So you’ve discovered Fiordland national park and realised the star of the main attraction is Milford Sound – and now you’re curious to know what are all the best things to do in Milford sound?
This national park is home to all kinds of amazing attractions, some of which are the best there are on the south island of New Zealand – it’s figuring them out that can be a little tricky.
Overwhelmingly massive mountain peaks with cascading waterfalls numbering in the tens of thousands during the rainy months, we’ve created this guide on all the epic places to see in Milford sound and beyond to help you avoid the tourist trap.
The south west part of the island receives almost 7 metres of rainfall in just ver 200 days of the year, so don’t fret if you get a little wet- it’s all part of the experience and its even more beautiful when this happens, trust us!
Laura and I visited Milford Sound earlier this year and although we didn’t get to do everything we’ve mentioned, this is an exhaustive list of what we think will make your time in Milford Sound incredible.
READ NEXT: Before you keep reading make sure you first check out our guide on the 27 best things to do in Queenstown
18 epic things to do in milford sound
Milford Sound lies within the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO world heritage national park in the south west corner of south island.
The easiest way to access Milford is by basing yourself in Te Anau and driving along the Te Anau- Milford highway; there’s only one road in and out.
When visiting Milford Sound you should ideally allow for a week to completely immerse yourself in this gorgeous world heritage site.
There’s plenty of walking tracks, overnight cruises and free things to do in milford sound.
1) Enjoy a Milford Sound Cruise
Did you really visit Milford sound if you didn’t do a milford sound cruise?
One of the best attractions in Milford Sound is to join a nature cruise through the stunning fiords (they are in fact fiords and not sounds) past beautiful stops like Lady Bowen falls, Stirling falls and even get the chance to see some unique and rare New Zealand native birds.
We chose to go with Real NZ tour operator at the time because others were not running as frequently but we would suggest going with Southern discoveries for an all inclusive package.
2) MIlford Foreshore Walk
After you’ve finished your nature cruise through Milford Sound you can unwind and stretch your legs on a walking track called the Milford foreshore walk.
One of the best free things to do in milford sound is to walk this 400m loop track from the visitor car park at the base of the lake.
Start by walking left facing the falls and you will find a mostly paved path that leads to some awesome views of Mitre Peak as well as Lady Bowen falls.
On this section of the track is where you will also run into the popular Milford swing – basically a wooden plank with rope tied around it where visitors swing in front of the falls with incredible views over the lake.
It’s also the exact place where Laura and I got engaged!
3) Go for a Kayak
Fully immerse yourself in raw nature of New Zealand’s iconic landscapes by joining a milford sound kayaking tour.
This is an incredible way to get up close and personal with the shearing cliff faces of the fiords, the pristine waters of the Tasman sea and potentially seeing rare yellow crested penguins.
Start your journey at the kayak pontoon where you’ll start a relaxing kayak down to Harrison cove through the glacial fed waters.
Another great option is to do a combined cruise and kayak tour that runs for approximately 4-5 hours of the day.
It starts with a cruise through Milford Sound, followed by a visit to the underwater observatory where you’ll explore the history, geology and wildlife of Milford Sound, followed by your kayaking adventure.
No experience is necessary and they even use automated lifts for ease of entry and exit from the kayak.
4) Milford Sound scenic flights
One of the best ways to see Milford Sound (and other parts of New Zealand for that matter) is by taking a scenic flight where you will have views of hundreds of waterfalls, the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea as it winds its way through the fiord system.
One of the most popular activities in Milford Sound is to fly from Queenstown into Milford Sound, crossing beautiful backcountry mountain ranges directly into Fiordlands.
Whilst there are plenty of scenic flight packages to choose from, the two main options are either via a fixed wing flight which can be coupled with a nature cruise, or a Helicopter trip that lands on multiple glaciers in the region.
If these incredible day trips are not within your budget then we still highly recommend a coach, cruise and flight package from our friends at Get Your Guide.
5) Lady Bowen Falls viewpoint
This is one walking track that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves but is really spectacular.
This is the first waterfall you will clearly see when you arrive at the large car park before you walk to the boat docks, but what you won’t know is that you can catch a purpose built boat from the wharf to the base of lady bowen falls for $10NZD.
The boat ride crosses the basin for 120m before dropping hikers off to begin the 162m climb with iconic views of Mitre peak in the distance.
The entire hike should only take around 30 minutes to complete, with a photo opportunity at the very top.
Make your way through native bush to the top of the peak and see what most tourist never see.
(As of 2022 the New Zealand DOC has closed the track due to the unavailability of boats)
6) Stargazing at Milford Sound
If you’re wondering what to do in Milford sound once the sun goes down, head down to the foreshore walking track and admire the night sky over the fiords and watch the milky way rise above the mountains.
The southern hemisphere during the winter months is the best time to catch stars and galaxies but a few things have to come together to have the best opportunity.
A clear night with no light pollution is required, which just so happens to be easy to achieve. next you will want to wait for a new moon – when the sky is pitch black and the moon doesn’t distract from the stars.
