In 2010, I made my first visit to New Zealand after my parents told me how amazing it is there. A favorite place they visited was Milford Sound, which is part of Fjordland National Park. Touted as one of the most beautiful landscapes not just in New Zealand, but in the world, I absolutely had to make a visit there. I was greeted, however, with some gloomy weather for almost my entire trip. Despite overcast clouds, some rain, and fog, I still loved everything about Milford Sound and hoped to make a return trip. The next time, however, I wanted to see what it would look like with better weather.
This time, we made it to Milford Sound with perfect weather, gifting us mostly clear skies and moderate temperatures. We were lucky because it was overcast and raining for several days prior! And here are 3 activities that you will love during your visit here:
1. A Scenic Flight
For our visit, we were taking an overnight cruise through the fjord of Milford Sound but we had arrived a lot earlier than the departure time. There was one activity that was available to us during the downtime: a scenic flight through Milford Sound that was being offered at the Discover Milford Sound Information Centre & Cafe. However, the flight had to fill all four seats, otherwise, we would’ve had to pay for all of the seats at the cost of $200 USD per person. Fortunately, we were able to find a couple that also wanted to do the flight, so the cost ended up being only $100 USD per person. This seems to be a bargain price, as most scenic flights can cost up to $400 USD per person, although usually from another location like Queenstown or Te Anau with a much longer flight duration.
This 25-30 minute flight starts and ends at the Milford Sound Airport, which is right next to the visitor center. A charter plane is not quite like your average commercial plane ride; due to its small body and lighter weight, it is more prone to more turbulence. While we weren’t particularly nervous, those with a fear of flying may want to pass on this activity. One of the other passengers was very close to backing out of the flight before ultimately deciding to board the plane. The flight was a little bumpier than we’ve ever experienced, but it wasn’t anything that should really deter you from doing it.
If you are able to board the plane, you’ll be treated to a truly majestic flight of Milford Sound! Much of New Zealand is unexplorable due to impassable landscapes, therefore flying is a terrific way to see these hidden treasures. The flight takes you through the entire fjord of Milford Sound towards the ocean, then fly over various mountain ranges. From bare rock mountains to those covered in forests or from colorful mountains to pristine snow cover peaks, it’s an incredible variety that you can see in the air that you may not ordinarily see on the ground.
One of the coolest sights that you can see on this flight is Quill Lake and Sutherland Falls. The lake is nestled in the mountains in a basin that overflows and cascades into Sutherland Falls, which measures 580 meters (1,904 feet), making it the second tallest waterfall in New Zealand. While you can hike to the base of the falls, the only way to see Quill Lake is in the air by plane or helicopter.
This flight at Milford Sound is easily the best value for your buck to see the beautiful aerial scenery. It’s an activity worth doing, especially if you are not looking to pay hundreds of dollars.
2. The Overnight Cruise
Next up on the agenda, our overnight cruise. Our parents had done the cruise previously too so they booked us the cruise as a wedding gift to us. We went go through a company called “Real Journeys” and boarded the boat named the “Milford Wanderer.” You can find several photos of what the boat looks like on their website here. However, the boat no longer had the private rooms left so we had to share in a 4-person bunk room. It all worked out though, as we met some fellow travelers and made some new friends!
Pricing varies depending on accommodation and departure location but it was about $240 USD per person for our quad-share accommodation departing from Milford Sound. Bathrooms are shared but there is only a maximum of 36 persons on any cruise. While I wouldn’t classify the boat as a luxury liner, the amenities and staff made everything very comfortable and it really was a highlight of our visit.
Our boat departed from the port at 4:30 PM and we had around 45 minutes to an hour to get settled in. During that time, the boat will find a spot to anchor overnight, while we were served some tasty soup and bread. The soup really warmed up the body and got us ready for the afternoon activities.
For the activities, you had the choice of taking a short hike on the Milford Track or take a small boat that will explore the fjord more closely. We chose to do the hike since the Milford Track is dubbed “the finest walk in the world.” For us, we were doing only a round-trip hike of 1.5 hours, which is just a glimpse of the whole track. For serious hikers, however, you would need to hike 33 miles and take 5 days to finish the entire hike!
We took a smaller boat to Sandfly Point, which marks the end/start point of the track. (Also, true to its name, there are A LOT of sandflies here so fair warning.) A guide walked a group of us into a lush, dense forest thick with towering trees while pointing out varieties of ferns and moss. There were also some cute and curious birds that would come to investigate our group, some hovering by nearby branches but wary enough not to get too close. This part of the track is flat, well-maintained and the temperature was cool and comfortable, so it felt like a relaxed walk than any kind of hike.
Our midway stopping point was a foresty area with a stream flowing through. In certain parts of the stream, however, the flow of water was so calm and clear that the forests above it would reflect almost perfectly in the water. It’s also amazing to see just how many different trees and plants occupy the banks in just a single photograph, the testament of an ecosystem that has thrived since ancient times.
