Is Milford Sound Worth Visiting?

Is Milford Sound the prettiest place in New Zealand, and is it worth the long road to get there?

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Year visited: 2017

Time of year: March

The Prettiest Place in New Zealand

I don’t expect to visit New Zealand more than once (it is a bit of a trek!), so I knew I had to make the most of my one time there. I wanted to see everything! Hobbit holes, penguins, mountains, and the most beautiful scenery of anywhere in the world.

That’s a lot to ask of one place, but honestly, New Zealand can pull it off. But, even though it’s a pretty small country, there’s still a lot more there than you can explore in just one week. So I Googled the prettiest place in New Zealand, and came up with Milford Sound.

Which I thought was perfect, seeing as how we were already planning on being in Queenstown for the Lord of the Rings safari, and Milford Sound is generally visited as a day trip from Queenstown.

A long day trip.

So I’m going to go over the different ways you can visit Milford Sound, and whether or not it is worth visiting on your trip to New Zealand.

About Milford Sound

What is Milford Sound

A sound is a narrow body of water, sort of like a bay area, that is connected to a larger body of water, usually an ocean. But this information is somewhat irrelevant, because technically… Milford Sound is not a “sound.”

Actually, it’s a fiord. Because like a fiord, Milford Sound is a mountainous area that was carved out by glaciers, now surrounding the narrow strip of water that leads out to the Tasman Sea.

Where is Milford Sound

Milford Sound is on the west coast of New Zealand’s south island.

The closest “big” city is Queenstown, which is a 4 hour drive, because of the winding mountain roads.

Weather in Milford Sound

We went on a Milford Sound boat cruise in late March. The weather was a little chilly, but overall pretty comfortable. It did not rain during our tour.

Rainfall in Milford Sound

Milford Sound is one of the rainiest places on earth. It gets an average of 252 inches of rain each year (to put that in perspective, Seattle gets about 38 inches of rain a year…)!

I thought we were lucky that it didn’t rain during our boat tour, but actually the area reaches its full potential when it rains. The more rain, the more of those amazing cascading waterfalls along the sides of the cliffs.

Temperature in Milford Sound

The temperature in Milford Sound never gets super hot. The highs in the summer average about the low 60’s F. It can get down into the 40’s F during the winter.

  • Good to Know: New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, which means her seasons are opposite that of the US. January is peak summer, and June/July is peak winter.

How to Dress for Milford Sound

I would definitely bring a raincoat for your cruise. It didn’t rain at all the day we were there, but it did get chilly, and I was glad to have my jacket and my little fingerless gloves.

You should bring layers, as it will probably be colder in Milford Sound (especially on a boat cruise) than it is further inland, like in Queenstown.

Wildlife in Milford Sound

You can see lots of fun wildlife in Milford Sound. It is possible to see penguins in Milford Sound, but we did not see any during our boat cruise.

We saw a lot of seals.

We also saw dolphins! Towards the end of our cruise, some dolphins swam up to our boat and hung out there a while.

If there is a certain type of animal you’re hoping to see in Milford Sound, pay attention to what time of year you’re booking your trip. For example, most penguins head out to sea by March, which is when we arrived (and didn’t see any!).

How to Get to Milford Sound

One road in, one road out. The most dangerous road in New Zealand!

Milford Sound can be tricky to get to. Although it is not too far from Queenstown, New Zealand, the road is very windy and takes more than 4 hours to drive.

It is also known as the most dangerous road in New Zealand, because of the many turns, and the many tourists who drive it.

Nevertheless, it is an absolutely stunning road to drive along.

At one point you will come to a one-way tunnel into what I call the “bowl of mountains.” We had to wait along the side of the road for all the cars coming from the other direction. Then, when the light turned green, it was our turn to take the one road into Milford Sound.

We were completely surrounded on all sides by mountains. We had just come through the one small opening (the tunnel) and now we were actually inside this incredible area that is circumscribed by mountains. This was one of my favorite views of the whole day.


