However, I’d take it slow so you can enjoy all the amazing sights in between!

Te Anau is just a 1.5-hour drive away. But again, you’ll want to make plenty of stops between Te Anau and Milford Sound. This drive is incredibly beautiful and one of my favorite road trips on the South Island!

There’s also a small village (also called Milford Sound) right next to the fiord. This is where cruises depart from. You’ll also find the Visitor Center, a couple of cafes, and the Milford Sound Lodge.

Related Read: This country is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. To explore even more, read about the best multi-day guided tours across New Zealand.

Visiting Milford Sound in Summer (December, January, and February)

Bailey looks out on a cloudy Milford Sound on a day cruise
Cloudy and wet summer visit! This is February in Milford sometimes!

Summer is the most popular time to visit Milford Sound. It’s peak tourist season in New Zealand, so it’s the busiest time all over the country. And remember, in the southern hemisphere, summer is from December through February!

There are some things you should know before visiting Milford Sound – one being that December and January are the wettest months here! On average, Milford Sound receives 722 mm (28 in) of rainfall in January alone. To put that into context, Wellington receives 1,207 mm of rainfall across the entire year – so yeah, summer in Milford Sound is pretty wet!

This is important to remember because lots of people who write about Milford Sound don’t live in the area. After visiting once or twice, they’ll say summer is the best time for dry weather and clear skies. I promise you, this is NOT true! Having lived and traveled on the South Island for several years, I know just how rainy this area gets.

However, February is the exception to the “wet summer” rule. It’s actually one of the driest and sunniest months in Milford Sound. So if you prefer a drier vacation, this is a great time to visit. 

It’s also very safe to drive to Milford Sound during the summer. So if you’re considering renting a car while in New Zealand, this is the best season.

Driving is my preferred way of getting there, and I love road-tripping from Te Anau in particular. Although there’s no ice or snow on the ground, you should be careful when driving in the rain. The road can become slippery, which is why I like to take it slow and enjoy the scenery! 

Pros of visiting Milford Sound in summer

Stirling Falls in Milford Sound, New Zealand
Stirling Falls!
Bailey sits on the bed in her cabin on a Milford Sound overnight cruise
I recently did the Milford Sound overnight cruise!

Warmer weather

It never really gets super hot in Milford Sound. During the summer, the temperature tends to hover between a very comfortable 13-15°C (55-59°F). This is a big plus when you’re going to be standing on the deck of a cruise boat and being sprayed by waterfalls! It’s also nice for hiking around Milford Sound

The waterfalls are spectacular

Since it rains a lot during the summer in Milford Sound, the waterfalls are at their most impressive during this time of year! They’re really powerful, and you can be sure that semi-permanent waterfalls, like Fairy Falls, won’t be dried up.

Seeing beautiful waterfalls is one of my favorite things about visiting Milford Sound. As such, I think this is a huge advantage of going during the summer.

Lots of cruises leaving per day

Since summer is the busiest season in Milford Sound, you’ll have your pick when it comes to choosing a cruise. Lots of Milford Sound cruises leave every day during the summer, so you can find the perfect one for you. Cruises do still run during the winter, but there are definitely fewer departures.

The best overnight cruise begins 

Last but not least, I think the best reason to visit Milford Sound during summer is to take an overnight cruise! My absolute favorite option is this Fiordland Discovery Overnight Cruise, which starts operating in December.

I had dreamed about doing this cruise for years, and recently that dream finally came true! It was even better than I imagined – in fact, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in New Zealand. You can read about my in-depth experience on the Milford Sound Overnight Cruise here, but safe to say it was 100% worth it!

You’ll get the opportunity to see the fiord at its calmest, in the evening and the morning. Plus, you’ll enjoy comfy accommodations, delicious meals, and activities like kayaking. And if you’re brave enough, you can even jump into the water for a swim (although the water is freezing cold, even in summer!).

However, the overnight cruises sell out months in advance. So don’t hesitate to secure your spot online here!

Cons of visiting Milford Sound in summer 

The busy ferry Terminal at Milford Sound
The busy ferry terminal at Milford Sound

Overcrowded

My least favorite thing about visiting Milford Sound during the summer is that it gets crowded. It’s still really beautiful, but it’s always nicer to visit places like this without hordes of people around.

