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Guest Case Study: Milford Sound for a family.

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During the past week we had an enquiry from a couple with two children from Queensland, Australia who are making the journey to New Zealand in March, 2024. Flying into Christchurch, they are hiring a rental car for two weeks and driving down the middle of the South Island, taking in Tekapo, Mount Cook, Wanaka, Queenstown and of course Te Anau & Milford Sound at the close of their holiday. As Guest Experience Manager I had the pleasure of spending some time with "Jane" over our live website chat planning out the Te Anau & Milford portion. They were kind enough to lend their planning to me as a great example of a case study.

"We can't decide between touring Milford Sound from Queenstown or Te Anau."

My first response was - "I have a three year old and a restless husband, trust me when I say that last thing you want as a family is nine hours of your day tour to be travelling in a vehicle".

The Milford Road

We are big fans of touring Milford Sound from Te Anau, instead of Queenstown, if this is an option for you. You have to take into consideration things like flight timing if you have to leave from Queenstown soon after your tour, but if not then it is really like for like staying in Queenstown or Te Anau for the night before your tour. In almost all situations, you have to have accommodation the night before your Milford Sound tour and the night after, we say it should be in Te Anau. This is for several key reasons, all of which applied to Jane & her family:

  • The drive time from Te Anau to Milford Sound without stops is about 1:45-hours, versus 4-hours from Queenstown. With all the great photo stops along the way to enjoy, this goes out to about 3:45-hours from Te Anau and 6-hours from Queenstown.

  • It is a big day for anyone, let alone children. The total tour with stops from Queenstown is 13-hours, of which about 10-hours is spent on the road. For Te Anau, this drops to 6-hours total on the Milford road return.

  • Accommodation is cheaper in Te Anau on average than Queenstown, about $100 less per night in like for like.

  • Yes you will need to drive through to Te Anau and this will cost you about an extra $100 return, however a tour from Queenstown instead of Te Anau will be approximately $50 more per person, in this case it was about $180 for Jane's family.

  • Te Anau is a beautiful, picturesque lakeside township, surrounded by stunning mountains & scenery.

For Jane, they wanted to do some other child friendly activities during this trip of which Te Anau provides some perfect options such as the Te Anau Glowworm Caves. More on that soon.

I asked them why don't you want to drive yourself into Milford Sound, the answer was simply - "we have seen the photos of the scenery, we just want to be able to focus on that and we are not used to narrow roads like the Milford Road".

The Milford Road can often be taken for granted. Just a few weeks ago, our team was out taking photos of Mirror Lakes & the Eglinton Valley. On the way we were passed by a vehicle on a completely blind corner, but what made it worse was when they pulled out to pass their right hand side tyres went off the road into the gravel. It was a miracle that an accident didn't happen.

The narrowness and winding aspect of the Milford Road often catches people out, hence it having it one of the higher accident rates proportionally in New Zealand.

Which Milford Sound tour to do?

This was an interesting on because when Jane & I discussed the options of which tour to choose from our list of Luxe Tour's options, they were stuck between our Milford Sound Day Tour, and our Day Tour including a Helicopter Tour. I questioned further, assuming it was more of a budgeting decision but it was actually that the weekend following this was their 15th wedding anniversary and they wanted to add in the helicopter tour, however didn't want to take their children with them on this part. I couldn't help but giggle a bit, knowing that feeling of searching for just a 30-min break, especially to celebrate something like 15-years!

I don't like to talk about our tours too much but it is difficult with a case study to avoid it. The great thing about our helicopter add-on is that it is built into the timeframe of our normal Milford Sound Day Tour. Following your cruise in Milford Sound, we drop you off at Milford Airport and within 15-mins you will be in the air heading out to Mt Tutoko Glacier for a on-ice landing, an incredible experience. Meanwhile, our tour coach continues on back down the Milford Road, only for your helicopter to land beside us further down the road after about 30-mins. It doesn't drag the day out too much and gives you a break from the driving for a bit, the remaining journey back to Te Anau being about 1:10-hours. But what was the complication? Their children of course - can they continue back in the coach on their own? The answer in this case was yes. Jane's children are 14 & 11 so we were happy for them to continue on with the rest of the tour group until we meet again at the helicopter landing.