You can book a rental car (or campervan) and drive yourself into Milford Sound. This is the best option if you want to camp, hike, kayak (basically anything other than a boat tour), and really spend time enjoying the beautiful area.

Just take your time and stay vigilant as you wind around the road to Milford Sound. And don’t forget to stop and take pictures in the many pull off areas!


If you don’t want to take 4 hours to get to Milford Sound, you can take a helicopter from Queenstown. This is obviously the most expensive option, but is a memorable way to get to Milford Sound and enjoy the amazing views from above!

Book a Tour

The easiest and most popular way to get to Milford Sound is to book a tour. Most tours leave from Queenstown, though you can also find tours from other towns in the area, so be sure to check where your tour is departing

This is what we did. We rode a bus tour from Queenstown, and then had a 2 hour cruise of the fiord before beginning the long drive back. We stopped plenty of times on the way out for bathroom breaks and photo ops.

This was a full-day excursion, lasting about 12 hours.

A Day Trip from Queenstown

One of the scenic stops on the drive in to Milford Sound.

If you’re going to visit Milford Sound, you don’t have to take a day trip from Queenstown. There are other options which might be better for you (like riding in a helicopter! If you want to pay for that…).

But taking a bus with all the other tourists from Queenstown is definitely the easiest and most convenient way to visit Milford Sound. But it’s also a very long day, spent with a lot of other people, doing what you’re told.

And taking roll call like second grade.

So here’s what it’s like to take a Milford Sound day trip from Queenstown:

Leaving from Queenstown

We walked from hotel (the Cherry Apartments) to our bus stop right in downtown Queenstown where we met our driver and boarded our bus for the day

  • Tip: There are lots of buses going to Milford Sound. Do not accidentally get on the wrong one at one of the many stops along the route. The driver will make you stand up for roll call, and kick you off if you’re not on the list.

Everybody met at the same bus stop to depart, but when we arrived back in the evening the driver made a couple stops to let people off closer to their hotels. We got off at the original stop, which was quite close to our hotel.

Stops Along the Way

We stopped several times along the way to to take pictures of the scenery.

Some stops we just pulled over to the side of the road, hopped out, took our pictures, and hopped back on. A couple of places we were able to get out and walk around exploring a little, as long as we were back to the bus by the set time, 20 minutes or so.

Of course the bus has its own bathroom, but we also stopped to use the bathroom along the way. Like, a lot (remember, get back on the right bus!).

One stop was at a large travel center that had a food court and souvenir shopping. We bought some fast food for lunch here.

  • Tip: You can book lunch with your boat tour, but since the cruise is so short, I would much rather eat beforehand, and spend my time in Milford Sound enjoying the views (not eating). Plus, who wants to wait that long to eat??

We also stopped at the same travel center on the way back. This was the only stop we made on the return trip.

Exploring a forest trail on the way into Milford Sound (doesn’t it look magical??).

View on a short hike from the bus stop, on the way into Milford Sound.

A Milford Sound Boat Cruise

When we finally arrived in Milford Sound, we went into the visitor’s center, where our bus driver picked up our tickets for our two hour cruise. And then we got on the boat for our cruise around the fiord.

You can book tickets that will include a lunch buffet on your Milford Sound cruise, but we went with the cheaper version that did not include any food (but we ate at the rest stop on the way in).

The boat meandered through the fiord for about an hour, before turning around and heading back to the visitor’s center. We were surrounded by misty mountains on each side of our boat.

The downside of taking a Milford Sound boat cruise is that you cannot necessarily get up close to everything. We did get right under a waterfall, and we saw several dolphins swimming up next to our boat. Our captain also brought us as close as he could to a rock full of lounging seals.

But Milford Sound would be so much cooler to experience via kayak, if you can! You can get much closer to the wildlife, and better feel the imposing grandeur of the surrounding mountains!