From here, we turned back around and headed back to the boat. By this time, it’s very late afternoon and the sun is starting to set. It’s a nice time to enjoy the sunset of Milford Sound or you can just relax inside where there are some board games, complimentary hot drinks, and a licensed bar. Meanwhile, the crew is preparing a 3-course dinner that included salad, roasted vegetables and meat (vegetarian options available), and topping it off with dessert.
I’m not going to lie but I did not have the highest of expectations for the food. Most other boat excursions I’ve been on, food was premade and usually bland, so I was already pleasantly surprised that everything looked like it was cooked from scratch. When we tried the food that came out to us, I think we were almost shocked at how delicious it was! The ingredients looked pretty simple but they were fresh and it truly was a restaurant-class dinner. It was one of our best dining experiences in New Zealand! Maybe that’s speaking with some hyperbole but I really was impressed with the food. And with that, we could take our happy tummies into bed and doze peacefully off into the night.
After a comfortable night of sleep, we awoke early in the morning for the cruise and enjoyed a nice, hearty breakfast. After that, the boat started to head out towards the Tasman Sea. It was still pretty early and dark within the fjord, which made the morning temperatures a little chilly. We waited inside the boat until we exited the fjord and were out on the ocean. By this time, the sun was up a bit and the temperatures were a bit warmer. It was still a little windy but the was really lovely and so serene being out on the open ocean.
Shortly after making it out into the ocean, the boat turned around and headed straight back into the fjord. While sailing in, the captain would talk through the boat’s speakers to point out key sights and wildlife. A few albatross (sorry, no pictures!) flew around our boat and they are pretty amazing creatures. They live on the ocean for 85% of their lives, only going on land during the breeding seasons! They also have a lifespan of up to at least 40 years, which is very impressive for a bird! We also checked out to Seal Rock which, as its name implies, you can find fur seals lying on this big rock. There were only two seals lounging this time but often you can see up to a dozen seals lying here.
The boat also sailed close to the insanely tall rock faces, some of them shooting out of the water up to 1,200 meters! Of course, no Milford Sound visit is completed without visiting one of its famous waterfalls, Stirling Falls, and at 151 meters, it is the second tallest waterfall after Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls in Milford Sound. What’s cool about this waterfall is the boat is able to sail pretty close to the falls, which allows you to feel the intense force of the colliding water through the strong winds and spray. I was told you can even kayak to the base of the waterfall. When it rains, you are able to see a lot more waterfalls but you can’t see them due to lack of rainfall from good weather. Some other famous parts you’ll see include Harrison Cove and the aforementioned Bowen Falls.
When you pass Bowen Falls, that essentially marks the end of the overnight cruise and brings you back to port. Though it was sad having to leave the boat, it was a truly perfect experience for our Milford Sound visit.
3. Walking on the Milford Sound Lookout Track
We can keep this one short and sweet. Before leaving Milford Sound, there was still one area we had to check out. From the visitor center, you can find marked signs for the Milford Sound Lookout Track. It’s a short walk that will take you to the edge of the water and offer stunning views of the landscape. With the sun still rising, you are able to see distinct sunbeams streaming between mountain peaks. If you can find calm water, you can get a beautiful reflection of the landscape, which is one of the most photographed shots at Milford Sound. The best experience here I think, however, is simply enjoying the peace and serenity of this majestic landscape. Just sitting there makes you think that you can stay there forever, which I wouldn’t object to that!
Here is also a video of our scenic flight, overnight cruise, and the view from the lookout track:
Below is some information on these activities:
Scenic Flight: We cannot find this information online or on the visitor center website. You should be able to find more information when you visit in-person at the Discover Milford Sound Information Centre & Cafe, where they also have a slew of other activities to offer. But expect the pricing to range from about $100-200 USD per person. This activity is also only available with permitting weather.
Price: Ranging from $349-700+ NZD, depending on accommodation and season
Departure: Milford Sound. Options are also available to depart from Queenstown or Te Anau
Getting there: From Queenstown, it is a 4-hour drive to Milford Sound; from Te Anau, 1 hour and 40 minutes. You can also take buses or planes for transport.
Other tips: Best to book this activity in advance, as this boat only holds 36 people at a time
Price: FREE! And who doesn’t like free??
Getting there: From the visitor center, there are marked signs pointing towards the track
Other tips: The track is only about 400 meters and open during park hours
So, there you have it, 3 amazing activities that you can enjoy for your Milford Sound visit! Hope you enjoyed reading this and we’d love to hear from you if you’ve done any of these activities or other activities that you would recommend. If these activities inspire you to visit Milford Sound, be sure to save the pins below for your future visit:
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