We use a bunch of different apps to help us predict time and location to help us plan for the best shot possible, apps like PhotoPills are awesome at this.
You can choose to drive this route on a late evening/afternoon or spend an overnight at Milford sound lodge- the only accommodation in Milford Sound.
7) Milford Sound Lodge
An incredible forest accommodation that sits on the banks of the Cleddau river is this one of a kind (and literally only) accommodation within the Milford Sounds region.
Milford sound lodge offers a range of varying chalets with garden views and waterfalls all around as well as powered/non-powered campervan sites within the forest, it really is one of the best places to stay in Milford Sound- and all of the country.
Laura and myself stayed here for a night on the day we got engaged and we cannot rate this place highly enough.
It’s only 1.5km away from the Milford foreshore and easily accessible off the Milford highway.
Your next closest accommodation is in Knobbs flat (55 km away), otherwise we would recommend staying in Te Anau.
Enjoy a beautiful and delicious dinner in their Pio Pio restaurant, or sit and read a good book in the common room with a kitchenette attached, you won’t want to miss out on staying here for a night or two.
Prices start for as little as $60NZD through to $700NZD per night depending on the style of accommodation, or add an activity package onto your stay.
8) Overnight cruises through the Fiords
Whilst we didn’t have it in the schedule to enjoy an overnight cruise it’s said to be one of the most fun activities in milford sound!
If you enjoyed the star gazing from the other night then you will really love this one.
Stay the night on board the Milford Marriner where you will wake up in between the beautiful Fiords, see the many waterfalls especially on a wet day, and admire the natural rainforest and wildlife.
Expect to pay around $500NZD per person with Real NZ, which includes a 3 course buffet by your on board chef, an expert nature guide and your choice of kayaking or heading out on a small boat activity.
If an overnight cruise doesn’t fit into your time schedule or budget than why not consider this 2 day trip from Queenstown into Fiordland national park.
READ NEXT: Our 2022 Guide to the Best Things to do in Queenstown
9) Underwater Observatory at Milford sound
The underwater observatory is a unique attraction in Milford Sound and one of only a handful that we know of in the world.
Visitors here get to observe the marine life from a viewing platform under the Tasman Sea, but only a handful of tour operators venture out to this area.
Dolphins, starfish, snake stars and even rare black coral which is only ever really found at depths of more than 50m call the Tasman sea home.
This tour run by southern discoveries is your best choice for a boat trip to the underwater observatory for under $100NZD.
10) Hike the Milford Track
As part of New zealand’s 10 Great walks, the Milford Track is world famous for allowing hikers to traverse through diverse natural landscapes of Fiordlands.
One of the most popular things to do in milford sound, the DOC operates the three 3 huts along the 53.5 km one way track across 4 days.
The huts on the track are what sell out quickly as there is no camping anywhere so booking in advance is essential – look here to book your tickets!
Alternatively you can opt to do a half day guided tour of the Milford Track which is just as fun and you still get to see what the walk is like – but bring good walking shoes!
11) Visit the Te Anau glow worms
Hidden gems await visitors and tourists to the western shores of Lake Te Anau glow worms, in this impressive underwater cave system, 12,000 years in the making.
One of only a handful of glow worm caves on the south island, glow worms are actually fly larvae which glow in the dark to catch small insects.
They shine bright blue, most easily seen in the pitch black of dark caves and easily make for a fun activity in Milford Sound.
There are only 9 species of glow worms and they exist only in New Zealand and Australia.
They can be found along the Milford track in certain spots but the best way to see them is by joining a guided tour of the glow worm caves like this one.
A small boat trip into the grotto of the caves inside the limestone passages are where the glow worms call home.
You could easily do the Milford sound cruise and caves in one day, then relax in the afternoon at your beautiful Te Anau accommodation.
12) Hike the Milford sound lookout track
Not to be confused with the Milford foreshore walk, this 400m return loop takes you behind the cafe in front of two brown buildings towards Donald Sutherland’s grave where you will find the trailhead.
To the left is a brown hedge, but continue around this to the edge of the bush before reaching a set of stairs that will take you to a higher vantage point where you can see Milford sound in all its glory.
Most never do this hike because they don’t know it exists so if it’s a nice day, don’t forget to try this one.
For those that want to attempt the Milford track you will need to pre-book your tickets to secure your spot; the Milford sound lookout track however needs to ticket to enter and is a super easy climb which is why this is one of the best walking tracks in Milford Sound.
13) Meet a Kea
Spotting a cheeky kea in the national park should not be a problem – they love people, and stealing their food even more.
Kea birds are a New Zealand native alpine parrot that call Fiordlands home.
They’re currently a protected species and their numbers are making a return to normal thanks to the Department of Conservation.
Beautiful colours of green, orange, blue and grey with long, sharp beaks, Kea birds like to roam around the entrance to Homer tunnel and amongst the people at Milford Sound.
They live all along Milford road, doubtful sound and regularly visit Milford lodge too.
In our personal opinion we felt truly lucky to interact with one of these Kea’s which is why we think it’s one of the best things you can do in Milford Sound.