To get around this, I usually try to arrive early in the morning. The last time I visited, I did this overnight cruise. This meant I got to enjoy Milford Sound in peace because very few boats operate overnight. 

Need to book well in advance

Since Milford Sound is so busy during the summer, boats and the best tours book up super fast! You need to book well in advance to secure your spot, especially if you want to do an overnight cruise. But even if you’re just going during the day, I recommend booking the boat you want as soon as you make a decision!

I had actually wanted to take this overnight cruise for several years. But since it only operates in the summer, it kept selling out. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So if you are considering it, check availability and book it online well in advance!

High chance of rain

December and January are very wet months, so you’re very likely to experience rain when visiting Milford Sound. The fiord is stunning in the rain but obviously spending the whole day in a downpour can be uncomfortable. Plus, it makes the hiking trails muddy.

If you’re visiting in the summer, you’ll want to come prepared. Make sure to bring some good waterproof clothes!

Visiting Milford Sound in Fall (March, April, May)

Milford Sound in the Fall
Milford Sound in the fall

I love visiting Milford Sound during the fall! In my opinion, it’s the Goldilocks season when everything feels just right. 

March, April, and May are the fall months in Milford Sound. This is when the summer crowds start to peter out. Although spring tends to be busy, fall is much quieter. 

Plus, during the fall, there’s not usually any snow on the ground (even though there may be some up in the mountains). As such, it’s good for driving. It’s also the only time when you can drive to Milford Sound without encountering crowds from Queenstown and the surrounding area. Because although the fiord is quiet during winter, lots of people head to the mountains to ski

Related Read: If you are visiting during wintertime, check out my ultimate guide to skiing near Queenstown here!

Pros of visiting Milford Sound in fall

Fewer crowds

Visiting Milford Sound when it’s quiet really is a super special experience. The sense of peace and tranquility you get is just unmatched. It really does add an extra layer of magic to your visit. Plus, you don’t have to book cruises and tours as far in advance as you do during the summer.

Less rain

Milford Sound is wet all year round, but there’s less rain in the fall than in the summer. However, there’s still enough that the waterfalls look pretty impressive! To be honest, though, you’re going to need a rain jacket whenever you decide to visit. 

Still plenty of cruises

Lots of cruises still operate well into the fall, so you’ve still got plenty of choices. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, you don’t need to book as far in advance at this time of year. So overall, I’d say that autumn is a pretty good time to go on a cruise in Milford Sound!

Cons of visiting Milford Sound in fall

Cooler weather

The only downside of visiting Milford Sound during the fall is that the temperatures start to cool down. If you visit in March, the average temperature is 13°C (55°F) during the day. By May, it drops to just 8°C degrees Celsius (46°F). So it’s not exactly freezing, but the temperature is certainly not as nice as it is during the summer!

Visiting Milford Sound in Winter (June, July, August)

The Milford Sound Dock with Mitre Peak in the background
I love the dust of snow in the winter!

If you’re visiting New Zealand in winter, I highly encourage you to plan a trip to Milford Sound!

Winter is my favorite time to visit Milford Sound! It’s the quietest time of year, so the area has a very tranquil, serene vibe. Also, you can see Mitre Peak covered in snow, which is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, I think the whole place is just extra beautiful in the wintertime.

You do need to plan your journey carefully during winter, though. The road can be covered in ice and snow, so you might need snow chains. These roads can also get busy because it’s ski season. 

Pros of visiting Milford Sound in winter

It’s quiet

Milford Sound is one of the most famous places to visit on the South Island. As such, it’s usually pretty busy, especially during the summer. However, during the winter, you get to see it without the crowds. If you enjoy calmer vibes like me, this is a HUGE pro. 

You can also enjoy scenic spots, like the Insta-famous Milford Sound Swing much more. Without tons of other tourists around, you can take your sweet time capturing that perfect picture.

Fewer sand flies

Sand flies are 10 times worse than normal mosquitoes. Anyone who’s ever been to New Zealand knows what a menace they are! Having traveled through the country, I can attest to just how annoying they are!

You normally have to bring lots of bug spray with you to Milford Sound. But in the winter, you’re safe from sand flies. This is a big bonus if you’re one of those people who always gets eaten alive (like I do!).

It’s cheaper to stay nearby

Prices for accommodations near Milford Sound tend to be lower during the winter.

It’s possible to stay at the Milford Sound township, but this can be expensive during the summer – and the Milford Sound Lodge books up really fast. However, in the winter, it can be easier and more affordable to get a room. 

You really can’t get closer to the action than the Milford Sound Lodge. The views from the cabins are phenomenal, and the restaurant serves excellent food! The rooms are beautifully designed and super cozy and warm in winter.

Prices start at $500 NZD in wintertime, but you’ll find the best deals when you book in advance online!

Less rainfall

Winter in Milford Sound actually has the driest and most stable weather. So if you want clear skies, then winter is the time to go!

I also love hiking here in the wintertime. Even though it’s cold, the trails are less muddy, and there are fewer people around. So if you also enjoy hiking, bring weather-appropriate gear and check out the best hiking trails in Milford Sound!

The driest month in Milford Sound is July, with an average of 424 mm (17 in) of rainfall. However, July and August are also pretty dry compared to the rest of the year. 

Bailey stands in the middle of the road in the mountains between Te Anau and Milford Sound
Winter brings the most beautiful scenery!

Cons of visiting Milford Sound in winter

Fewer boats

You can’t do an overnight cruise in Milford Sound during the winter. There are also fewer departures for daytime cruises. However, since there are fewer crowds, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. 

One of the highlights of visiting Milford Sound during summer is taking the boat from the pier to Lady Bowen Falls (and exploring the walking trail nearby). But in winter, the boat doesn’t run, so you’ll have to skip this activity. You can still see the falls from the regular boat cruises, though. So personally, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. 

Driving conditions

I love driving to Milford Sound, but you need to be confident to do so during the winter. There is often snow on the road, and many other drivers (because it’s ski season). When I’ve driven here in the winter, it can be a bit stressful.

If you’re not a confident driver or don’t have much experience driving in wintry conditions, I’d recommend against it. Instead, you can book a tour to Milford Sound that includes transportation. 

It’s cold

Milford Sound may be dry (or, at least, drier) during the winter – but it’s cold! 

The average temperature during the winter months is around 6°C (42°F). You’ll need to wrap up warm. If it rains or you get splashed by waterfalls during your cruise, you’ll feel even colder!

Related Read: If you’re visiting New Zealand in the colder seasons, check out these fun things to do in Queenstown in winter!

Visiting Milford Sound in Spring (September, October, November)

A Southern Discoveries boat sits at the dock in Milford Sound
Some snow often remains for the start of the season!

Milford Sound can get busy during spring. The daylight hours get longer, the weather gets warmer, and people get excited about traveling. Luckily, it’s still not as crowded as the summer.

The rainfall starts picking up slightly, which is good news for the waterfalls. Plus, the roads are free from snow and ice, so you should be fine to self-drive. 

Personally, I like to go in November if I’m visiting during the spring. During this time, it feels warm (by Milford Sound’s standards), and it’s actually one of the months with the least rainfall. 

Pros of visiting Milford Sound in spring

Good weather

Okay, so 10-12°C (50-54°F) may not exactly be tropical, but it’s definitely a big improvement when compared to the winter months! There’s also less rainfall than there is during the summer. Still, it’s enough that the waterfalls are more impressive than they are during the winter. 

The drive

I love driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound at all times of the year. However, it’s extra special during the spring because you see wildflowers and lambs along the way. I can’t help but smile when I pass through this area in spring! And to top it off, there are so many awesome things to see on the journey. 

Meanwhile, the warmer weather means that you don’t need to worry about icy roads and snow chains. The roads will also be less crowded than they are in the summer. I’d say that spring is prime time to drive to Milford Sound! 

It’s great for photography 

For budding photographers, spring is the perfect time to visit Milford Sound. It’s beautiful all year round, but in spring, you get lots of daylight. You also don’t have the same crowds that you encounter during the summer.

Plus, there’s lots of local wildlife around. I love practicing my photography skills and trying to capture the perfect shot of animals. As an added bonus, there’s still snow on the nearby peaks – which makes an ideal backdrop for beautiful photos. 

Bailey on a kayak enjoying Milford Sound
Kayaking in spring!
Bailey looks out the front of a Milford Sound cruise
Snow is disappearing!

Cons of visiting Milford Sound in spring

It’s busier than winter and fall

Spring is definitely quieter than summer, but it’s still busier than winter and fall. This is because lots of Queenstown locals like to visit Milford Sound during spring, and tourism in New Zealand also begins to pick up at this time of year. 

