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Milford Sound Cruise from Queenstown- day trip highlights

Our sixth day on the South Island was an exhilarating experience and undoubtedly the pinnacle of our trip. We woke up early, walking from our hotel to the bus stop, eager to join the Milford Sound cruise to visit this renowned scenic gem of New Zealand.

We decided to join the all-inclusive Milford Sound nature cruise by Pure Milford. Departing from Queenstown before 8:00 am, the journey is a lengthy six hour drive. Despite the long journey, the breathtaking scenery along the road trip kept us awake and captivated.

Arriving Te Anau

We reached Te Anau, the gateway to Milford Sound, at around 10.00 am, where we enjoyed a refreshing half-hour coffee break at Hollyford Cafe.

holyford cafe

Watch the video we shot at Milford Sound. It is at the end of this article. 👇👇

1. Journey to Milford Sound from Te Anau

Milford Sound Cruise

After passing Te Anau, we are officially on the way into the heart of the Fiordland National Park. Our coach traveled along State Highway 94 and Milford Highway and made several stops at scenic points for pit stops and photo opportunities.

Milford Sound Cruise

Te Anau Downs

Te anau downs

Our first stop is the tranquil Te Anau Downs. This serene spot by the lakeside serves as the gateway to several exceptional hiking trails within Fiordland National Park. From this vantage point, we are captivated by the stunning vistas of the lake and the surrounding landscape.

Mirror Lake

Our following destination is Mirror Lake, where the presence of rain has lent a misty ambiance to the surroundings, creating a unique atmosphere distinct from what we would experience on a sunny day.

mirror lake

Milford Sound Cruise

Monkey Creek

Our subsequent stop was Monkey Creek, known for its pristine water flowing directly from the mountains. Almost everyone in our group eagerly collected a bottle of this creek water or, at the very least, savored a sip to experience its purity.

monkey creeks

Monkey Creek is a remarkable spring fed by glaciers, located amidst towering mountains. It is continuously gushing with such immaculate water that you can directly fill your water bottle from the bubbling creek and indulge in its pristine taste. This picturesque spot also presents an excellent opportunity for capturing breathtaking photographs.

Homer tunnel

During a brief stop at the entrance of Homer Tunnel, we unexpectedly had an up-close encounter with New Zealand’s renowned alpine parrot, the kea. Surprisingly fearless, these playful birds boldly landed on the car’s side mirror directly ahead of us.

2. Arriving at the jetty

After a long journey, we finally arrived at the Milford Sound Terminal. 

Milford Sound Cruise

There is a large Pounmu (jade or greenstone) near the entrance of the visitor’s terminal.

Following a swift registration process, we obtained our Milford Sound cruise tickets, slated for departure at 1:30 pm.

Milford Sound Cruise

With a little time to spare before boarding, we strolled along the jetty, capturing some photographs, unaware that even more astonishing photography opportunities awaited us just around the corner.

Milford Sound Cruise

Milford Sound Cruise

The stunning view of the surrounding mountains is like an old-school postcard.

3. On board our Milford Sound cruise

We embarked on our cruise on time, eagerly anticipating the breathtaking scenery.

Milford Sound Cruise

Unfortunately, the weather was overcast and windy, with intermittent rain, which hindered our visibility. However, these atmospheric conditions add a touch of intrigue and surreal feeling to the already magical landscape.

Milford Sound Cruise

Our captain, who has years of local knowledge, provided insightful commentary throughout the trip. According to him, the western coast of the South Island is renowned for its abundant rainfall, and Milford Sound is no exception. Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in New Zealand and one of the rainiest places globally! It experiences a mean annual rainfall of 6,813mm, with an average of 182 rainy days per year.

Milford Sound Cruise

Milford Sound Cruise

No words can truly capture the sheer beauty of the scenery we witnessed. Therefore, we invite you to feast your eyes on the mesmerizing photos we have captured, allowing them to transport you to the enchanting landscapes we were fortunate to experience. We also highly recommend watching the video we recorded during our trip, which can be found at the end of this article.

Milford Sound Cruise

A breathtaking scene unfolded as our cruise ship gracefully departed from the terminal. Majestic Lady Bowen Falls cascaded down from towering heights, creating a mesmerizing display. 

The tranquil lake mirrored the surrounding beauty, reflecting the vibrant hues of the mountains that stretched across the landscape, gradually fading into the distance.

