This post – Real Journeys Milford Sound Scenic Boat Cruise – is part of our series of posts on experiencing Fiordland National Park.
Fiordland National Park: by Land, Sea, and Air
Read an introduction to Fiordland National Park and options for experiencing Fiordland National Park by Land, Sea, and Air here.
Or, skip to one of our other Fiordland National Park travelogue posts:
- Milford Sound Road: Self-Drive
- Real Journeys Doubtful Sound Scenic Boat Cruise
- Fiordland Helicopters: Dusky & Doubtful Sound Heli Experience
- Routeburn Track Tramp
Our Fiordland National Park Story
We were headed to Fiordland National Park in early February 2020, concurrent with an extreme rainfall event. Between February 1st and February 4th Milford Sound received 1124 mm of rain – 16% of its normal annual rainfall! The first-ever Red Severe Weather Warning was issued, a State of Emergency declared, almost 400 people were stranded, and 440km of walking track were destroyed.
Needless to say, our Routeburn Track walk booked to start February 15, 2020 was cancelled as the track was damaged beyond repair for the season. The Milford Sound Road was also closed for the foreseeable future. We attempted to visit Doubtful Sound instead but that kayak/camp adventure was also thwarted due to extreme weather.
However, as luck would have it, and due to the 2020 coronavirus outbreak we were still in New Zealand well past our original planned departure date of May 2020. THANK YOU NEW ZEALAND. So, in July 2020 and again in September 2020, we headed back to Fiordland National Park. And we can’t wait to visit again.
Milford Sound: Getting There
Milford Sound is the most popular and most accessible destination within Fiordland National Park. It is the only fjord accessible by road and is famous for its cascading waterfalls on the steep, glacially-carved cliffs that surround the 16km of the sound out to the Tasman Sea.
Milford Sound is located at the end of Milford Road (State Highway 94): an alpine drive of two hours without stopping from Te Anau. Because you’ll want to stop at the viewing points and perhaps do some of the walks along the route we’d recommend planning to spend a full day (or more!) driving the Milford Road as a self-drive if weather permits. Once you’re at Milford Sound the best way to experience the sound itself is by taking a scenic cruise.
However, another great option is a coach + cruise combination package. This takes the stress out of driving the Milford Sound Road so that you can properly enjoy the gorgeous surroundings without driving distractions whilst still stopping at a few of the more popular viewpoints. There are a number of operators of day and overnight packages catering to all types of tourists.
Milford Sound Road: Coach + Scenic Cruise
Scenic coach + cruise packages are available with departures from both Te Anau and Queenstown. Keep in mind that Queenstown is an additional 2 hrs drive each way.
After driving part of the Milford Sound Road, we opted for a Real Journeys coach + cruise package departing from Te Anau during our July 2020 visit.
Our driver provided insightful commentary and our glass-roofed coach stopped at the following spots, in northbound order from Te Anau Downs to Milford Sound:
TIP: The glass-roof and large side windows of the coach were stellar! Be sure you check that your tour operator has a similar set-up as this made a big difference.
Eglinton Valley Lookout
A brief stop for a Lord of the Rings photo op in an alpine valley carved by glaciers.
Mirror Lakes Viewpoint
A favorite stop of mine for super reflective images of the mountains in Mirror Lake on a calm day. There are a number of viewpoints along a boardwalk on this 10 min return walk.
Pop’s View Lookout & Monkey Creek
Quick stops for photo ops. You’ll often find kea (alpine parrots) hanging out in these locations.
TIP: See photos and read more about other recommended stops on a Milford Sound Road self-drive experience here.
After arriving at the end of the Milford Road, we immediately boarded our boat to head out on the water of Milford Sound for our 2 hr scenic cruise.
Upon boarding, a lunch of fish and chips or soup and a roll was served. We then headed outside on the deck for better views of Milford Sound, Mitre Peak, and the surrounding mountains.
FUN FACT: Although we didn’t see any sea-life, the waters of Fiordland are home to mammals and birds such as bottlenose dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, and Fiordland crested penguins. Milford Sound is classified as a Marine Reserve to protect the sea-life within Fiordland.
Our mid-July weather was cold but the sun was shining. This allowed for us to spend most of the time on the top deck without freezing but next time we’d love to visit in the rain to be surrounded by thousands of cascades.
Once we returned to shore, we would have liked to have had time to explore the harbour and gaze at the views of Mitre Peak and Milford Sound from land. Next time!
New Zealand Planning and Resources
If you’re planning for your vacation or holiday in New Zealand, more resources – including our trip map with points of interest and camping spots – can be found in our New Zealand planning and resources post.
Our travelogue and the details of our day-to-day activities can be found in our New Zealand itinerary and travelogue post.
travel dates: July 15, 2020
last updated: 27-Jul-2021