October is a very wet month 

Spring does tend to be drier than summer, but October is one of the wettest months of the year. If you’re hoping for clear skies, October probably isn’t the best month to visit. The waterfalls do look amazing, though!

Related Read: Don’t let a little rain ruin your vacation! If you’re based in Queenstown, read about the best things to do on a rainy day in Queenstown here.

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So when is the best time to visit Milford Sound?

Bailey poses for a photo on the top deck on a Milford Sound cruise with a wine in her hand
Why worry about the season when Milford Sound is about the wine … I mean scenery!

Drumroll, please!

Just kidding – I hate to be “that person,” but there really is no bad time to visit Milford Sound. As you can see from my pros and cons lists, it’s almost impossible to definitively decide on the best season. I think it’s one of those situations where it really depends on your personal preferences and what you want to get out of your trip to Milford Sound.

So basically, there’s no “best” season, but there probably is a best season for you. Let me break it down:

  • If you want to avoid the rain, February is the best month. July is also good for this, but it’s cold! February is both warm and relatively dry. 
  • If you want to avoid the crowds, June or September are ideal. September also tends to be warmer. 
  • If you want the best of both worlds (drier and less crowded), opt for April. It’s not too busy or too rainy!
  • If you want to hike, November to April is the best time to go. The trails will be relatively dry and less crowded.

And if you want to swim … go somewhere else. It’s almost always too cold to swim, in my opinion! 

Related Read: For those who enjoy swimming on their holiday, check out all the best beaches in New Zealand!

What are the best tours to Milford Sound?

The Milford Haven returns to the Milford Sound Passenger terminal
Milford Sound is a must-visit, no exceptions!

What are the best self-drive Milford Sound cruises?

While there are many tours to Milford Sound from the surrounding cities, you can also just drive yourself if you rent a car in New Zealand! Once you get there, you can enjoy one of the many Milford Sound boat cruises available. Most of these cruises take off from the town’s pier.

To help you pick the best tour to get to Milford Sound, I’ve highlighted some of my favorites below. But whatever time of year you go, I always recommend booking in advance!

Nature cruise

This nature cruise is ideal if you want to see all the sights in a short time frame. You’ll have 1 hour and 45 minutes to explore the sound, sailing past major sights, including Mitre Peak and the gorgeous Stirling Falls (which Hugh Jackman jumped off in Wolverine!).

This cruise is on a smaller boat, which is a huge plus! You can fit into smaller sections of the sound and get closer to the scenery. When I went on the cruise (read my review here!), I could feel the spray from the waterfalls – which was definitely refreshing!

Tours leave at 10:30 am or 1:15 pm, so it’s easy to fit into your schedule. Prices start at $145 NZD per person, and you can add on a picnic lunch for $35 NZD.

A cruise really is a must when visiting Milford Sound. So if you’re short on time, secure your spot online here!

Scenic cruise

This 2-hour Scenic Cruise takes you along the fiord and the Tasman coast. The guides were super knowledgeable and helped our group spot all the local wildlife. I also loved the viewing platform on this boat – which made it super easy to spot all the cute fur seals!

The cruise includes a tour of the sound, with commentary about the history and animals along the way. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some dusky dolphins and the Fiordland crested penguins!

This is also a smaller boat, so you get a more intimate journey through Milford Sound. Tours leave at 11 am and 1:30 pm, and prices start at $153 NZD. People tend to love this cruise – and it does sell out fast! So check availability and book your tour online here.

Small boutique cruise

This boutique cruise allows you to bring your own picnic on board. So you can enjoy all of Milford Sound’s sights with your favorite snacks and beverages.

It also takes place on a smaller boat, but this one had a more luxurious feel with lounge-style seating. So it’s a nice option for that romantic getaway in New Zealand. This cruise has received multiple awards for its customer service. When I went, the staff definitely lived up to my expectations and made the trip very comfortable.

In winter, tours leave at 10:45 am, and in summer, they leave every 2 hours between 10:45 am – 2:45 pm. This is a very popular tour option, and it does sell out. So if you want a slightly fancier cruise, book it in advance online here!

Milford Sound cruise and kayak

For slightly more adventure, go for this cruise and kayak combo tour! You’ll start with a boat trip through the sound, seeing the stunning Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak. As an added bonus, you’ll visit the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory, which is only accessible by boat.