Partially shrouded by a veil of drifting clouds, the majestic Mitre Peak exudes an aura of mystery that enhances its grandeur.

Stirling Falls

Finally, we arrived at the most famous waterfall at Milford Sound, the Stirling Falls.

Milford Sound Cruise

It cascades down the majestic, moss-covered cliffs, plunging an impressive 155m into the sea. The sheer force of the waterfall creates a mesmerizing display, with the water fanning out, creating a broken glass effect at its base.

We were advised to bring a rain jacket (I did not!). The captain brought the boat close to Stirling Falls, resulting in splashes of water landing on the deck like a shower in strong winds. 

I attempted to capture the stunning shattered-glass effect that emerges when vast water collides with the sea’s surface.

Our Milford Sound cruise package offers complimentary lunch and unlimited coffee and tea.

As the cruise set sail towards the Tasman Sea, we hoped to see some New Zealand fur seals and bottlenose dolphins. Unfortunately, luck was not on our side today, and no wildlife greeted us. The imperfect weather conditions may have also contributed to the absence of animals.

Returning trip

The boat tour lasts approximately 1.5 hour cruise, after which we return to the terminal and promptly board our coach. We were told to return to the coach promptly, considering the few hours of the return journey ahead. For those opting to head back to Queenstown, the estimated arrival time is 8:00 pm, making it a long day by any measure.

We have arranged to stay overnight in Te Anau to ensure a more relaxing and comfortable journey. This decision allows us to join another tour to Doubtful Sound the following day, right from Te Anau. By doing so, we saved valuable time that would have been spent traveling between Queenstown and Te Anau.

Milford Sound Cruise

4. Different ways to visit Milford Sound

Multiple options are available for visiting Milford Sound. Take the time to explore these various options and choose the one that best suits your preferences and travel plans.

1. Self-drive

Embark on a scenic road trip to Milford Sound and enjoy the freedom of self-driving. We highly recommend spending the night in Milford Sound or Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park, for a convenient and rejuvenating experience. Opting to stay in Te Anau allows you to recharge and save valuable travel time, ensuring a more enjoyable and less exhausting journey. Moreover, staying in Te Anau is a cost-effective alternative to accommodation in Milford Sound, such as Milford Sound Lodge.

Te Anau serves as the starting point of the renowned Milford Road, leading you to the breathtaking beauty of Milford Sound. The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is a visual feast, offering numerous opportunities to pause and explore the mesmerizing surroundings. Regardless of your direction of travel, the road that passes through Te Anau remains the sole route to reach the enchanting destination of Milford Sound.

2. Take a guided bus tour

We opted for an alternative approach to ensure a more relaxed and stress-free experience. Instead of undertaking the lengthy drive, we embarked on a guided Milford Sound tour from Queenstown or Te Anau. This convenient coach and Milford Sound cruise tours offer exceptional value and ease of travel, accompanied by knowledgeable guides who provide insightful information about the region. By joining one of these tours, you’ll have the opportunity to learn a great deal about the area.

Milford Sound tours operate daily and include bus transportation, which stops at various scenic points. While these tours may not offer complete flexibility, they adhere to a well-planned schedule, as it is a day trip from Queenstown. Although you may have limited freedom to stop wherever you wish along the way, the convenience and efficiency of these tours more than compensate for this minor drawback.

3. Join a small group tour

If embarking on a self-drive journey to Milford Sound is not feasible for you, and the idea of a bus tour doesn’t excite you, another alternative worth considering is a small group or private tour.

A small or private tour offers more flexibility than larger group tours. These tours typically include lunch, transportation, designated stops, and the Milford Sound cruise experience. Some private tours may even provide the option to arrange hiking activities at Milford Sound, adding an extra dimension to your exploration.

4. Take a helicopter scenic flight

While bus tours are relatively affordable or a unique experience, consider taking a helicopter flight. However, having already enjoyed a scenic flight to Queenstown, we embarked on the bus tour this time. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that taking a helicopter ride over Fiordland National Park offers an unparalleled experience, allowing you to marvel at the breathtaking views from a distinct vantage point.

Watch the video we shot during our trip to Milford Sound👇👇

We also upload a video we shot during our trip to Milford Sound. Please click the image below to bring you to our YouTube channel (shot in high definition!). You may also want to check out our visit to Queenstown Hill and Arrowtown.