Milford Sound is with no doubt one of the highlights of every New Zealand itinerary. The Fiordland National Park offers so many unique hikes where you can see how the natural power of water created the rugged landscape by carving out fiords and valleys. At the end of the scenic drive through the national park, a spectacular boat cruise through Milford sound is waiting. How to make the most out of 2 days at Milford Sound and how to avoid the big crowds?
Check the Weather Forecast for Milford Sound
The weather is most crucial for your trip to Milford Sound. With 200 days of rain on average per year you will most likely end up with a rainy day. But we hope you can manage to have at least one nice day with little rain so you can admire the beauty of the alpine landscape during your hikes. If you are lucky you will even have a clear day at Milford Sound, but don’t be disappointed if it rains as this is the real Fiordland experience. Plus the area looks spectacular during rain when thousands of waterfalls run down the steep cliffs. Plan ahead and try to catch a non-rain day for the hikes, but be prepared and bring rain-proof clothes.
Where to stay at Milford Sound?
We came from the Catlins and stayed one night in Manapouri at the Possum Lodge a cute green campsite next to lake Manapouri. From here you can take stroll along Fraser’s beach and the harbour to Doubtful Sound. Check the prices for Manapouri. Try to get up early to make the most out of your day on the way to Milford Sound.
At the end of the day you will arrive at Milford Sound and stay at Milford Sound Lodge. The facilities are all brand-new and during autumn time we also didn’t need a reservation for our camper van. If you go during high-season you should check in advance if they have some free spots available. We saw our first and only wild Kiwi bird at the Milford Sound Lodge during our whole New Zealand trip.
Which Hikes are the best on the Milford Highway?
The Milford Highway is a beauty in itself. The scenery on to way to Milford Sound will make you stop a fews times to takes beautiful pictures, just enjoy the incredible views and to do some hiking.
After starting out early from Manapouri or Te Anau, the first stop is the petrol station because there is no petrol station on the Milford Highway or at Milford Sound, so you need to fill up your tank and maybe also buy some more food if necessary. The drive will take about 3 hours. The road is in a very good condition, but you still need to be careful with all the buses, curves and maybe heavy rain.
First must-stop photo point is Mirror Lakes. The reflection of the mountains is very beautiful. You can’t miss the sign all highlights on the road all well marked. Continue your drive until you reach The Divide. Here is the starting point for the hike called “The Summit”. This beautiful route is part of the famous Routeburn track and starts out through the New Zealand rainforest leading upwards to the mountain top where the vegetation is quickly changing to an impressive alpine landscape. After reaching the top don’t stop, continue a bit further and take the the alpine walkway loop. You will find little likes and interesting vegetation. The mountain view is incredible. The clouds are just passing by over your head. The walk takes about 3 hours return and is manageable for every fitness level. Bring some food, water and warm clothes, it is quite windy and cold on the summit.
After your first hike continue on the highway for a stop at the Falls Creek waterfalls. It is easy to pass by so check your Google Maps or if you missed it do it the next day on the way back.
If you still have time, you can continue exploring the Marian Falls and the lake itself or do it the next day. Following the road you will soon come to the Homer Tunnel which allows road access to Milford Sound. This tunnel is 945 metres above sea level and didn’t change much since it was completed in 1953. You can only go through one way so the waiting time at the entrance can be quite long about 5 to 10 minutes. After passing the tunnel there is a view point, we stopped there and saw a Kea (the only alpine parrot). Just make sure you don’t miss it and better check on both times you pass that point.
We recommend to spend some time at Milford Sound apart from doing the cruise and do the nice Foreshore walk. It will only take about 30 mins or as long as you wish to enjoy the breathtaking scenery (or as long as you can stand the sandflies). The starting point is a the main visitor car park. It is really beautiful there you can just watch the boats coming in and out and take a spectacular Milford Sound picture. We had quite some fun with the swing on the way, we wanted to sit on it together and swing but somehow we were not in sync so the result was we both landed backwards in the sand. It must have looked hilarious. Don’t forget your Sandfly repellent.
If you should get hungry, the little Cafe at the visitor center has some vegan salads and like everywhere soy latte. If you want to read more detailed infos about the day walks and other infos about the Fiordland you can download the Fiordland National Park Day Walk Brochure here.
Which Cruise is the Best and Cheapest?
The biggest advantage of staying the night at Milford Sound or close to it at a campsite on the highway is that you can catch the first cruise which is the least crowded one and even better the cheapest. Jucy and Go Orange offer a 2 hour cruise along the fiord for 45 NZD including a breakfast. At all other times, the cruise is more like 90 NZD or more per person. So paying a little more for the camping site at Milford Sound really pays off. We decided to go for Go Orange because they told us they can offer a vegan breakfast and the boat was smaller. You can always get me with free food. The truth is the vegan breakfast was a joke, a salad leaf and a slice of tomato in bread. The tour was very nice and we could see that all the other boats did the same loop. The reality is that the much more expensive tour companies offer nothing more than the budget companies Jucy and Go Orange.
The highlight of the tour is how close you get to very impressive waterfalls the boat will go directly underneath so you can feel the force of the water falling down. During our cruise it rained part of the time but it was fine as it just created more waterfalls running down the walls of the fiord. Sometimes you can even see dolphins during the tour. We didn’t but we saw some seals playing in the water.
What to do Against the Nasty Sandflies?
Do you want to know who you can thank for the nasty sandflies in the Fiordland? According to a Maori legend the goddess of the underworld came to see Milford Sound and was so shocked by its beauty that she got worried that people will never want to leave this place again. So she came up with the idea to release sandflies. If you ever encountered sandflies before, by now you should get very worried. The most efficient way to avoid sandfly bites is to cover up your skin. However, you will still have neck and hands exposed and for these parts, you need to put insect repellent. Not all of them help against sandflies (DEET is useless) so buy the right stuff. We found a natural repellent made of natural oils like almond oil. It is called Goodbye Sandfly and we love that they are a member of the organisation 1% for the planet which means they contribute at least 1% of their annual sales to environmental causes. The repellent helped perfectly we didn’t get any bites, because we came prepared. Sandflies are everywhere in the Fiordland even already in Manapouri or Te Anu so better don’t leave your ankles uncovered. I saw a lot girls who had a lot bites around this area. Just put on socks, it doesn’t matter how it looks, you will thank yourself later. Sandfly bites itch and last for weeks.
Here is the map for your trip to Milford Sound. Just click on the top right corner and the map will open within Google Maps on your phone or desktop. Afterwards you can find this map saved in “My Maps” in your Google Maps Account. If you are in New Zealand just open the map and find all places easily.