However, my absolute favorite part of the tour was kayaking through Harrison Cove! This is limited to eight people, so you get a very personalized experience. You really can’t get closer to the sound than on a kayak!

In the winter, tours leave at 10 am, but there are several more departures in the summertime. Personally, I recommend going earlier in the morning to beat the crowds!

Prices start at $295 NZD and include the cruise, kayaking equipment, a guide, and even a picnic lunch. So for a hands-on tour of Milford Sound, book this kayaking and cruise option online here!

What are the best tours to Milford Sound from Queenstown?

If you’re based in Queenstown, Milford Sound makes a great day trip! The drive between the two is gorgeous, but a long one if you’re driving there and back. This is why tours are the perfect option! You can sit back, relax, and take in all the sights without having to drive.

There are several tours from Queenstown to Milford Sound. Below, I’ve included my top choices to help you narrow it down.

Award-winning small group tour

On this award-winning small-group tour, you’ll see all the beautiful sights between Queenstown and Milford Sound. When I went, we got to see some of New Zealand’s largest (and most stunning) lakes, like Lake Wakatipu and Lake Te Anau. You’ll also pass Homer Tunnel and Eglington Valley for some scenic variety!

And although it’s a long drive, this tour made just the right amount of stops. I didn’t feel rushed or get restless on the bus. Plus, it includes the same 2-hour nature cruise tour I mentioned above – so you’ll see the best sights on Milford Sound!

The tour includes roundtrip transportation from your Queenstown hotel, starting at around 7:30 am. You’ll also get bottled water, coffee, and WiFi on board. Prices start at $299 NZD, and you can add on a picnic lunch for $30 NZD.

For an awesome day trip from Queenstown, don’t hesitate to book this tour online here!

Premium Milford Sound tour with LOTR filming sites

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, this small group tour is for you! You’ll get roundtrip transportation from Queenstown, see Milford Sound, AND pass LOTR filming sights. But even if you’re not a movie buff, the scenery is just stunning – so bring that camera!

The guides on this tour did a great job of pointing out all the sights on the drive. There are several stops to stretch your legs, including the Mirror Lakes Walk and the Chasm Walk. You’ll also take a boutique cruise on Milford Sound, spotting fur seals and other awesome wildlife.

This tour includes roundtrip transit with hotel pickup around 7:30 am. You’ll also get lunch, snacks, and a cruise for $289 NZD. However, for $739 NZD, you have the option to return on a private flight!

This all-inclusive tour really makes everything convenient. So for an easy day trip from Queenstown, pick your date and tour option online here!

Milford Sound glass-topped bus tour and cruise

What I love about this Milford Sound tour is that you get to travel in a glass-topped bus. It really is such a unique experience. You can see all the beautiful scenery from all angles – including the ceiling!

The ride itself was so much fun, and our group made plenty of stops as well. One of my highlights was stopping at Monkey Creek to fill up my water bottle with fresh glacier water. We also saw the Homer Tunnel, completed the Mirror Lake Walk, and of course, went on a Milford Sound cruise!

For $274 NZD, you get all this plus a picnic lunch. For a great tour with unique transportation, secure your spot online here!

What are the best tours to Milford Sound from Te Anau?

If you want to be close to Milford Sound, staying in Te Anau is a fantastic option. Not only will tours to Milford Sound be cheaper, but there are lots of fun things to do in Te Anau.

And if you’re already based in this small town, you have many tour options to Milford Sound. So let’s dive into some of my favorites!

Premium Milford Sound small group tour

On this full-day tour from Te Anau, you’ll see all the highlights leading up to Milford Sound. When I went, there were so many photo ops, from the beech forests of Eglington Valley to the stunning Mirror Lakes Walk.

My group also visited the Pops View Lookout for a beautiful view of the Alps. And, of course, you get the quintessential 2-hour Milford Sound cruise as well.

This tour was the perfect all-inclusive day trip, with lunch, snacks, and roundtrip transfers from your hotel. Tours began around 10 am, and prices start at $264 NZD. However, it’s a popular one – so you’ll want to book your spot ahead of time online!

Milford Sound glass roof bus and scenic cruise

With this glass-roof bus tour, you’ll enjoy the journey just as much as the destination! Seriously, if you’ve never been in a glass-roof bus, you’re in for a treat. It has panoramic views, and you can even see the beautiful sky above! 