Our Milford Sound cruise was part of the tour package we booked from Queenstown, and was just a two hour cruise of the fiord. But you can also book cruises that include a trip to the Underwater Observatory. The observatory can only be reached by boat, and must be included in your cruise ticket.

Is Milford Sound Worth Visiting?

Is Milford Sound the prettiest place in New Zealand? And is it worth the long trek out to see it (especially for just a day trip)?

Yes, Milford Sound is worth visiting! Especially since getting there is part of the experience, with many great photo stops.

That being said, it was not my personal favorite part of New Zealand. I think partly because I had such high expectations for it, and partly because we were so limited in what we could do with our group tour.

So here are my tips for how to have the best experience at Milford Sound, New Zealand:

Don’t have high expectations

Is Milford Sound beautiful? Yes.

But… I think that the more you hype up a place, the less it delivers.

My personal favorite place we saw was the mountains around Queenstown on our safari with Nomad Safaris. Partly because I had no expectations, so I could be blown away.

And partly because when we saw it, the light was starting to get low, and yes that does effect your view. The time of day you see some place can entirely change how it looks.

Visit Milford Sound in the early morning or evening

The best time of day to see any place is in the early morning or evening. This is when you can take the best photos, and this is also just when everything is going to look a whole lot prettier.

Unfortunately, if you’re taking the day trip from Queenstown, you’re just not going to be in Milford Sound at the prettiest time of day. Don’t worry, it’s still going to be worth it! But it’s not going to be as pretty as it will be at sunset.

Don’t Be Distracted Trying to Take Too Many Photos!

The other thing that I think made Milford Sound less of an awe-inspiring experience for me personally is that I was so busy trying to take the perfect photo while I was there that I didn’t really enjoy just being in this beautiful place.

I love the scene in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty where he finds the photographer out in the wilderness, waiting to get a picture of the elusive snow leopard. But when he finally sees him, he doesn’t immediately jump on his camera. Instead, he just sits and watches.

“If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”

This is such an incredible idea. Because I think we spend a lot of time missing out on what we’re actually seeing because we’re behind our cameras.

So if you’re going to Milford Sound, yes bring your camera. But I would say to not pull it out right away. Take some time to really enjoy the uniqueness and beauty of the place you’re in, before putting the lens in front of your eye.

Other Places in New Zealand are Pretty Too

And if you don’t have a lot of time in New Zealand and you’re wondering if you should add Milford Sound to your list, I would say that it’s certainly a really cool place to see, but I don’t think it’s the best New Zealand has to offer.

I think if you choose to do something else, you won’t feel that you’ve terribly missed out on anything.

However you look at, Milford Sound is a beautiful place. But it is only one of many beautiful places in New Zealand.

Wherever you explore in New Zealand, you are sure to find some breathtaking scenery. Just be sure to enjoy it with your own eyes, before you pull out the camera!

Tips for Visiting Milford Sound

Here are some final tips for your trip to Milford Sound, New Zealand:

  • Wear bug spray: I read that ticks are really bad in Milford Sound and the surrounding area. We were not bothered at all by bugs, but I did wear bug spray on our tour. The time of year you visit will also affect the level of insects.

  • Bring an umbrella/rain jacket: It will likely rain during your visit to Milford Sound (and this is good, as it brings the waterfalls to life!). So come prepared to still enjoy it in any weather!

  • January and February are the best months to visit: January and February are summer months in New Zealand, and will have the warmest weather.

  • Pay attention to what your tour includes: Some tours include meals, or extra activities like the underwater observatory. Pay attention to what you want to include on your tour.

  • Pay attention to where your tour leaves from: Make sure you are booking a tour from Queenstown if you want to be picked up/dropped off in Queenstown.

  • If you have time, stay overnight: If you drive yourself, you can stay overnight (either camping or at the Milford Sound Lodge). That way you can hike, kayak, and really enjoy Milford Sound on your own time.

Any more questions:

If you have any more questions about visiting Milford Sound, New Zealand, feel free to email me or comment below.

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