Milford Sound is located in Fiordland National Park, which is located in the southwest of the South Island of New Zealand. This is a beautiful area with a lot of natural beauty, it is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list. This is a world famous spot and for very good reasons, it really is a must on your trip!
Despite the name, Milford Sound is actually a fjord. A fjord is described as a long, narrow inlet surrounded by steep cliffs, created by a glacier. This is the only fjord in New Zealand that can be reached by car. Read below how you can admire this fjord and what else is worthwhile in the Fiordland National Park.
Map New Zealand
Must see & do
Since the greatest sight in Milford Sound is the fjord itself, I will talk more about ways to admire the fjord and what makes it special.
Milford Sound has an abundance of wildlife, from rare birds and insects to dolphins and seals. There is a gigantic rainforest around the fjord, which has ensured that there are many animals and plants there. Many of the plants and animals in Milford Sound are only found in the Fiordland area due to its remote location and wet weather. However you plan to view the fjord, keep your eyes open!
Milford Sound is the wettest habitable place in New Zealand and one of the wettest places in the world. It rains an average of 182 days every year. One big advantage of this is that there are many natural waterfalls! After a good rain shower you can see waterfalls appearing everywhere on the slopes of the surrounding inlets. Some boat trips even get so close to these waterfalls that you get a nice, free shower!
More than 60 Bottlenose Dolphins live in Milford Sound. These dolphins are very playful and therefore it is not uncommon to see them on a boat or kayak trip. The Dark Striped (Dusky) dolphins can also be found here, but this happens less often. If you are very lucky you can even see whales in this area. Besides dolphins and occasional whales, there are also seals. The New Zealand Sea Bears can be seen here. You can often see them in the sun at Seal Point because the rocks here are less high. Read more about marine animals in New Zealand here.
There is a good chance of seeing penguins in Milford Sound. Two kinds of penguins can be found here; the Little Blue Penguins and the Fiordland Crested Penguins. The Little Blue Penguins are fairly common in New Zealand, you can find them in places such as the Catlins and the Otago Peninsula. But the Fiordland Crested Penguins are only found in the Fiordland area and on Stewart Island. In addition to Penguins, many native birds live in the Fiordland area. Takahe and Kakapo are two examples of this, both are critically endangered and are therefore not often spotted. The Mohua and Kea are seen more often. The Kea is the world’s only parrot living in the Alps. Read more about birds in New Zealand here.
In the Milford Sound area there are over 700 species of plants and trees that are only found here. Such as New Zealand beeches, the Rimu, Miro and Totara Trees. You can admire these plants and trees during a hike in this area. Hike, for example, the Milford Sound Foreshore walk, the Milford Sound lookout track or the Key Summit track.
On the water
The most popular way to discover Milford Sound is by boat. There are many different boat tours and companies to choose from. When choosing a boat tour, you have to consider a number of things, namely: how long do you want to be on the water, what do you want to see, does it include lunch, do you want to be inside or outside and how much money do you want to spend on it. Most boat trips last two to three hours, but you can also opt for a tour with an overnight stay on board. This gives you the chance to admire the fjord without other boats around you, to have dinner and breakfast with an amazing view and to enjoy the stars at night.
Another way to experience the fjord on the water is with a kayak, canoe or SUP board. If you have your own kayak, canoe or SUP board, you can just go on the water. If you don’t have one, you can do one of the many tours. There are tours available for beginners and advanced, so you can choose how long and challenging you want to make it. During these tours you have a great chance to see seals, dolphins and penguins. Some tours also give you the opportunity to go ashore in places you would otherwise not be able to go.
From the sky
You can also admire Milford Sound from the air with a helicopter ride or in an airplane. Planes depart from or to Queenstown, this is a beautiful route. The flight takes you over glaciers, lakes, rainforests and of course the Milford Sound fjord. Helicopter tours depart from Milford Sound. You have the chance to land on glaciers or mountains, which is a unique experience!
In the water
You can also dive at Milford Sound, this is one of the most special dive sites in New Zealand. Here you can find unique fish and coral, such as black coral.
Do you not like diving, but would you like to discover the underwater life in Milford Sound? Then go to the Underwater observatory. This observatory is the only floating underwater observatory in New Zealand. 10 meters below sea level you will find a glass room where you can enjoy the underwater life without getting wet yourself. You can admire the fish in their natural environment and you can also see the black coral. However, this observatory can only be reached by boat, many tour operators include this in their tour.
Map New Zealand
Milford Sound itself has almost no accommodation options. If you are looking for a hotel or campsite with running water, it is best to stay in Te Anau. If you are looking for cheap campsites, you can find some on the route from Te Anau to Milford Sound.
Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers – hostel – Te Anau – €
This accommodation is considered a hostel, but it is different from others. They not only have large bedrooms with many bunk beds, but they have many different options. They have glamping tents for 1 person, gazebos for two people and different types of rooms. All options are very affordable. Most rooms offer mountain and lake views. All lounge rooms have a beautiful view over Lake Te Anau. The hostel also has a shared kitchen, BBQ, laundry facilities and luggage storage. Click here for more information.
Top 10 holiday park – camping – Te Anau – €
Top 10 holiday parks are located all over the country and they always have many activities for children. You can, for example play table football, ride around with go-karts, jump on an inflatable pillow or play in the playground. This campground has many different overnight options. You can put your tent or camper here, you can choose a bunk bed in a dormitory or you can rent apartments for 2 to no less than 7 people. The apartments come with private bathroom, while the people in the dormitory and in tents share the bathroom and kitchen. Click here for more information.