Second part: Things to do in Te Anau?

Jane didn't want to just come for the Milford Sound tour, their plan was to spend to arrive into Te Anau from Queenstown by 3pm on the first day. The second day would be their Milford tour, then stay another night and do some activities around Te Anau on the third day. One more night and then drive back through to Twizel the following day. So a total of three nights in Te Anau, of which the accommodation cost would be approximately $660 as they had chosen a three bedroom AirBNB to stay in.

Jane asked for recommendations of what to do in Te Anau. Thinking about their children's ages, for me it was easy - the Te Anau Glowworm Caves is a great start. If their children were under five years of age then I wouldn't always recommend the Caves as obviously it is completely dark in places and can get a bit scary for young children. In this case it was a no brainer, do the Glowworm Caves in the morning, be back for lunch and then a couple of other things to do if they wanted.

Luxe Tours has a package that includes the 2.5-hour Te Anau Glowworm Caves tour in it, as well as the helicopter for mum & dad, but at this point we are at the limit of what Luxe can specifically book/offer however we are locals of Te Anau and I was more than happy to suggest some very family friendly acitivies. In the end we landed on hiring e-bikes and riding the Fiordland Trails track south alongside the Waiau River for an hour, and then finally the Escape Room in town. These are affordable options after a decent spend on their main tours to Milford Sound & the Glowworm Caves.

One of the comments that Jane made was the ease of being able to talk it out with a human at the other end! Although a lot of processes are automated in the background of our booking software, every single order is still checked and typically has some work to do such as accounting for dietary requirements or special requests.

In this case, Jane & her husband wanted to do the Te Anau Glowworm Caves slightly earlier than our standard 10:15am booking we do for that package. Easy! We can change this to anytime we like. When it comes to other packages we offer such as Doubtful Sound, we can also change times for this or even add in an overnight cruise somewhere. Our team will schedule each part in manually and then send you a confirmation, ensuring it all runs smoothly.

This is the advantage of a locally & family owned tour, however I have also found other operators to be very accommodating also with their bookings and creating great experiences for guests, so don't panic if we are not the right fit for you!

The final result?

After about 20-mins of talking and working through times on our live online chat, Jane & I booked in the following:

Jane & her family will travel with Luxe Tours for their Milford Sound day, then make their own way to the Te Anau RealNZ Visitor Centre the next day for their Glowworm Caves departure. We also provided them with instructions & a map to get their bikes and enjoy the Escape Room. Between you and I, we have also taken note of the wedding anniversary and let's see what happens on the day ;)

Total Costs for their Milford Sound & Te Anau experience

Te Anau

All up with what Jane booked through us, the final cost was $2,294. This gives them about 11 total hours of touring Milford, their cruise, the helicopter & the Caves. When you add in their accommodation, a bit of fuel to Te Anau and their food costs, I estimate their total cost to be around $3,300 - $3,500.

A common belief is that touring Milford Sound from Te Anau will be more expensive than Queenstown because of having to travel to Te Anau first. Fuel for this extra drive will be about $80 - $120 return depending on fuel prices at the time, however this will well and truly be offset by the difference in accommodation prices.

Jane & her family are spending three nights in Te Anau and two nights in Queenstown total - I think this is the perfect balance. When it comes to touring Milford Sound, our strong recommendation is to do it from Te Anau. It is such a more relaxed day, less tiring, less risk and more time for truly enjoying the scenery or "indulging yourself in nature" as we say.

If you would like to discuss similar options with me then you can email me directly at or feel free to start a live chat with us on our website here 👉

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