Acclaimed as the top tourist attraction in the country, Milford Sound should be on every traveller’s list of things to do in New Zealand. Stretching 15km (nine miles) from end to end, Milford Sound is an area of stunning natural beauty.
Even the drive into the Sound is breathtaking, with views of craggy mountains and dense rainforest unfolding at every turn – the five hour drive from Queenstown or Invercargill could easily take much longer when you factor in stopping for a photo at every viewpoint!
Once you have arrived at Milford Sound by rental car, tour or jump-on jump-off bus, or even plane or helicopter, take a cruise boat to explore the area properly. Most tour companies will take you out on the water for an hour or two, exploring all of the highlights including the stunning Mitre Peak, towering rock walls carved out by ancient glaciers and tens or even hundreds of waterfalls.
For the ultimate Milford Sound experience overnight live-aboard boat tours including kayaking and beach excursions are also available.
When you’re not busy spotting things above the water take a look downwards as well – wildlife abounds in the area, with dolphins, whales, seals and penguins being regularly spotted.
Before you leave Milford Sound, don’t forget to check out the Underwater Observatory in Harrison’s Cove. You will need to take a short boat ride to get to the cove (or some of the tours can drop you off there), where you can then descend 10m below the surface into a special viewing chamber that allows you to get up close and personal with the marine life unique to this part of the country.
No matter how you choose to explore Milford Sound, it will undoubtedly end up being one of the best things that you chose to do in New Zealand.
Distances: 295km from Queenstown, 280km from Invercargill and 120km from Te Anau.
Best time to visit: The weather is warmer in summer (Dec-Feb) but drier, with less sandflies, in winter (Jun-Aug). Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world, however, so expect significant rain at any time of year.
How long to spend there: Accommodation options other than live-aboard boats are limited, so most visitors visit Milford Sound as part of a day trip.
Things to know: The sandflies are notorious in Milford Sound and the area regularly gets 8 metres of rain a year, so insect repellent and wet weather clothing is vital all year round. The road in is well-paved but very winding and slow – a tour bus or flight may be a better option if you are uncomfortable with driving in such conditions. There is very limited fuel available past Te Anau so ensure you fill up your rental car there before continuing on to Milford Sound.