A Milford Sound cruise is the best way to explore and experience a point of national pride for New Zealanders and an area known as one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Milford Sound is not technically a sound at all, but a fiord and part of the Fiordland National Park, itself within the bounds of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located to the southwest of New Zealand’s South Island, Milford Sound consists of steep, forested hills punctuated by craggy mountains rising on either side of calm, cool waters.
Cruises to Milford Sound take in the region’s dense rainforests as well as its unique underwater environment, granting more adventurous visitors the opportunity to hike the Milford Track, kayak along waterfalls and even don a wetsuit to five or snorkel the glacier-fed waters. Meanwhile, animal lovers can watch for penguins, seals and dolphins. The region’s unpredictable weather only adds to its wild and untamed character and promises adventure.
Top things to do and see in Milford Sound
New Zealand’s Fiordland boasts majestic landscapes of verdant, mountainous terrain sketched with deep fiords. Small ship cruises of the fiords drift between steep cliffs covered in a mantle of lush rainforest as curious dolphins occasionally skim the water’s surface in the boat’s wake. The Fiordland National Park region is replete with ancient valleys, glacier-fed rivers and towering waterfalls. Milford Sound is the most famous and popular of the park’s fiords, with tree-maned Mitre Peak standing like a sentinel at its entrance.
Adventure seekers can kayak along Pembroke Glacier before taking to land and enjoying the area’s excellent network of hiking trails. The Milford Track, in particular, is the perfect way to experience awesome nature from afar and from within. Called the “finest walk in the world”, Milford Track starts at Lake Te Anau and runs for 53.5 kilometers (33 miles) to Sandfly Point. Exploring the region surrounding Milford Sound takes visitors to a number of fantastic waterfalls, including the Bowen Falls, plummeting from 160 meters (525 feet) above, and Stirling Falls, which resembles a light spring shower.
Much of the wildlife within and around Milford Sound is protected, with many species endemic to the area. Seal Point, near Mitre Peak, is aptly named, given its popularity with New Zealand fur seals. Bird-watchers can look for blue duck, takeke, mohua and kea, while the shores and waters are home to seals, three species of dolphins, and penguins, including the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin. Under Milford Sound’s calm surface lives the world’s largest population of black coral trees, some as much as 200 years old.
Top Tips for visiting Milford Sound on a cruise
- Due to the region’s unpredictable weather, every Milford Sound boat cruise is an adventure cruise. For this reason, itineraries may change and visitors should pack for potentially cold, rainy and windy weather, including a warm jacket and waterproof shell, regardless of time of year.
- Despite occasionally cold and cloudy weather, sunscreen is highly recommended.
- Milford Sound is one of the few places where visitors hope for rain, as this leads to temporary waterfalls cascading down the fiord walls.
- Bring binoculars and a camera to spot and capture birds and dolphins.
- Wear good hiking shoes for trekking Milford Track and other overland portions of the trip.
- Note that Milford Track bookings must be made ahead during the summer months. During the winter period, the trail is more arduous and track facilities are closed. For this reason, only experienced hikers should attempt it.
Best time to cruise the Milford Sound
Contrary to most travel destinations and small ship cruise itineraries, Milford Sound cruises actually benefit from rainfall, which creates temporary waterfalls throughout the fiord.
For this reason, the best time to visit Milford Sound is the rainy season, during December and January. Rains, however, are fairly consistent throughout the year.
Milford Sound in December and January is also the warmest period of the year, with summer stretching from November to mid-February.
Milford Sound in June to August is winter, when the weather is much cooler, the winds stronger, but the crowds thinner.
September to November, along with late-February to May are the shoulder months, when the weather is pleasant, the rains consistent, and the crowds smaller.
Where do Milford Sound cruises depart from?
Most New Zealand adventure cruises which visit Milford Sound depart from Te Anau. Visitors fly into Queenstown and are transferred to Te Anau.
Queenstown Airport is not an international airport. The nearest international airports are at Christchurch and Auckland, which serve most major airlines. Visitors from North America or Europe will likely require a connection outside New Zealand before reaching either airport.
Note that the transfer from Queenstown to Te Anau is often included as part of a New Zealand cruise package, though the transfer from Christchurch or Auckland to Queenstown is likely not.
Book your next adventure cruise to Milford Sound, New Zealand today. Contact our reservations team.