top of page

Milford Sound in Winter - What is different?

Escape to the tranquillity of Milford Sound in Winter, where snowy peaks tower over glassy fiord waters and wildlife thrives in the quiet winter months. A trip to Milford Sound is an excellent choice for your New Zealand winter travel itinerary, and this article provides an overview of what you can expect from the snowy season in Milford Sound.

What is Milford Sound like in Winter? 

Winter in Milford Sound reveals a quieter, more tranquil side of the area, where visitors often report experiencing a profound sense of peace. The winter season brings a magical feel to Milford Sound, transforming it into a serene wonderland, often beneath a blanket of snow. 

The Milford Road in winter, Luxe Tours NZ

Quiet Driving

Part of what makes this time so peaceful in Milford Sound is the dramatic reduction in visitor numbers compared to warmer times of the year. Before even reaching Milford Sound, it's not uncommon to go half the day on Milford Road without seeing another vehicle. The quiet road makes the drive feel even more as if you are escaping into another world, made even more special by the snow often surrounding you. During the winter months, you’ll also often have most of the main stops, like the Mirror Lakes, entirely to yourself, allowing for ultimate absorption and appreciation. 

Milford Sound cruise in winter, Luxe Tours NZ

Quiet Cruising

In Milford Sound itself, the cruises are also incredibly quiet and peaceful in winter. For example, the Milford Haven, which Luxe partners with for our tour packages, goes from around 150 passengers per cruise trip in peak season down to around 70 per trip in winter. 

Milford Sound also puts on some of its most captivating shows in winter, where the surrounding waterfalls plunge into the dark waters, bringing snow down with them, making for an often enthralling sight in amongst the hushed quiet throughout the fiord. 

Book in Advance

Although it's very quiet in winter, it’s still important for you to book tours and cruises in advance, as there are fewer tour seats available in winter. Many tour drivers are on fixed contracts for the peak months, so there are often fewer tours and cruises running in the off-season. 

What is Te Anau like in Winter? 

Te Anau is the closest town to Milford Sound, making it a convenient base for visiting the iconic fiord. Staying in Te Anau is especially recommended in winter when there is snow and ice on the roads, so it's safest and easiest to travel to Milford Sound from Te Anau than from other common locations, like Queenstown. 

Te Anau in winter, Luxe Tours NZ

In winter, the lakefront town becomes a cosy haven nestled amidst white-topped mountain peaks that provide a picturesque backdrop to soak in the winter-time charm. Winter also brings the bonus of cheaper accommodation and easier bookings, so you’ll have a plethora of cosy and comfortable options for your enchanting winter escape. The often crisp, clear, winter days in Te Anau also provide excellent exploring conditions, while the chilly evenings offer the perfect excuse to cosy up by the fireplace with a hot drink. 

Milford Sound Winter Weather - What to Expect

Milford Sound in winter, Luxe Tours NZ

Fiordland National Park is famously one of the wettest places on Earth, experiencing an average of 200 rainy days every year. It’s also common to experience dramatic weather fluctuations during the day, especially in Milford Sound, but winter, surprisingly, brings the most settled weather conditions of the year. Crisp, cool air with clear blue skies is a common feature of winter days in Milford Sound. 

The official winter months in New Zealand are from June to August, but winter conditions often also extend to September. These months bring the coldest temperatures to Milford Sound, with the highest temperatures averaging 9.5 °C - 14°C and lowest temperatures averaging 2.1-1.5°C, sometimes below 0°C at night.

What to Wear in Winter

It will be cold, but as long as you layer up, you’ll enjoy your Milford Sound trip in comfort. A base layer with a jumper on top, followed by a warm, waterproof coat and a wooly hat to top it all off, is the perfect Milford Sound winter outfit to keep you cosy while you take in the views. The waterproof top layer is key because although winter weather in Milford is the most settled of the year, there is still a high chance of rain during any Milford Sound visit. 

Winter Wildlife Highlights 

Dolphins in Milford Sound

You may think that wildlife in Milford Sound would be hiding away and keeping warm during the winter months. However, the wildlife both in and around the fiord thrives during the winter, so you’ll still get plenty of opportunities to see the rare, unique creatures of the area. In fact, you’re more likely to see dolphins and whales on a Milford Sound Cruise during the winter, as they venture further in towards the land from the open ocean to take refuge in the more sheltered waters of the Fiord. Fur seals and penguins also continue to frequent the area in the winter, so you’ll never have a shortage of endearing creatures to observe going about their day. 

You’ll also see plenty of kea along Milford Road on your way to Milford Sound. Kea are alpine birds, so they prefer the colder temperatures and will likely make their way down to different tourist stops along Milford Road to indulge their curiosity and get some human interaction. Feisty and curious weka are also more likely to be out and about along Milford Road in winter, as they seem to be more confident and adventurous with fewer people around. 

