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How to Visit Milford Sound From Queenstown in 2023

How to Visit Milford Sound From Queenstown in 2023

A quick but useful travel guide for those planning a trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown. How to get here, what to expect and inspiring photography from one of the world’s most beautiful fjords.

The alluring Milford Sound. Imagine cruising down misty fjords, with endless waterfalls sweeping down the Jurassic cliffs on either side of you. What if I told you that you could witness these scenes by jumping on a quick bus, scenic drive, or scenic flight to Milford Sound from Queenstown?

I’ve visited New Zealand’s South Island several times and always make a stop at the incredible Milford Sound. I visited for the first time in 2016 and have been back several times since, taking both tours and driving here myself.

In this guide, I’ll break down how to get to Milford Sound from Queenstown. If you are staying in different parts of the South Island, I recommend reading my comprehensive guide on How to Get to Milford Sound.

Featured in: Top Things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand

Waterfall in milford sound
Olly gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler & adventure photographer for 6 years with 700+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.

Where is Milford Sound

Milford Sound lies in the southwest of New Zealand's South Island, within the Fiordland National Park, approximately 288 kilometers from Queenstown.

As you can see in the map below, Milford Sound looks close to Queenstown. However, to get there, you'll have to get over the Southern Alps. If you're driving, you'll first drive around the entirety of Lake Wakatipu then follow State Highway 94 around to Te Anau before entering Fiordland National Park.

Below are the different ways to get here from Queenstown.

Map showing the route from queenstown to milford sound

How to Get to Milford Sound

There are three main options for getting to Milford Sound from Queenstown.

The first is to rent a car and drive through to Fiordland National Park. The second is to book a tour with transport included.

The third is to take an incredible scenic flight. I've taken all of these options during my visits to New Zealand and below I'll give you a rundown of each. Before I do, below are my three most recommended Milford Sound Tours, in case you want a quick and easy option.

Scenic flight over milford sound

1. Milford Sound by Plane & Boat Top Pick

Take a scenic flight over New Zealand's picturesque Southern Alps. Land in Milford and then embark on a Milford Sound cruise before flying back to Queenstown.

Milford sound in south island, new zealand

2. Milford Coach & Cruise Tour Best Value

The most popular and best-value day trip to Milford Sound & the Fiordlands from Queenstown by Pure Milford, one of the best tour companies in New Zealand.

Girl on a boat cruise at milford sound, new zealand

3. Milford Luxury Coach & Cruise Luxury

Reach Milford on a full-day trip from Queenstown by luxury coach. See the dramatic Fiordland scenery through the glass roof of the coach, driving past towering waterfalls before embarking on the cruise.

Option 1: Milford Sound Bus Tour from Queenstown

Those without the luxury of their own transport can purchase a Milford Sound package from Queenstown. There's no shortage of tour operators, most offering similar packages that often take the same boat ferry at the fjord (Milford Sound is actually a fjord, not a sound).

The main difference will be the bus that takes you through the National Park. However, the stops along the Fiordland National Park on Milford Road tends to vary also.

But, to save you doubling up by booking the same trip through a more expensive middle-man, I'll link to the best ones that with the best rates below.

1. Coach & Cruise Combo from Queenstown

This is the bus tour that I booked when I first organised my trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown. The trip is run by Pure Milford, the most popular and economical option for those based in Queenstown without a vehicle.

To this day, I'd still recommend this option for most travellers as the trip is cheaper than most others. Furthermore, the bus stops at some scenic locations in the Fiordland National Park to stretch the legs and see the epic sights the region has to offer.

Waterfall at milford sound

2. Small-Group Van & Cruise Combo from Queenstown

For those who would like to experience the beauty of the fjord on a day trip from Queenstown without feeling like a tourist, the Small group van & cruise tour is a great option. These small-group tours are becoming more popular by the year and offer a more personal experience.

Enjoying the view at milford sound

Option 2: Scenic Flight or Helicopter Trip from Queenstown

Looking for the most spectacular way to get to Milford Sound from Queenstown? Booking a scenic flight from Queenstown, incredible views over the Southern Alps while avoiding a long coach trip. Below are my recommendations.

