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 – it’s just such an amazing place to visit on the South Island!
There are several different tours to Milford Sound from Queenstown and which one you choose depends on how much time you have and what your budget is.
The most popular option is the Coach & Cruise Tour which is a full-day affair as the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is just over 4 hours each way, add on a 2-hour cruise and a couple of stops along the way and it’s a 12.5 hour day in total. As you can imagine though, it’s the most budget-friendly option.
One of the most memorable ways to see Milford Sound is via flight because you have the best viewpoint of the incredible scenery without having to deal with the large crowds. Other tour options to choose from include a Fly & Cruise tour (combines both a fly-over Milford and a boat tour) or a 2-day Milford & Te Anau tour if you have more time to truly explore the region.
In this blog, I list 7 different types of tours to Milford Sound from Queenstown that you can choose from. This way, visitors like yourself can make the right decision for you!
About Milford Sound
Milford Sound is often referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World and for good reason, it is phenomenally beautiful here. It’s one of the most popular day trips to take from Queenstown and close to a million tourists visit annually! The area is known for Mitre Peak as well as Stirling and Bowen falls, which gush down the sides of the peaks. Milford is also home to fur seals, penguins, and dolphins – which you may spot on your boat cruise if you’re lucky.
On tours through Milford Sound, you’ll cruise the fiord in search of rare wildlife, get so close to waterfalls you may get wet, and learn all about the fiords history and Maori culture in the area. No matter the tour the journey to Milford is also important and will have you either driving or flying through Fiordland National Park to admire the stunning views.
Fun Fact – Milford Sound is not actually a “Sound” at all, it is in fact a Fiord which means it was glacier-carved. It is also the only fiord in New Zealand that is accessible by road.
Why Book a Tour to Milford from Queenstown
Of course, if you have a car 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 direct. For ease of mind and a more relaxing trip to Milford Sound I highly recommend a scenic flight 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 one night in Te Anau beforehand.
What to Expect from a Queenstown to Milford Sound Tour
All Milford Sound tours listed here include pick-up in Queenstown and drop-off back here at the end of your tour. If you’re hotel or hostel is in central Queenstown most tours will pick you up and drop you back to your accommodation at the end of the tour. If not, you may need to get a ride closer to town.
On top of the pickup and drop-off, all tours include commentary from your guide/driver on the way there and guide/captain on your cruise. That way, you can learn all about Milford Sound along the way. As for meals, you need to check each specific tour for inclusions and be prepared to bring some snacks with you.
How you get to Milford Sound is up to you. 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!
Alternatively, you can choose to fly into Milford on a fixed-wing aircraft or by taking a helicopter flight, which is much quicker but costs a lot more. On top of that, you can combine a coach trip with a flight back for the ultimate experience that falls in a mid-price range.
When you reach Milford Sound, I highly recommend a boat tour to get up close to all the stunning waterfalls and even spot some seals and dolphins swimming in the inky blue waters. Most Milford tours from Queenstown include these and it’s the best way to explore the Fiord up close.
On some occasions, you can opt to include a short kayaking tour with your cruise. I myself have done this as part of an overnight cruise on Milford Sound and loved it!
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.
For me, the drive to Milford Sound is just as beautiful as the cruise in the fiord. Between Te Anau and Milford Sound, there are just so many amazing places to see and all coach tours stop at the best attractions.
Related Read: Learn about the different types of helicopter flights you can do in Queenstown!
7 Different Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown
Would you believe there are over 7 different Milford Sound tours to choose from that depart from Queenstown? A day trip to Milford Sound is one of the most popular activities to do in Queenstown. In my opinion, visiting Milford Sound is a must-do while in New Zealand. Milford Sound is, after all, one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world.
In this blog, I list the very best Milford Sound tours available from Queenstown including everything from a fly/hike/cruise option to a short one-hour flight over Milford Sound. I hope this detailed blog will help you choose the one that’s right for you.
1. Coach to Milford, Cruise, & Coach return to Queenstown
This tour involves a coach ride from Queenstown to Milford Sound, a cruise in Milford, and then a return back to Queenstown via coach.
As mentioned, this is the most popular tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound as it is the most cost-friendly option, costing on average only $179 NZD per person. 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 hr 45 min nature cruise. Spot waterfalls and wildlife like seals, Fiordland penguins, and if you’re lucky, dolphins. You’ll also be offered a picnic-style lunch on board the boat as well as complimentary tea and coffee. On top of that you can buy some other snacks onboard (check the daily soup, it’s usually delicious!)
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!
2. Small-group mini-van to and from Milford & a Cruise
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 maximin 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. Once again, this cruise is a nature cruise so you’ll get to see Milford Sound from a smaller vessel!
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 $250 NZD per person which is great value given the group size!
You can book this Milford Sound tour here!
3. Fly to Milford, Cruise, & Fly back to Queenstown
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 that 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. And 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 $593 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. Worth noting is you can also book this type of tour in a helicopter for $825 NZD!
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.
4. Coach to Milford, Cruise, & Fly back to Queenstown
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 a 9 to 10-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 in the morning to take you into 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 I advise enjoying 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 10 hours in duration, it is classed 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 $582 per person and you can book the tour in advance here!
