10 Things to do on your Milford Sound Visit

Getting to Milford Sound from Queenstown is half the fun


You’ll find Milford Sound / Piopiotahi deep in Fiordland National Park about 300km from Queenstown. Called ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ by Rudyard Kipling, who visited it in the 1890s, the sound is actually a fiord. Aotearoa’s only fiord that is accessible by road, it’s the main attraction in the park, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Te Wahipounamu. So it’s not surprising that it’s a part of many of our tours and a hugely popular day trip from Queenstown.

Milford Sound

The world-famous fiord is home to fur seal colonies, penguins and dolphins as part of a very special marine environment.

Fiordland is one of the world’s wettest places and Milford Sound is the rainiest place in New Zealand. It rains 182 days a year here. But it doesn’t make Milford Sound any less spectacular. Indeed, it makes the existing waterfalls more spectacular, and creates new temporary waterfalls. Making any weather good weather for Piopiotahi.

Waterfalls abound but only two are permanent. The 162 metres high, Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls is just 10 metres higher than Stirling Falls. With Bowen providing water and electricity for the people and businesses based in Milford Sound.

Towering over it all is Mitre Peak. Rising to a height of 1,692 meters, it is the highest mountain overlooking Milford Sound and much-photographed.

Why go on a guided tour to Milford Sound from Queenstown?

The trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound is 288 kilometres. You could drive there yourself. But we recommend going with a guided tour. You don’t have to drive all the way yourself — a big day’s driving. You’ll also learn about all the sights along the way through live commentary. You just sit back and take in the spectacular scenery the trip offers. This makes the entire experience better!

And with the cruises of Cruise Milford, our recommended fiord cruise option, you are on a smaller boat. They stick to 50% of their boats’  capacity, ensuring that every passenger can enjoy even more of what Milford Sound has to offer. It also gives you a more personal experience.

Lake Te Anau

Start in Queenstown

A day trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown makes for a full but immensely rewarding day of travel. This is because there are many sights along the way.

Leaving Queenstown early in the morning, you can look out over Lake Wakatipu. At 80 kilometres long, this is New Zealand’s longest lake with deep inky water. Wakatipu is also very deep, dipping below sea level despite its alpine setting. As you drive further you’ll get views of  the aptly named Remarkables mountain range. You can also hop out at Devils Staircase, named for its steepness – a scenic lookout point with views of Lake Wakatipu.

Te Anau

After 171 kilometres you will arrive in Te Anau. This town, nestled on the side of Lake Te Anau, is your “gateway to Fiordland National Park” and Milford Sound.

The remote Fiordland region in and around Te Anau is home to the flightless takahē bird, if you’re lucky enough, you can spot them while having a break near Lake Te Anau.

The lake is the third-largest in New Zealand and the largest on the South Island. It has a surface area of 344 square kilometres. Just outside Te Anau, you will find Te Anau Downs Station. This is a sheep and beef operation surrounded by conservation land. The historic homes are still as they used to be, so this is definitely worth a stop!

Eglinton Valley

Fifty three kilometres from Te Anau, you will reach the wide open Eglinton Valley. This is the only valley in Fiordland National Park that is accessible by road. The Eglinton River runs through the valley. It’s named after the first Europeans that ever came to this place in 1861. On a clear day, you’ll enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountain peaks. And steep rocky sloped covered in native beech forest line the valley.

Eglinton Valley

Mirror Lakes

Just a 2-minute drive further along the road are the mirror lakes. These are a set of lakes where you can see the reflections of the Earl Mountains on the water.

Some New Zealand native birds have their home here, including New Zealand’s smallest duck. And the lakes also harbour brown and rainbow trout. You can take a short (400 meters) walk here before returning to your coach.

Mirror Lakes

Lake Gunn

The next highlight is Lake Gunn, for which the Eglinton River is both inflow and outflow. This is a 20 km drive from the mirror lakes. The lake is surrounded by native bush and was named after George Gunn, who discovered it in 1861. Some of the Southern beech trees are at least 600 years old. So, this is very impressive! When walking through the forest next to the lake, you can get a glimpse of Eglinton Valley’s birdlife.

Hollyford River & Falls Creek

The Hollyford River runs all the way from Lake McKerrow, which is near the Tasman Sea, to highway 94 – the road to Milford Sound. Many waterfalls feed into the river. No need to get out of your coach to see them. They’re all visible from the comfort of your coach seats while your guide tells you about them.

Hollyford River

Darran Mountains

The Darran Mountains are also located in Fiordland National Park and viewable from The Milford Sound road. These mountains contain the highest peaks in this area. The highest peak is called Mount Tūtoko and has a height of 2,723 meters. Most of the glaciers have disappeared here, but the Ngapunatoru Plateau – an ice shelf of about one square kilometre in extent – is still there.

Mount Tutoko

Homer Tunnel

Road access to Milford Sound was only achieved in 1954, after 19 years of construction. The Homer Tunnel was finally finished then. A 1.2-kilometre-long tunnel that goes through solid rock it was a significant challenge for road builders and a key reason road construction took so long. You can only drive in one direction in the tunnel, so you may have to wait a while at one of the ends. This offers an extra chance to spot a Kea — the world’s largest alpine parrot — who live in the surrounding mountains.

Milford Sound

And then after having covered the last 20 kilometres you arrive at Milford Sound and the cruise boat terminal. We recommend you bring your raincoat because you get quite close to the various waterfalls on your cruise and sea spray can be very wetting on deck.

This is a place and experience you will never forget. It makes you want to take a picture every second. After the cruise, you may have the option to take a scenic flight back to Queenstown from Milford Sound Airport.

Pop’s View Lookout

It’s time to head back to Queenstown again. The way back will be a little faster because you have already done most of the sights on the way there. Despite this, it’s still worth stopping at Pop’s View Lookout. There is another chance to spot Kea’s here. Here you will definitely learn new things about ancient Maori explorers. Soak in the views of the Southern Alps before you hit the road again. After a day full of new memories and lots of photos, you will arrive back in Queenstown around dinner time.

Pop’s View Lookout

Sounds amazing right?

Of course, you can also do half the ride and start or end in Te Anau. There are also options to spend the night around Milford Sound. Whatever you want. We Tour New Zealand’s 28 tours that include Milford Sound, offer plenty of Milford Sound experience options to choose from.

For more information about visiting this magical place, you can also visit the websites of Milford Sound itself, New Zealand tourism and the Fiordland region.

Do you need help choosing the right NZ tour or finding an experience that includes all the things you want to do in Milford Sound? Do not hesitate to contact us. We can help you choose a tour that best suits your needs. Whether that is just the South Island or also the North Island.