1. Scenic Flight to Milford Sound from Queenstown

While there are dozens of helicopter tours and small plane scenic flight companes in the South Island of New Zealand, I can personally recommend the epic Southern Alps and Milford flight by Milford Sound Scenic Flights.

This is one of the most renowned scenic flight companies in New Zealand and the tour offers great value for money for those departing from Queenstown. It includes an epic flight over the waterfalls and lakes of the Fiordland National Park and the majestic peaks of the Southern Alps, before landing in Milford Sound in time for the cruise.

This is good value for money considering the cost of fuel if you were to drive to Milford Sound yourself and back from Queenstown!

Scenic flight over milford sound

2. Epic Half-Day Helicopter Trip With Landing

For those of you who want to see Milford Sound in style and don't want to waste a day on a bus, this epic Milford helicopter day trip might be your ticket. This option is an adventure from Queenstown that takes you over the Fiordland mountains by Helicopter and includes a landing.

Helicopter at milford sound
Taking a helicopter flight over fiordland national park

Option 3: Self-Drive to Milford Sound from Queenstown

Those with a van or vehicle can drive directly to the Sound by themselves. However, you will need to drive around Lake Te Anau and through the Fiordland National Pak. The drive is approximately 288 km and you will definitely want to stop for several photo opportunities.

You will pass glaciers, waterfalls, lookouts, and epic hiking opportunities. This part of New Zealand feels like it's straight off the silver screen. It will take roughly 4 hours (at least) of driving to reach Milford Sound from Queenstown, so if you're looking to see it on a day trip, you better leave early.

Once you arrive at the Milford Sound Visitor Centre, you can take the chance of squeezing a spot on the busy boats or just book your ticket online in advance.

Driving the milford road to milford sound
Peter's lookout drive we seek travel

Tip: How to Get Around in New Zealand

Rent a car! New Zealand is very safe for motorists & driving is the best way to explore the country.

I always DiscoverCars to get the best deals. Or, if you want a camper, I've had good experiences in NZ with Spaceships & Travellers Autobarn.

Detailed Driving Directions to Milford Sound from Queenstown

Driving to Milford Sound from Queenstown is an adventure that I highly recommend every independent traveller add to their South Island itinerary.

I've driven Milford Road more times than I can count in every season. Below I'll share a more detailed step-by-step guide, including some practical tips and must-see spots based on my experience.

Queenstown to Kingston

Fuel Up and Enjoy the Lakeside Views

Begin in Queenstown, and make sure your vehicle's tank is full. There are few gas stations beyond this point, including Mossburn and in Te Anau. However, if you plan to get there early, I'd have this sorted before you go.

Next, head south on State Highway 6, tracing the eastern contours of Lake Wakatipu for about 47 kilometers. The drive along the lake is picturesque, so consider stopping for photos at one of the many lookout points.

Road from queenstown to fiordlands along lake wakatipu

Kingston to Mossburn

Drive through the 'Deer Capital'

From Kingston, stay on SH6 for another 50 kilometers, then turn right onto SH94 towards Mossburn. Mossburn is quaint, and if you're curious about why it's called the 'Deer Capital', stop by the local museum. There are also plenty of deer farms along the road.

Deer in south island new zealand

Mossburn to Te Anau

Gateway to Fiordland

Another 80 kilometers on SH94 will bring you to Te Anau, a charming town and the perfect spot to stretch your legs.

I recommend grabbing a bite at Wapiti Bakery – their pies are great and coffees are affordable! Te Anau is also where I suggest checking your vehicle once more and ensuring your offline maps are downloaded, as cell reception beyond Te Anau is very spotty until you reach Milford Sound.

Lake te anau in new zealand

Te Anau to Homer Tunnel:

From Te Anau, the real scenic portion of the drive kicks in. You'll pass Mirror Lakes, Eglinton valley and Knobs Flat which are all worth a quick stop.

Eglinton valley in new zealand

The Homer Tunnel

The Mountain Passage

Approaching the Homer Tunnel, you'll likely have to wait behind other vehicles since this is a one-lane, one-way route descending down to Milford Sound. I always spot cheeky Kea birds while waiting. Avalanche risks are real beyond this point, especially in Winter.

So, it's crucial to check the tunnel's status beforehand. Remember to turn on your headlights in the tunnel.

