How to plan the perfect Milford Sound visit

Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s great bucket list attractions: a beautiful fiord bounded by steep cliffs and dominated by the distinctive Mitre Peak. Well over half a million visitors each year come and see what the fuss is about, and few leave disappointed. That’s even more impressive given that this is one of New Zealand’s wettest regions. Here’s what you need to know before planning your perfect Milford Sound visit.

How to plan the perfect Milford Sound visit: Looking Glass Lake on the road to Milford Sound New Zealand
Looking Glass Lake on the road to Milford Sound: Photo (c) albertpalenshoots

How to plan the perfect Milford Sound visit

Embrace the weather

This is a tricky one. Milford Sound receives almost seven metres of rain annually, making it the wettest place in the nation. Even in the relatively dry winter season, typically Milford Sound still sees sixteen days of rain in the month. The chances of picking a dry day with clear blue skies are low, so adjust your expectations accordingly. But all that water doesn’t have to ruin your visit. The downpours create spectacular waterfalls along the cliffs that line the fiord and the strong winds that also characterise the area can swoop in and lift those curtains of water, flinging them back into the air with a total disregard for the laws of gravity. Who said you need sunshine for a top notch Milford Sound visiting experience?

How to plan the perfect Milford Sound visit: Milford Sound New Zealand
Milford Sound: Photo (c) albertpalenshoots

Be prepared to share the perfect Milford Sound view

This is no wilderness area, so accept the fact that you won’t have Milford Sound to yourself. Most visitors come for the day, travelling from Te Anau or even Queenstown, stopping off on the way for a series of stretch-the-legs photo stops before rocking up around lunchtime. Boat cruises leave throughout the day, though, so get up early, drive yourself and save the photo stops from Te Anau for the return journey to be sure of getting a spot on the 9am boat. Even better, beat the day trippers and stay overnight in the area.

How to plan the perfect Milford Sound visit: Sunset at Milford Sound New Zealand
Sunset at Milford Sound: Photo (c) albertpalenshoots

There’s a range of accommodation options to choose from. Milford Sound Lodge, a mile and a half from the boat dock, offers riverside chalets, backpacker dorms and campervan parking surrounded by lush rainforest. By adding at least an extra day, you’ll be able to witness the Sound at its most tranquil, with the chance to experience a more serene and spiritual place than you’ll find once the tourist mayhem kicks off.

Perfect Milford Sound
Milford Sound: Paul Bica / CC BY 2.0

Change your perspective

You’ll be happy you took a cruise along the fiord to the Tasman Sea, admiring dramatic rock outcrops and seals basking in the sunshine. Happy, that is, until you change your perspective: by getting lower to the water, or flying high over the fiord, the scenery ramps up to a whole new level. Helicopter or light plane scenic flights provide an unmissable opportunity for a perfect Milford Sound visit in impressive Fiordland National Park setting. Take to the water on a guided kayaking trip and as you crane your neck to scour the cliff tops for bird life, you’ll start to appreciate their true scale.

Milford Sound Cruising
Milford Sound Cruising

About JuliaHammond


Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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5 Responses

  1. 7 Incredible Things For Your New Zealand Bucket List | Go 4 Travel Blog

    […] as “The eighth wonder of the world” by Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park is a place so beautiful you’ll never believe it. From its immensely […]

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    […] is a rite of passage for visitors to the North Island, in the same way Milford Sound or Queenstown is to the south. But as much as it might rely on the tourism industry for local […]

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    […] Milford Sound is an incredibly majestic area of New Zealand that will provide you with a feast of beauty for your eyes while also being a destination that offers plenty of fun and adventure. […]

  4. New Zealand Spring Kayaking Trips - Go4Travel Blog

    […] as New Zealand spring kayaking goes, it’s hard to beat South Island’s Sounds. The stature of Milford Sound is impressive enough from a cruiser, but take to the water in a sea kayak on Milford Sound and from […]

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    […] on the ground, but spend an hour in a light aircraft and it’s a whole other story. Head for Milford Sound as you hug the Tasman Sea, skimming the snow-capped peaks and glaciers of the Southern Alps as you […]


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