Explorer Motel & Apartments – Motel / Apartments – Te Anau – €€
This motel is ideally situated close to the village and Te Anau Wildlife park. All rooms have a view of the mountains and the beautiful garden. The rooms on the ground floor have direct access to the garden and the rooms on the first floor have a balcony to enjoy the view. The apartments are very spacious. The rooms come with everything you could need such as a hairdryer, microwave, alarm clock, sockets close to the bed, etc. For a small amount per day you can also get a good breakfast. Click here for more information.
Fiordland Hotel – Hotel / Motel – Te Anau – €€
This hotel / motel is a 5 minute walk from the village and even closer to Lake Te Anau. Most rooms have views of the lake and mountains. This hotel offers rooms for 2 or 3 people. All bedrooms are en-suite and some rooms even come with a bath. This accommodation has a lounge with TV and you can also play billiards, darts and table tennis. This hotel is not very special but has everything you expect from a hotel. Click here for more information.
Milford Sound Overnight Cruise – Cruise – Milford Sound – €€€
This is an expensive, but great way to stay in Milford Sound. During this cruise you can enjoy all the beauty that Milford Sound has to offer, while having a drink at the bar, sitting in the jacuzzi or just from your private room. Breakfast and a 3-course menu are included in the price. You can also undertake activities, such as an excursion by kayak. During this cruise they use an ROV (remote operating vehicle) with a camera so you can enjoy life underwater. Click here for more information.
Campsites – Milford Sound – €
Quite a few inexpensive campsites can be found along the Te Anau-Milford highway. There are not many facilities, but it saves money which you can spend on a nice experience. What I always did myself and what I also recommend to everyone is to use the CamperMate app. The app shows campsites in three colours, green is free, blue is cheap and purple is the more expensive. There are about 10 campsites along this road (blue and purple). The app also shows if you need to book or if it has a first come first serve policy and what facilities are included.
There aren’t many more options in Milford Sound, but click here for a full list of accommodation in Te Anau.
Milford Sound is in a remote location in New Zealand and therefore there are not many ways to get there. There is one road leading from Te Anau, but it is often closed in winter due to bad weather. So keep an eye on the traffic information and be careful, the weather can change quickly here. If you don’t have your own transportation, it is possible to take tours from Queenstown and Te Anau. There is also a small airport where you can fly to from Queenstown. Hotels are few in Milford Sound so if you want to stay here make sure you book early. There are several places where you can camp on the route from Te Anau to Milford Sound.
Did you know…
It’s not surprising to experience four seasons in one day in Milford Sound
Doubtful Sound is another insanely beautiful fjord in Fiordland National Park. This fjord is also called Sound of Silence. Doubtful Sound is in many ways comparable to Milford Sound; they are both fjords with a beautiful view, the same sea animals and birds live there, the diving experience is similar and the activities are almost the same. But what is the big difference? Doubtful Sound is more remote and more difficult to reach than Milford Sound, for example there is no airport and you cannot drive there. To get there you first have to take a boat trip and a bus ride and then you can start the tour to enjoy the fjord. As a result, there are fewer tourists in this area and also fewer tour operators. The Doubtful Sound fjord is also bigger, wider and greener, but above all much quieter. If you like a more remote, peaceful experience and you have a bit more time, then Doubtful Sound might be the place for you! Of course you can also visit them both to experience the difference yourself.
If you like hiking, this area is the right place, no less than three of the nine Great Walks are situated in this area. The Great Walks are multi-day hikes that take you through the most rugged, unique and amazingly beautiful locations in New Zealand. The Milford Track takes four days, is 53.5 km long and has an easy / medium difficulty. This route takes you past New Zealand’s highest waterfall, spectacular valleys, rivers and multiple fjords. The Kepler Track also takes four days, but is 60 km long and has an average difficulty. This route also takes you high into the mountains where you can enjoy beautiful fjords, valleys, forests and waterfalls. The Routeburn Track is the shortest of the three, it lasts three days, is 32 km long and has an average difficulty. This route takes you past Lake Harris, beautiful mountain peaks and moss-covered forests. In addition to these long hikes, there are also several short hikes to do in the area.
Te Anau is visited a lot by people who are going to discover Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park. There are therefore many hotels, camping sites and restaurants here. But Te Anau itself also has a lot to offer! Firstly, Te Anau is located on a large lake, which means there are many water activities. For example, you can kayaking, fishing and take boat tours. Caves with glow worms can be found on the other side of the lake. During a tour in these caves you can see the effect the flowing water has on the rock formations. You can also admire the area from above in an airplane or helicopter ride. Finally, Te Anau has a bird sanctuary that specialises in native birds, the entrance for this is free.
You may have heard about it, but the Kea birds are not that friendly. They are very smart and curious animals who love to get near people. The birds are known for attacking cars, pulling antennas and pecking the rubber on the doors. They also steal people’s properties and sometimes throw stones. They are more aggressive in places where they are fed, so never feed them. Not only does this make them more aggressive towards us, but our food is bad for the birds and can make them sick. If you encounter the Kea birds, make sure that car doors and windows are closed and you don’t have any loose items in sight. Despite all this it is a great experience to see these animals in the wild, they always put on a nice show.
On the way to Milford Sound
There is only one way to Milford Sound, but what a beautiful one! There are many places worth stopping along the way. You can see lakes, waterfalls and native birds, plants and trees. My favourite stops are Lake Gunn, Key Summit and The Chasm. Read more about nice stops on the route to Milford Sound on my blog!