This tour also makes many scenic stops along the way. You’ll explore Fiordland National Park, visiting places like Monkey Creek, where you can fill up your water bottle with glacier water. Once at Milford Sound, you’ll hop aboard a 2-hour nature cruise to spot waterfalls and wildlife.

The $265 NZD price tag also comes with a buffet lunch and unlimited coffee and tea. However, you’ll need to make your way to and from the meeting point in Te Anau. The tour begins at 10 am and lasts roughly 8.5 hours.

If you’ve never been in a glass-roof bus, this is your chance! Book this tour to Milford Sound online here.

What are the best scenic flights to Milford Sound?

One of my favorite ways to experience Milford Sound is from the sky! There’s nothing like getting that bird’s eye view of this stunning fiord and the surrounding mountains.

Scenic flights over Milford Sound can be a bit pricey, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So if your budget can accommodate it, I’d recommend the options below!

Milford Sound flight and cruise from Queenstown 

If you’re coming from Queenstown, why not travel in style? On this full-day tour, you can enjoy Milford Sound from both the air and the water – and save yourself driving time!

To start your day, you’ll fly from Queenstown to Milford Sound, passing over stunning sights. When I took this flight, I had the best views of Coronet Peak, Skippers Canyon, Mitre Peak, and of course, the entire Milford Sound fiord. 

Then, you can enjoy a 2-hour cruise on the sound itself. It was really cool to see everything from up above – and then get to view it up close as well! My cruise passed by Bowen Falls, Sterlings Falls, and even some cute fur seals!

This 5-hour tour offers morning departures starting at $610 NZD or noon departures (with lunch included) for $646 NZD. However, prices tend to increase in the summertime.

It’s an efficient (and scenic!) tour of Milford Sound. So if you only have a half-day to spare (or feel exhausted by the thought of a longer tour), book this scenic flight online here!

Drive, cruise, and fly from Queenstown

What I love about this full-day tour is that you get to experience Milford Sound via land, air, and water. You really don’t miss a thing, and you’ll see the sights from all angles!

Your day starts bright and early (around 7 am) with a scenic drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound. It’s a relaxing journey filled with beautiful scenery – and some great photo ops! You’ll even get to stop in the quaint town of Te Anau to stretch your legs and have a coffee. Then, you’ll take the classic 2-hour nature cruise on Milford Sound.

But instead of a return drive to Queenstown, you’ll fly back on a small plane! You’ll have an aerial view of all the sights you just experience. It’s the perfect way to end the day – and honestly, it was nice to have an efficient return trip!

You get all this for $732 NZD per person. But this tour does sell out, so check availability and book online here!

Milford Sound helicopter flight from Queenstown

For a truly VIP experience, book this helicopter flight from Queenstown. You’ll have an aerial view of New Zealand’s countryside as well as the length of Milford Sound. And to top it off, you’ll get to land on a glacier – which is such a novel experience!

This 2-hour helicopter ride over Milford Sound is truly unforgettable. And when you land, you can even have a snowball fight or make snow angels – even in summer!

Tours start at $1,194 NZD, including roundtrip transportation, your guide, and the helicopter ride. You can also purchase souvenir photos to remember your trip. For this super exclusive helicopter tour, check availability and book your date here!

Glacier flight from Wanaka 

The town of Wanaka is a bit far from Milford Sound. So if you want to see the fiord, a flight is your best bet!

This 4-hour tour includes roundtrip flights from Wanaka and a Milford Sound cruise. What I love about this option is that the plane takes a different route there and back – so you can pass over completely different sights. And once you land, you’ll board the 2-hour nature cruise over the fiord, surrounded by mountains, waterfalls, and beautiful wildlife.

The tour costs $645 NZD, including the flight, cruise, and free airport parking. October through April, tours are offered at 8:45 am and 1:30 pm, and from May to September, there’s one daily tour at 11 am.

if you’re staying in Wanaka, don’t miss this opportunity to visit Milford Sound! Pick a date and book your flight online 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

Tips for visiting Milford Sound

If you’re planning a trip, there are some things you should know before heading to Milford Sound.

The first time I went, I didn’t quite play it right and felt a bit unprepared (particularly with clothing). However, I learned from my mistakes, and so can you! Below, I’ll break down my top tips to have the best vacation possible.

