How to Get to Milford Sound

Milford Sound, located in Southern New Zealand’s Fjordland National Park, is often described as the Eighth Natural Wonder of the World, and for good reason.  Technically a fjord, Milford was formed over millions of years by slowly retreating glaciers.  The result is a narrow inlet carved between jagged mountains and leading to the Tasman Sea.  One of the best and most accessible ways to experience Milford’s beauty is by taking a scenic boat tour through the sound. We recommend Cruise Milford, the boats are smaller and less crowded than some of the other operators. For almost two hours, you will find yourself up close and personal with the snow-capped peaks, rushing waterfalls, and even a few seals.

While all that is needed on the boat tour is to sit back and relax, getting to Milford in the first place can be a bit more challenging.  To help make your life easier, I’ve rounded up the three ways to get to there, and reasons each might be most suitable.  Since each method will appeal to a different types of traveller, be sure to do you research and pick what is right for you!

Milford by Bus

Want to sit back, relax, and learn about New Zealand’s nature and culture while enjoying some spectacular scenery?  A scenic bus ride to Milford sound might be the option for you.  Coaches from Queenstown and Te Anau are offered through most cruise companies, and are an affordable way to enjoy the road to Milford without having to put in a long day behind the wheel.  

While a guided tour can ease the burden of planning and driving yourself, these benefits come at the cost of significantly reduced flexibility and being part of a large crowd.  This can be fine for some, but those looking for a day of pure tranquility might want to explore other options.

Milford by Car

Feeling up for a self-driving adventure?  Renting a car can be the perfect way to get to Milford at your own pace while enjoying the magnificent New Zealand scenery.  By opting out of a fixed-schedule tour you leave behind the throngs of selfie-snapping tourists.  Driving also gives you the ability to stop when and where you want, including many of the smaller viewing turnoffs that are not accessible by bus.

On the flip-side, the road to Milford Sound is one of the more dangerous in New Zealand, and rapidly changing weather conditions can make driving difficult, especially in winter.  In addition, the 4 hour drive each way from Queenstown, paired with the boat tour and stops in each direction, can be quite exhausting.  One option for those concerned with a long day behind the wheel is to spend the night in Te Anau, a small town located halfway between Queenstown and Milford, and proceed to and from the sound from there.

Milford by Plane

The quickest way to reach Milford Sound is by plane. The flight is about 45 minutes from Queenstown airport and the views are amazing.  We decided to do a hybrid option to reach Milford Sound, taking a bus there and plane back.  While significantly more expensive than taking the bus round trip, flying just one way is certainly worth the cost!

The flight was great because of the incredibly different perspective than from the ground. Since the planes are small (3-7 seaters) everyone gets a view!  While we certainly recommend a flight as part of your Milford experience, it is important to have a backup plan, as volatile weather means flights are often delayed or cancelled.

x smack