Milford Sound in Winter - Photographer’s Paradise 

While Milford Sound provides wonderful photographs in any season, winter in Milford Sound offers photographers a uniquely stunning landscape to create spectacular imagery. The contrast of snow-capped peaks against the dark, reflective waters of the fiord creates a striking visual. Additionally, the often soft, diffused light of the occasional misty winter day adds a delicate touch to every scene, enhancing colours and textures while minimising harsh shadows. The mist and fog that sometimes linger in the air during winter months can add an element of mystery and drama to photographs, while crisp, sunny days provide amazing colours with brilliantly blue skies pairing excellently with the pristine, white mountain tops. The presence of wildlife, such as seals and dolphins are also enchanting subjects that bring life and movement to compositions. 

The Milford Road in winter, Luxe Tours NZ

Tour drivers know all the best photo stops along Milford Road in winter, helping ensure you can take full advantage of the extraordinary winter scenery. With fewer people around, you’ll also have an easier time taking photos, as you won’t have to wait for people to move away or for the best photo stops to clear out. And if you’re looking to capture your moment on the Insta-famous Milford Sound swing, then you’ll have plenty of time to create that perfect shot, as you won’t have to wait for lines of people all wanting their time with the swing. You’ll also have the magnificent Mitre Peak in the background, likely topped with snow, adding even more magic to your photo. 

Other Winter Activities

Te Anau Glowworm Caves

The Te Anau Glowworm Caves Tour is a must-do activity while you’re in the area, and because the cave adventure is primarily undercover, it’s an excellent activity option in any type of weather in any season. 

With this activity, you’ll receive a 2.5-hour journey into the subterranean wonderland illuminated by hundreds of glowworms. You’ll be expertly guided for the whole trip, and you’ll get a lake cruise and cave walking tour, where you’ll cruise across Lake Te Anau, and then you’ll explore intricate limestone caves before gazing at the marvellous bioluminescent spectacle created by Te Anau’s living lanterns.

Lake Te Anau is the largest lake in New Zealand’s South Island and surrounded by rolling hills and mountains, it offers a picturesque backdrop to the first part of your glowworm expedition. In winter, the view from the boat is even more stunning with the hills and mountains topped off with snow. 

Book an Early Trip

Glowworm Cave tours can be booked with us here at Luxe Tours. The cruise departs from near the centre of the Te Anau township at the RealNZ Visitor Centre, 85 Lakefront Drive Te Anau. New Zealand’s daylight hours vary significantly throughout the year, so if you’re cruising later in the day, you may not be able to see far across the lake, particularly in winter months when daylight hours are short. If you want to ensure you can see all your surroundings during the cruise, it’s a good idea to book a tour earlier in the day.

Wings & Water Floatplane 

Te Anau Floatplane

As Fiordland’s only seaplane tour option, the Wings & Water Floatplane offers a unique and relaxing experience, soaring high above the mountains, admiring the captivating landscape, even more extraordinary in winter with the mountains blanketed with snow. 

There are multiple tour options to choose from, including Doubtful and Milford sounds, a Fly and Jetboat package, a Fly and Cruise package, or an intriguing mystery flight option. There are several time slots available throughout the day, though these may decrease in winter months, so it’s important to check online. Bookings can be made online or in person at the office located on the Te Anau lakefront. 

Helicopter Flight Tour Add-on

Milford Sound helicopter in winter

Treat yourself to a truly magical ending to your Milford Sound Tour with a helicopter flight over Tutoko Mountain, the highest peak in Fiordland National Park. This experience follows your Milford Sound cruise before taking you to a remote setting to meet back up with your tour group,  removing 40 minutes off your driving time back to Te Anau.

This experience is especially mesmerising in winter with the often clear blue sky and pure white landscape below. Photos taken on helicopter tours during winter turn out stunning, and the views you’ll experience are incredible. 

Additionally, if a Milford Sound tour and cruise are not for you, then Luxe can work with you to customise any helicopter flight with our Milford Sound helicopter team to ensure you can get the best experience possible out of your Fiordland adventure. 

Milford Sound in winter presents an enchanting escape, offering a tapestry of snowy peaks, tranquil fiords, and abundant wildlife. Despite the cooler temperatures, a trip to Milford Sound in winter is just as incredible as any other season, and winter offers a uniquely magical experience. From thrilling wildlife encounters to extraordinary photography opportunities, there's something for everyone seeking a memorable winter getaway. So layer up well and get ready to immerse yourself in the serene and captivating beauty of wintertime in Milford Sound. 

bottom of page