Book in advance

Milford Sound is really popular, so it’s always best to book in advance.

Overnight cruises book up months in advance. Plus, overnight cruises are only available seasonally. The cruise I chose runs from December to early April. So if you want to do one, I recommend booking it as soon as you can.

Day cruises and tours don’t book up as far in advance. However, I still recommend booking at least a few weeks before your visit (especially during the summertime).

Dress for all weather conditions (especially the rain)

Milford Sound’s weather is famously unpredictable. You never quite know what it’s going to throw at you.

I’ve definitely experienced four seasons in one day in Milford Sound, so I recommend wearing layers that you can easily put on and take off. And most importantly, make sure to prepare for the rain! A waterproof jacket is a must.

Consider staying in Te Anau if self-driving

If you want to drive yourself to Milford Sound, then I highly recommend staying at one of the hotels in Te Anau.

It’s a 3.5-hour drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound, so a day trip can be super tiring. You’ll be absolutely exhausted by the time you get back to Queenstown, which isn’t great when you’re driving yourself! At least if you take a tour, you can nap on the bus. 

Te Anau, meanwhile, is only a 1.5-hour drive from Milford Sound. There’s also lots to do there, so it’s worth a visit anyway. I like to stay in Te Anau for two nights when I visit Milford Sound so I can enjoy everything at a leisurely pace. 

Use Viator for free cancelation (and date changes)

As I mentioned earlier, tours and cruises to Milford Sound book up pretty fast – which is why I always book through Viator. That way, you get free cancellation and date changes up to 24 hours before your booking. You can book way in advance without worrying about losing money if your plans change. You almost never get this when you book direct, and the prices are the same!

Please note some of the cruises are non-refundable and will say so on the booking page (like this overnight cruise). You definitely won’t regret booking this tour, so just make sure you can go!

Be careful self-driving in winter

If you’re visiting New Zealand in wintertime, you can absolutely visit Milford Sound too!

I actually love visiting Milford Sound during winter. However, the roads can be icy during this time, and there’s an avalanche risk. You need to be extra careful, particularly if you’re driving.

It’s always best to check the road conditions before you leave and pay close attention to avalanche signs. I also recommend bringing snow chains. 

If you’re a confident driver, you should be fine, but extra care is required. And if you’re not a confident driver, you’re better off just booking a tour during winter. 

Don’t cancel because of the rain

If it’s raining, there are two main reasons why you shouldn’t cancel your visit to Milford Sound. The first is that it gets about 200 days of rain per year, so it’s pretty difficult to avoid. 

The second is that Milford Sound is actually more beautiful in the rain! All of our best photos have been taken during or after the rain. The waterfalls look more impressive, the scenery appears more dramatic, and there’s just something very atmospheric about the lighting after the rain.

So seriously, don’t let that put you off – just bring some decent waterproof clothes!

Leave your expectations at the hotel

It’s sometimes easier said than done. But try not to get carried away by the hype around Milford Sound. Come with an open mind and let the fiord speak for itself.

Some people come to Milford Sound with impossibly high expectations, which then ruins the experience. Try to leave all of that behind and know that everyone’s experience of Milford Sound is different. My biggest tip is to be present rather than comparing what’s in front of you to over-edited images on Instagram.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

A motorhome by the beach
Me and my trusty campervan!

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!

Bailey inside the Milford Sound passenger terminal
Thanks for reading!

Milford Sound is gorgeous all year round! So regardless of when you visit New Zealand, I’d recommend a trip to this fiord. Just remember to plan according to the time of year and book your tours in advance. Honestly, I’ve come here in every season – and each one has its own perks!

If you’re looking for more tips and ideas while traveling, read my other blogs about New Zealand here. To give you an idea of what I cover, I’ve included some links below. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have an amazing trip!

The BEST time to visit Queenstown – Comparing the 4 Seasons

22 Free and Cheap Things to do in Wanaka

15 BEST Places to Go Surfing in New Zealand + Complete Guide

TW

Friday 2nd of February 2024

Hi Bailey! what type of car (2WD/ 4WD) did you use for your June visit to Milford Sound? Am considering if a sedan is sufficient for a 2 pax, mid June trip from Queenstown, ending in Malbourough.

Bailey

Monday 5th of February 2024

Hey TW,

A sedan will be fine! I have done it in my Toyota Vitz which is a small car.

Thanks Bailey