Kea bird on a car near the homer tunnel on the way to milford sound

Descent into Milford Sound

The Final Stretch Emerging from the tunnel, you're greeted with the dramatic Cleddau Valley. Take it slow on the descent as the road is winding. If you still have time before your cruise, I recommend stopping at The Chasm. It's a short walk, through the rainforest to two epic, roaring waterfalls.

Rainforest track near the chasm of fiordland national park

Arrival at Milford Sound:

Finally, you'll reach the Milford Sound Visitor Centre. There used to be free parking at Deepwater Basin Parking&Bus, just 1.6 km from the cruise terminal (20-30 minutes walk). However, there are now signs here for limited 2-hour parking. Instead, you may want to park at the official Milford Sound parking area near the Cruise Terminal. Just keep in mind it costs $10 an hour!

Boats at milford sound

Road Closures & Things to Know About Driving to Milford Sound

Driving the scenic road to Milford Sound is a true New Zealand bucketlist experience and easily doable from Queenstown. However, here are some more important things to know:

  1. Road Closures & Conditions: Milford Road (State Highway 94, or SH94) is the only road access route to Milford Sound, and it can close due to avalanches, snow, and heavy rain. Always check the road conditions on the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) website for real-time updates before leaving Queenstown, especially on a snowy or rainy day.
  2. Tunnel: The Homer Tunnel is a one-lane tunnel carved through a mountain and is a highlight on Milford Road. Be careful though. You will have to line up since it's a one-way tunnel and only one direction of travel can proceed at a time. Turn your headlights on as well!
  3. Petrol & Services: There are no petrol stations between Te Anau and Milford Sound. Fill up your tank in Te Anau. Additionally, public toilets can be found at main rest stops along the drive in Fiordland National Park.
  4. Weather & Snow Chains: The region is known for its rapid weather changes. Even in summer, rain is frequent, and during winter, snow can blanket the road. Always carry warm clothing, rain gear, and snow chains if traveling during the colder months.
  5. Sandflies: During warmer months, these small biting insects are a nuisance in this region. Carry repellent and wear long sleeves.
  6. Cell Reception: Mobile phone/cell phone reception is limited on the journey although you'll have good reception in Te Anau. I recommend downloading offline maps before you go.
  7. Take your time: Again, this is one of the most scenic driving routes you'll find in New Zealand. The drive offers truly epic views as soon as you get out of Queenstown and pass Lake Wakatipu. In the Fiordlands, there are amazing waterfalls and scenic spots as well so make sure you allow for plenty of time.
Kea bird on a car mirror in new zealand
Beware of the cheeky kea birds!

What to Expect from a Cruise Through Milford Sound

Undoubtedly, visitors can get the best views of Milford Sound from the deck of one of the many cruise boats. If you're taking the day trips mentioned above, this is included.

Here's what you can expect:

  • Stunning Scenery: Expect to be awestruck by the towering cliffs and dense rainforests. Mitre Peak, rising over a mile straight up from the water, is a sight you won't forget.
  • Waterfalls: Rain or shine, waterfalls like Stirling and Bowen Falls are majestic. Rain often brings out hundreds more, all over the side of the cliffs, making the scenery even more spectacular. I've been on this cruise both on a clear day and during heavy rainfall. While both are beautiful, in my opinion it is more epic in the rain!
  • Wildlife Encounters: Keep your eyes peeled for seals basking on the rocks, while I haven't seen them, my tour guide Ben told us that you can often see them in the in the water, as well as the rare Fiordland crested penguins.
  • Ever-changing Weather: Fiordland's weather is famously unpredictable. It can be sunny one moment and rainy the next, so pack layers and waterproof gear! The boat also usually drives right beneath the towering Bowen Falls, which means you'll get soaked if you're on the deck!
  • Narration by the Crew: Most cruises offer commentary, providing insights into the sound’s history, geology, and wildlife.
  • Access to Remote Areas: The cruise takes you to parts of the sound that are otherwise inaccessible, including the mouth of the fjord at the edge of the Tasman Sea.
  • Photography Opportunities: For photographers like myself, the ever-changing light and scenery offer endless opportunities for capturing breathtaking shots. This is one of my favourite places for photography in New Zealand.
Milford sound and the west fjords 9
Seels relaxing on milford sound
Milford sound cruise

What is the Best Time to Visit Milford and the Fiordlands?