5. Fly to Milford, Hike the Milford Track, & Cruise
This is a unique 9-hour tour that starts with a 40-minute flight over the Wakatipu basin and Fiordland National Park before landing in Milford Sound. Once on the ground, a short boat journey will take you to the beginning of your 3.5-hour guided hike on the famous Milford Track. The Milford Track is one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks and one of the best hikes in Milford Sound. This tour is one of the only ways to hike a portion of the Milford Track in a day.
The walk takes you through lush native bush to a stunning waterfall called Giant Gate Waterfall. It is a well-formed track and is considered easy, but appropriate footwear and a rain jacket are a must no matter what season you visit Milford Sound in (this is one of the wettest places in the Southern Hemisphere after all).
At the end of your walk, you will be transferred back to the boat terminal for your 2-hour cruise which gives fantastic views of Bowen Falls, Mount Pembroke, and Mitre Peak. You will be also given a picnic-style lunch to enjoy on the boat (but I’d bring extra snacks for this tour as you’ll likely be hungry after all that hiking!)
At the end of your cruise, you will be transferred to Milford airport for your flight back to Queenstown. Take in views of the Milford Track and Fiordland National Park from your small fixed-wing plane.
It’s a great option for nature lovers and keen hikers. A plus is that you don’t need to be an experienced hiker as this hike is considered easy. Combining a stunning hike with the famed boat cruise plus a scenic flight is the perfect combination in my opinion. This tour is especially popular with couples and families with older children. It costs approximately $1,230 NZD per person.
You can book this exact tour in advance here.
6. Milford Sound from the Air
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. Although, 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. Prices start from a moderate $400 NZD per person.
You can book this exact Milford Sound tour here.
7. 2-day Milford Sound and Te Anau Tour
Last on this list of Milford Sound tours from Queenstown is an epic 2-day adventure! This is a great option for travelers who want to truly explore the best of Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, and Te Anau since you’ll have a lot more time.
You will leave Queenstown on a coach tour of 3.5 hours duration that also includes some scenic photo stops along the way (Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lake; Lake Gunn, etc.). In the afternoon, you will board your 2-hour cruise through Milford Sound on one of the smallest vessels in the fiord. Afterward, you will be transferred back to Te Anau to stay the night. You will have free time to explore this busy little town of Te Anau in the evening and have some dinner at one of the top-rated restaurants in Te Anau. I highly recommend Pizzeria Paradiso or Redcliff Cafe.
The second day is spent exploring the best things to do in Te Anau – a trip to the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary and the Dead Marshes and Rainbow Reach – both filming locations in the Lord of the Rings movies. Rainbow Reach is known as The River Anduin in the movie series.
You will also explore nearby Lake Manapouri (the gateway to Doubtful Sounds) and Mavora Lakes – aka Amon Hen and Emyn Muil from the Lord of the Rings movies. It is one of the most famous LOTR sites in the region. You will be brought back to Te Anau to explore some additional activities of your choosing before boarding your coach back to Queenstown. The journey from Te Anau to Queenstown is approximately 2 hours.
This tour is arguably the best value Milford Sound tour on this list at only $550 NZD for two days of adventure and a night’s accommodation.
You can book this Milford Sound tour in advance here.
Related Read: What do I think is better? Doubtful Sound or Milford Sound?
Must-Do Activities While in Queenstown
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 values for money, for $215 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.
- TSS Earnslaw Steamship Cruise – This scenic and relaxing cruise in Queenstown is an activity great for any afternoon. The ship you will be cruising on is the Historic TSS Earnslaw and you will get to watch crew members add coal to the flames that power the vessel. Take in the mountain ranges and lush green valleys of Otago. You can also upgrade this tour here to include dinner at Walter Peak High Country Farm.
- 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.
- Extreme Jet Boating – Looking for a thrill? Jet Boating is one of New Zealand’s most unique activities. On the tour out of Queenstown, you’ll be able to zoom up the Shotover River through narrow canyons at high speeds and make 360-degree spins. Trust, me it’s epic!
Related Read: Want to fly to Milford? Learn about the best Queenstown to Milford flights!
Where to Stay in Queenstown
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. It’s not that you won’t find something later on, but that all the really good places go first!
To get you started, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.
The first is for budget travelers and that’s Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget privates 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! It is easily one of the top cheap hostels in Queenstown and can be booked on Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.
If you have a little more money to spend then you should seriously consider Chalet Queenstown. I’m a supporter of smaller hotels because I feel you get better service. Based on recommendations, I stayed at Chalet Queenstown when I first arrived. It’s a beautiful hotel in a quiet but close location and the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!)
If you’re one of the lucky ones, you know the luxury travelers, then you’re going to be spoiled for choice in Queenstown. I’ve personally stayed at the Hilton Resort and Spa on my anniversary and loved it. If you want an even more luxurious stay, look at Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel has the most beautiful spa overlooking the lake and is definitely one of the best hotels in Queenstown.
There are also lots of amazing Airbnbs in Queenstown as well as bach/holiday homes to rent! You can choose between modern homes, central apartments, cozy cabins, and so much more when staying in an Airbnb.
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 (QUEEN5) 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!
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: