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Milford Sound Nature Cruise Review – Is it Worth it?

Milford Sound Nature Cruise Review – Is it Worth it?

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If you’re looking for one of the best ways to see Milford Sound, the famous Nature Cruise should be high on the list. Since I started living in Queenstown, I’ve been to Milford Sound a lot, like, a lot.

I have taken quite a few cruises through this fjord and let me tell you, it’s mindblowing. I wanted to share my experience on one in particular, the Milford Sound Nature Cruise, so you can easily decide if this is the right choice for you.

After all, there are a lot of options out there! And I bet your goal is to have an epic trip to Milford Sound. So let’s jump right in and make sure you have the experience of a lifetime.

What is the Milford Sound Nature Cruise? 

A view of the mountains on the milford sound nature cruise new zealand
What a view!

The Milford Sound Nature Cruise is more than just a boat ride. It plops you smack dab into the middle of one of my favorite places on the South Island. 

People love this cruise (there are HUNDREDS of 5-star reviews!), myself included, because of how close you get to the towering walls of the fjord, waterfalls, and wildlife. It’s one of the best ways to spot often difficult-to-see Fiordland crested penguins, bottlenose dolphins, and dusky dolphins.

Even if you don’t spot any dolphins or penguins, the Milford Sound Nature Cruise is one of the few ways to see the unparalleled beauty of Milford Sound. While you can hike a lot of it, the only way to really experience the epic landscape is from the water. Standing on the front deck and taking in the prehistoric-looking terrain is just incredible.

People look at a waterfall up close on the milford sound nature cruise new zealand
A waterfall and a rainbow? Yup!

I highly recommend taking an earlier cruise if you want to increase your chances of seeing dolphins or penguins. It’s possible to see them throughout the day, but they are more active in the morning. The 9:30 am cruise is their earliest option and I think it’s a perfect time for the experience. You even get a complimentary cup of coffee or tea to keep you cozy first thing in the morning! 

The Milford Sound Nature Cruise is $145 NZD and you can add on lunch for an extra $35 NZD. Keep in mind that parking is also $10 NZD an hour at the nearby lot.

If you’re located in Queenstown and don’t have transportation, or don’t want to make the 4-hour trip to Milford Sound on your own, you can take this cruise as part of a full-day experience from Queenstown. It makes a couple of other fun stops along the way and includes lunch. Tickets are $315 NZD. 

What are the highlights of the Milford Sound Nature Cruise? 

A seal on a roack on the milford sound nature cruise new zealand
Seal Rock!

Seal Rock – Tucked deep into the Milford Sound fjord, Seal Rock is the year-round hangout spot for local fur seals. These adorable animals prefer this rock to sleep on because it’s easy to climb onto and keeps them safe. Luckily for you, you get to see them up close!

Possibility to see rare penguins and dolphins – Fjordland crested penguins, bottlenose dolphins, and dusky dolphins, while rare, still call this area home. This cruise offers a great opportunity to see them in their natural habitat! It’s not guaranteed, but still a pretty decent chance.

Naturalist guide – The guide on this cruise is excellent and has a deep understanding of both the wildlife and nature found in Milford Sound. They are passionate and make the whole experience so much better! Even though this wasn’t my first guided cruise on Milford Sound I still learned a lot.

A boat getting close to a waterfall on the milford sound nature cruise new zealand
Smaller boats can get up close!

Smaller vessel than scenic cruises – The smaller the boat the better when it comes to cruises like this. While it’s big enough to hold all of its passengers it’s still small and able to maneuver up close to waterfalls, cliffs, and wildlife. This is important when you (hopefully) spot dolphins!

See all of Milford Sound – Milford Sound is 15 kilometers (9 miles) long and on this cruise you get to see all of it! Trust me, it never gets boring and is incredible the entire time. Be sure to make your way to the front deck for some great photos!

Glacial facial under Stirling Falls – This is a highlight for sure! The boat goes right up next to Stirling Falls and you get to open your mouth and taste a little of that fresh fjord mountain water. Ponchos are provided so you don’t get too wet.

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My experience on the Milford Sound Nature Cruise

A waterfall far away with sun comingg over the top on the milford sound nature cruise new zealand
What a view!

It was still chilly when I parked my car and made my way to the dock to check-in. As far as a morning on the Milford Sound is concerned, this was just what I was hoping for. Slightly overcast with calm waters. I have visited this place a lot over the years and my favorite memories are when the weather is just a little moody and dramatic.

After checking in and wrapping my hands around a fresh cup of coffee, I found a seat inside the cabin. We set off and I watched excited travelers begin to point and marvel at Bowen Falls. Our guide informed those aboard all about Milford Sound’s tallest waterfall and how it uses hydroelectric generators to provide electricity for the Milford Sound Township.

After finishing my coffee, I found my way to the front deck to take in the incredible views of the cliff faces along the fjord. Our guide told us it was time to meet the resident fur seals of Seal Rock, I love this part! They navigated the boat right up next to it for us to watch as they slept, swam, and called out in our direction.

Looking at the milford sound from the back of the boat on the milford sound nature cruise new zealand
Such an epic day

As we continued on, the guide excitedly told us they had spotted Fiordland crested penguins and we made a detour to see them up close. Recognizable by their distinct yellow brows, everyone on board pulled out binoculars and cameras as we spent time watching them a little ways off on shore. It’s not every day you get to see them!

A full hour had passed in the blink of an eye and just like that we reached the turnaround point. There was still one more big stop on the way, Stirling Falls. The staff provided jackets to all who wanted to experience a Glacial Facial, one of the most fun experiences on these cruises. Pulling the boat up under the waterfall we all stared up and opened our mouths for some delicious, but cold, glacial water! Thanks to the jackets we didn’t get wet and everyone was smiling and laughing about the experience we just had.

I have had friends who took this cruise tell me they saw dolphins. Sadly, we didn’t see any that day, but my time was incredible regardless. Once we made it back, I said my goodbyes to the people I made friends with, thanked the wonderful guide, and walked back towards my car. My heart was full from a great day on the Milford Sound!

Milford Sound Nature Cruise FAQs  

A seal sleeps with a seagull nearby on the milford sound nature cruise new zealand
I call this photo sleepy seal with seagull

Related Read: If you’re wondering where to stay nearby, check out my guide on the closest hotels and campgrounds to Milford Sound!

Is the Milford Sound Nature Cruise worth it?

People point at the fjord on the milford sound nature cruise new zealand
An amazing cruise for people of any age

It is totally worth it! You do not want to miss out on this cruise. It offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience on the Milford Sound.

However, if I had a choice I would say I like the Milford Sound Boutique Cruise more only because the boat is smaller and can get into shallower water. It also offers a full-day experience from Queenstown if you can’t or don’t want to drive. 

Regardless of the cruise you take, you’re going to have an amazing time and I wish I could see your face when you experience it for the first time! I know it’s a day you’ll never forget.

Ready to book?

The Milford Sound Nature Cruise departing from Milford will cost you $145 NZD or $180 NZD including lunch. It’s perfect if you’re staying nearby or want to do the scenic drive to Milford Sound yourself.

Need transportation?

If you’d rather not worry about getting yourself to Milford Sound, there are tours that include transportation from both Queenstown and Te Anau. The transport is snazzy too – a glass-roofed bus so there are incredible views the entire way. Lunch is included along with great road trip stops on the way.

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 JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! 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! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey smiles at the camera on a Milford Sound cruise on the outdoor deck with amazing views of the Fiord
Thanks for reading!

Milford Sound is one of my favorite places in the entire world and without a doubt, the best way to experience it is on a cruise. I loved this Nature Cruise of Milford Sound and can’t wait to go again when my family comes to visit me in New Zealand! Hopefully, you found this review of the cruise helpful before you book!

While you’re planning your trip, check out my other blogs about visiting Milford Sound:

15 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Milford Sound, New Zealand

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

How to Get to Milford Sound – Complete Guide on the 4 Ways!