Milford Sound is usually on the list of most visiting New Zealand's South Island. However, is there really a best time to go to Milford Sound? With a mean annual rainfall of nearly 6500 mm (252 inches), it's recognised as the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand. It is also one of the wettest in the whole world!

Most people that visit Milford Sound from Queenstown experience at least a little bit of rain. In saying that, a few showers on your cruise down the Sound will excite those looking to witness the endless flow of temporary waterfalls.

Milford sound from queenstown waterfall and rainbow

While it is quite wet all year round, the hottest months are in Summer, from January to February. During this time, temperatures can get up to 27 degrees Celsius. The cooler Winter months drop as low as 15 degrees Celsius.

Due to the consistent rainfall and moderate heat, there isn't the best time to visit Milford Sound. It totally depends on what you want to see. Personally, I prefer the Spring months for better hiking opportunities on the South Island.

Milford sound waterfalls
Glaciers in the westfjords

Staying at Milford Sound Overnight from Queenstown

If you want to make the most of your visit to Milford Sound from Queenstown, consider staying the night! There are a few options available. Below I'll offer the best ones.

Milford sound lodge, new zealand south island

1. Milford Sound Lodge Luxury

Encapsulated by mountains with spectacular views of the surrounding waterfalls and offering a free breakfast it is hard to beat.

Tasman holiday parks, te anau

2. Tasman Holiday Parks Te Anau

Offering large apartment-style rooms, a hot tub and sauna, and only a 5-minute walk from Te Anau center. Perfect for those heading to Milford Sound for a day trip.

Milford sound overnight cruise, new zealand

3. Milford Sound Overnight Cruise Unique

The most unique overnight experience floating around Milford Sound. With a chance to spot local wildlife whilst indulging in a 3-course dinner.

Plan a Trip to New Zealand

Still organising your trip to New Zealand? If you prefer independent travel like me, read my guide on how to plan a trip to New Zealand. Alternatively, check out the useful resources below that I use to plan all my trips around the world for the past 5 years of non-stop travel.

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Flights: Find & compare flight deals to New Zealand using Skyscanner. Use the "search by month" feature to discover the cheapest day to fly.

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Hotels: Travelers will find the best hotel deals in New Zealand by booking online on Booking.com or Expedia. I recommend using the map feature to find the best places to stay on the North or South Island.

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Hostels: When it comes to scoring epic deals on hostels and cheap stays your secret weapon is Hostelworld. NZ is a great place for backpackers. Use the “See Who's Going” function to see who's staying in your dorm!

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Travel Insurance: HeyMondo is my top recommendation for travel insurance for New Zealand. They've got your back with comprehensive coverage, from unexpected flight hiccups to those "oops" moments. Click the link to get 5% OFF your policy.

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Internet & Connectivity: Stay connected as soon as you land in NZ with Airalo's eSIMS. Download their app and grab an eSIM from the comfort of your own home, even before you board the plane. No more frantic searches for local SIM cards when you arrive. They work well on both islands.

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Tours & Unique Experiences: Use GetYourGuide and Viator to plan ahead and lock in those must-see experiences & tours. So, whether you want to see Milford Sound or check out the Hobbiton movie set, these two sites have got you covered.

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Car Rental: Don't overpay for a rental at the airport. Compare rental car prices across all dealerships in New Zealand with DiscoverCars. For campervan rentals, I've had good experiences with Travellers Autobarn.

To learn more about independent travel to anywhere else in the world, read my ultimate step-by-step guide on how to plan a trip.

More New Zealand Travel Guides and Adventure Inspiration

I hope that you have enjoyed this quick guide on how to experience Milford Sound from Queenstown. If you're travelling in New Zealand and interested in finding some more travel and adventure inspiration, please check out some of my other blog posts below.

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Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure travel journalist & photographer. Traveling non-stop since 2018, I've published over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. These draw on my personal experience to share unique itineraries, accommodation tips, & fun adventure guides covering hikes, viewpoints, beaches, waterfalls, & tours. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.

Your feedback & updates are crucial to keep my guides factual & current. Got new info or updates? Drop a comment below or contact me directly.

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