One day just isn’t enough to experience all the roadside gems, scenic tracks and nature-based activities in this iconic destination.
Milford Sound (Piopiotahi in Te Reo Maori) is commonly known as one of the wettest places in the world. With 182 days of rain per year this place gets hammered, but don’t let that put you off! In our opinion Milford Sound is best experienced in moody conditions as this is when the place really comes to life. With towering mountain ranges, cascading waterfalls, crystal blue rivers and some of the best hikes in the country, let’s just say if you don’t add it to your bucket list you’re missing out big time!
Also a little fun fact for you – Milford Sound is actually a fjord. A sound is formed by the flooding of a river valley, while a fjord is a valley formed by glaciers that later filled with seawater when the glaciers melted. So technically this makes Milford a fjord and not a sound, but Milford Fjord just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?
Where is Milford Sound?
The fjord is located in the deep south of New Zealand’s South Island in Fiordland National Park. There is only one road in and out and boy is it a goodie!! Te Anau is the closest town and the last stop before you get onto the Milford Road. This is where we’d recommend fuelling up and buying all your groceries. If you get stuck there is the option of buying food from the Milford Sound Lodge Restaurant (we highly recommend a meal here, the food is great) or the information centre.
A heads up, you do have to pay for parking in Milford Sound. It’s $20 for 5 hours (at the time of writing). Also make sure to pick up a can of insect repellant here too… or maybe two cans. The sandflies are bad at any time of the year.
Many people choose to stay in Queenstown and do a day trip into Milford Sound. The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound will take three hours alone, meaning you get barely any time to actually enjoy the sights inside the park. If all you have is a day to explore, we’d recommend you stay in Te Anau or Te Anau Downs the night before, just to give you a little extra time to really enjoy yourself.
What to do on the road to Milford Sound
The Milford Road is a destination in itself and you could easily spend days just exploring the roadside stops. They say allow two hours for the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound but I think the quickest we’ve managed to do it in was five hours. There’s no way you can just drive past all the beauty without stopping! So without further ado, here’s a list of the spots you shouldn’t miss on the drive in.
Mirror Lakes: You can probably tell from the name that this is a photographer’s dream spot. A beautiful little pond that reflects the mountains perfectly on a calm day.
Eglinton Valley: An epic mountain viewpoint and a great place to pull over for a picnic.
Falls Creek: A super powerful waterfall on the side of the road.
Monkey Creek: A great place to take in Milford Sound’s tallest mountain Mount Tutoko.
Lake Gunn: THE BEST. Definitely our favourite roadside stop. The lake itself is stunning and there is also a loop track through the moss-covered beech forest.
The Homer Tunnel: A scary, dark, wet tunnel that you aren’t sure if you’ll make it out of. That all adds to the fun though!
Lake Marian: A super fun 3-hour return hike up to the most stunning alpine lake. This isn’t for everyone. The hike is pretty gnarly and involves a lot of climbing. It can get really slippery and muddy so it definitely isn’t one to drag the whole family up.
The Chasm: A series of waterfalls gushing through a chasm. The power of the water is seriously impressive! And the colour of the water…..oh my god. The beautiful blue colour will make you want to jump straight in. We did… it was freezing but oh so worth it.
Milford Sound Lodge: The only accommodation options in the park are camping at the DOC sites along the road, or staying at the Milford Sound Lodge which is located right next to the foreshore. We had the best time staying here and truly think it’s worth the price for how easy it is to explore the rest of the area.
What to do in Milford Sound
These are our picks for activities, hikes and little spots along the foreshore to explore.
Sunrise or sunset at the Milford Sound Foreshore: The lighting here, no matter the weather, is magical. It’s a photographer’s dream location and we’ve always found at dusk and dawn that we have the whole place to ourselves.
Foreshore Walk: The foreshore walk is a super easy 15 minute loop track that takes you from the carpark to a lookout point where you get the best views of the famous Mitre Peak. Wander along the foreshore to your right to get a little closer to the Lady Bowen Falls.
The Milford Swing: The best photo spot and a favourite for the kiddies. Also whoever decided to put that swing up is a genius. The swing alone is a reason that attracts people to Milford, maybe we have Instagram to thank for that.
Cruise or kayak: A really great way to see Milford Sound is via a boat cruise or kayak cruise. The boat will take you out to the Tasman Sea before turning and coming back in. You’ll most likely see dolphins, seals and even penguins. Let’s just hope you don’t see a seal having a penguin breakfast like we did! 🙁
Milford Track One Day Experience: If you’re not familiar with the Milford Track, it’s one of New Zealand’s most famous Great Walks. It’s usually done as a four day tramp but it can be super-hard to book as the huts fill up within minutes of the online bookings system opening each year. But the good news is you can now experience a section of this great walk in one day by taking a water taxi. Check out our blog to find out more.
The Lookout Track: This track begins just behind the visitor centre cafe in Milford Sound near the car park. It’s a short super easy stroll up some stairs to a lookout point with stunning views.
The Perfect Three Day Milford Sound Itinerary
So now you have an idea of how much there is to see and do, in an ideal world you’ve set aside three days to explore. We also highly recommend travelling in a campervan to give you the freedom to stop when you want, and so you can sleep inside the park. The campsites along the road are some of the best so it’s well worth planning your trip properly to get the most out of it.
Check your Campermate app for all your campground options. Our favourites are Cascade Creek and Deer Flat.
Day One: If you’re coming from Queenstown or Te Anau, either way day one is for as many road side stops as you can fit in. You could hit Mirror Lakes, Eglinton Valley, Falls Creek and Lake Gunn during the daytime, then walk up to Lake Marian for an evening or sunset mission. For those who don’t want to do a big hike, sunset at Lake Gunn would be perfect. The closest campground to both of these lakes is Cascade Creek. Spend the night here and go to sleep listening to the waterfalls running down the cliff sides.
Day Two: Watch the sunrise at the Cascade Creek Campsite then head to the foreshore with a little stop off at Monkey Creek and the Chasm on the way. Jump on a kayak or boat cruise during the middle of the day, and be sure to book this in advance.
The cruises take around two hours. Spend the rest of the afternoon wandering along the foreshore and pop up to the lookout point for a sunset. Grab a beer and book a night (in advance) in the campground at the Milford Sound Lodge. Alternatively, if you’re wanting to treat yourself, they have beautiful chalets you can spend the night in.
Day Three: Wake up early and watch the sunrise at either the foreshore or Deepwater Basin. Deepwater Basin is the car park right next to the lodge and where the water taxi for the One Day Milford Track will depart from. Book in for the early water taxi at 8:30 and enjoy the Milford Track and the Giants Gates Falls (the highlight of the hike) for the morning before being picked up between 12:30pm and 1:30pm.
Unfortunately your time in Milford Sound has now come to an end but don’t worry, you get to experience the epic Milford road for a second time on your way out!
Tips + Things to remember
- Drive safely. The road can get really icy in winter.
- Check the weather. Storms are frequent so the road closes often from fallen trees etc.
- Take thermals even in the middle of summer.
- There is no phone coverage unless you use the wifi at the lodge.
- INSECT REPELLANT
We have no doubt your Milford Sound trip will be something you’ll be talking about for years to come. Enjoy your time and as always Toitu Te Whenua – Leave The Land Undisturbed.