The DOC’s kea database have a website set up where each bird is identified and tracked to help keep them safe.
14) Drive the Milford road
Undoubtedly the best part about being in Fiordlands is the drive to Milford Sound itself, and boy is it impressive.
State highway 94 (SH94) technically runs from the town of Gore to Milford sound, however tourists and locals refer to it geographically as beginning in Te Anau and finishing in Milford sound, as this is the most impressive sections of the entire road.
Winding its way through the glacial-carved mountains and valleys, pass thick native bush and alpine lakes and waterfalls, the Maori people once used this path as a way of getting deep into the bush to hunt for Pounamu.
Stop by Lake Marian or attempt the Lake Gunn nature walk on your drive through native beech forest.
Mirror lakes has to be one of our favourite places to see on the Milford sound road as the mountain backdrop reflects perfectly onto the water below.
Other incredible places to stop along the way include Key Summit, the Chasm, Monkey Creek one of the many permanent waterfalls like Humboldt falls near the Hollyford track trail head.
15) Go scuba diving for black coral
Of all the fun attractions in Milford sound this is probably one you wouldn’t have expected.
Black Coral is a rare type of coral specific to new Zealand’s borders that actually looks white with sometimes showing a black central skeleton.
It grows relatively shallow to the fresh waters of the Fiords but they only true way to see this incredible marine creature is to go scuba diving with one of the dive operators in Milford Sound.
Descend Milford Sound operate dive packages in one of the most unique marine ecosystems on earth with the opportunity to see sharks, stingrays, eels, octopus and over 150 species of fish with their team of qualified divers.
Normally, black coral lives in the depths to avoid the sunlight. The fiords of MIlford sound however are the perfect mix of fresh water off the mountains, mixed with the saltwater of the Tasman Sea and the Fiords blocking the sunlight, these coral reefs flourish right here.
16) Stay for sunset at Milford Sound
Nothing is more impressive than seeing the sun go down over a UNESCO world heritage site.
The best place to view the sunset in our opinion is by the Milford Sound foreshore walk about half an hour before the sun goes down, enough time to see the sun go down and colours really pop.
If you feel like getting a whole new perspective on the sounds then why not take a chartered fixed wing flight or a helicopter tour high above the clouds!
Most of the companies don’t off sunset flight times, so we personally recommend the next best thing which is the sunrise flight schedule.
Companies like Glenorchy Air or Milford Air offer scenic flight packages, but to really see the most you possibly can in one day then we recommend this awesome flight/coach package from GetYourGuide.
If you still want to see more, then this full list of flight packages could be the one for you!
17) Permanent waterfalls of Milford Sound
You will often hear the term permanent waterfall being tossed around Milford Sound, this is because the national park is one of the wettest places on earth.
When it rains there are literally tens of thousands of waterfalls that form on the mountain faces making it so incredibly beautiful.
In contrast, waterfalls like Lady Bowen falls and stirling falls are always there every season and never disappear.
18) Doubtful Sound
This is a little bonus adventure we’ve decided to include in this guide as Doubtful Sound is obviously not Milford Sound, but is nonetheless as expansive and incredible as its northern cousin.
We heard many people tell us they preferred Doubtful over Milford, based on the remoteness, the variety of wildlife and activities you could do.
See for yourself and book a Doubtful Sound wilderness cruise, where you’ll need to catch a boat, drive and hike to get to this lost world!
One of the best things to do in Milford Sound is ironically outside of Milford, only 50 km as the crow flies south-west.
Where to stay in Milford Sound
If you’re looking to stay close to Milford Sound then your only option is to book a stay at the Milford Sound lodge, 1.5km away from the sounds.
Milford Sound lodge
If you’re travelling by campervan (a super popular travel mode in NZ) then the Milford sound rainforest campervan park is just for you.
Book powered sites for as little as $60NZ/night, and you may even be visited by a friendly Kea.
Other fantastic options include their garden view or mountain view chalets that go for $695NZD/night.
The great thing about staying here is they are only 2 hours from Te Anau and less than 5 minutes from the Milford Sound airport where you can take a scenic flight in and out of the park from Queenstown.
Mitre Peak lodge
This private accommodation is only available to guests doing the Milford or Routeburn guided hikes, so if you book your guided hiking tour then you are more than welcome to stay in this 4 star ultimate hikes private cabin.
Getting to Milford Sound
This is really simple.
If you’re travelling from Queenstown then you have a few options.
Do a self drive by hiring a car from a car rental company and take the Southern Scenic route to Te Anau for 171 km (2 hours). From there it’s another 118 km (1 hour 27 min) to Milford Sound.
Alternatively, you can fly from Queenstown in to Milford Sound ona fixed wing flight giving you breathtaking views over the mountain ranges.
Your third option is to purchase a Milford Coach tour that departs from Queenstown and takes you to all the stops along the way like the Eglinton valley, past Lake Gunn, Mirror lakes all the way to Milford Sound and back.
This will be a big day out so be prepared for lots of time on the bus.