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Opinion: Milford Sound Heli Tour - worth it or excessive?

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Full disclaimer - I am not a fan of flying. Over the past year we have had to fly a lot, almost every few weeks and while I have gotten better at being in the air, it would be fair to say my hands still clench the seat arm rests when we hit turbulence. I thought this would be the case when my wife and I took her parents on a Milford Sound helicopter tour early 2023. We had a bit of wind as we came up over Lake Marian (near Milford Sound) and while the helicopter swayed a bit, the sights out either side of the helicopter were simply too spectacular for me to be worried about it. It was truly incredible and something that will stay with us forever. You think you know Fiordland well when you have explored many corners of it, but seeing it from the air was something different. Here at Luxe Tours we offer a helicopter tour add-on as part of our Milford Sound Day Tour however I am only going to briefly cover that here, and instead focus on the different options available to you.

Milford Sound helicopter tour options.

milford sound helicopter landing

There are basically four ways to include a helicopter flight as part of your Milford Sound experience.

  1. Fly into Milford Sound from Queenstown or Te Anau (about 40mins), ahead of your tour coach/bus. In this scenario you would depart later than the rest of the tour as the bus from Queenstown takes about 4 - 6 hours to get to Milford depending on how many photo stops it makes on the way in. You would then join up with your tour, do the Milford Sound cruise and then likely return on the coach/bus. Some visitors may return on a plane or helicopter also but this starts to get very pricey and in my opinion not the best option as you miss out on the Milford Road experience which is beautiful.

  2. Fly out of Milford Sound, back to Queenstown or Te Anau (about 40mins). You would do this after your Milford Sound cruise. The Milford Sound tour company, or the helicopter operator would then return you to your accomodation in most cases. I find this option better than the first one above, as part of the anticipation of arriving to Milford Sound is built up by travelling the Milford Road and stopping at all the photo sites along the way. If it came down to it, I would rather skip the drive back by taking a flight out.

  3. Do a helicopter flight that is integrated into your Milford Sound day, such as flying from Milford Sound airport and returning to the same spot, then carrying on home. This is my preferred option as it means you don't miss out on anything that the return journey offers along the Milford Road, but there is a catch - it can be tricky to integrate with a Milford Sound tour as typically the tour needs to return to Te Anau/Queenstown without waiting for you to have a 30min - 60min flight in Milford Sound itself. One other drawback is that most flights will typically stay within the Fjord itself. While this is fantastic anyway, there is a few other awesome spots to see our of Milford Sound. Full disclaimer: Luxe Tours offers a solution to this, specially developed to solve these points above but we will get into that shortly!

  4. The other way is to just do a flight from Te Anau or Queenstown and not include a Milford Sound cruise or tour. This is not something we recommend as you truly miss out on so much of what Milford Sound is about - the destination and the journey. The Milford Road is as spectacular as the place you are going to, don't miss out on it.

Milford Sound helicopter tour & operator options.

I couldn't possibly cover every single option here of who you can fly with, or what tours they offer so excuse me if I miss one that you may be considering - it is not a reflection on the operator or their tour. Most helicopter's fly the same way, and the mountains look pretty much the same no matter what operator you are with but there are subtle difference in how each try to give you the best experience, such as flight path or landing sites.

Mitre Peak Flight - 15 - 30mins

A Mitre Peak tour will typically depart from Milford Sound Airport and be no longer than 30mins for a flight that takes you out across Milford Sound, passing by Lady Bowen Falls (near Milford township), then around Mitre Peak which rises from the fjord 5,560 feet and is the centre piece of Milford Sound. I would class this as an entree type of tour, a quick blast past some of the key features in Milford Sound and an affordable option around $400 - $500 per adult. A good operator for this one is Milford Sound Helicopters who operate a chopper in the Fjord most days.

Milford Sound Overview - 45 - 120mins

Lets call this the main meal to the entree above. Almost every operator in the area (from Queenstown or Te Anau) offers some sort of Milford Sound tour, often referred to as 'Milford Highlights', 'Milford Experience' or 'Milford Explorer'. These tours include seeing landmarks such as Sutherland Falls (South-west of Milford on the Milford Track), Mitre Peak, Lady Bowen & Stirling Falls, Gertrude Saddle and then at least one or two alpine landings at the likes of Mt Tutoko Glacier, Lake Erskine or Earnslaw Burn if coming from Queenstown.

There are a couple of ways to do a tour like this - either from Milford Sound airport with the likes of Milford Sound Helicopters, or from Queenstown or Te Anau where there are many options to choose from - however you should note this starts to push the price up due to the transit time between those towns and Milford Sound itself. Pricing for helicopters is all down to fuel burn time, so it if is Milford Sound that you want to focus on, then doing the tour from the Milford airport is a more economical option (but of course you miss some of scenery you will see on the transit phase).

My recommendation?

If you have the budget to give a bit more to the helicopter experience, then spend the extra and do it from either Te Anau or Queenstown but you can expect to pay upwards of $1,000 - $1,500 per person. If you are combining a helicopter with a Milford Sound tour and cruise, then do it from the Milford airport and save some $$$ or do the next option below.

Return to Queenstown/Te Anau from Milford Sound - 40mins

This tends to be a popular option and between the options of fly into Milford Sound or out of Milford Sound, I would recommend this one. The Milford Road is just too special to miss out on at the start of your day. Almost all operators in the area can do this tour, picking you up from Milford Sound airport, likely quickly passing Mitre Peak and Lady Bowen Falls before gaining elevation and heading across Gertrude Saddle. At this point Queenstown return tours will carry on towards either Mount Earnslaw or Mount Christina where they may do an alpine landing, and Te Anau return flights will likely cross or even land at Lake Erskine - a stunning alpine lake surrounded by steep cliff mountains, before tracking down Lake Te Anau past the Murchison and Kepler mountains. Te Anau flights may also include a hover beside Sutherland Falls located on the Milford Track.

Prices range vastly for this tour depending on exact time and flight path, but you can expect to be between $450 - $950 for this one way leg.

Milford Sound Helicopter Pricing.

​Tour Length


Flight Path Inclusions


Operators Offering



Mitre Peak, Lady Bowen Falls


Milford Sound Helicopters



Sutherland Falls, Lady Bowen Falls, Milford Track + 1-remote landing


Milford Sound Helicopters



Mitre Peak, Lady Bowen Falls Stirling Falls, Four Sister Falls, Milford Sound Entrance + 1-2 remote landings

Milford, Queenstown

Milford Sound Helicopters, Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, Heliworks Queenstown



Lake Wakatipu, Dart River, Paradise Valley, Earnslaw Burn, Gertrude Saddle, All of Milford Sound​ + 1-2 remote landings


Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, Heliworks Queenstown, The Helicopter Line



Lake Te Anau, Lake Marian, Lake Erskine, Mt Christina, Gertrude Saddle, All of Milford Sound + 1-2 remote landings

Te Anau

Milford Sound Helicopters, Fiordland Helicopters & Southern Lakes Helicopters.



Full Milford Sound Day Tour & Cruise + Helicopter Tour inc Mitre Peak, Lady Bowen Falls, Mt Tutoko, Mt Tutoko Glacier + landing, Gertrude Saddle, Milford Rd from above

Milford Sound, landing by Milford Road

Luxe Tours in partnership with Milford Sound Helicopters



Return flight to Queenstown, Gertrude Saddle, Earnslaw Burn, Dart River, Glenorchy, Lake Wakatipu


Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters, Heliworks Queenstown, The Helicopter Line, Milford Sound Helicopters.



Return flight to Te Anau, Gertrude Saddle, Lake Erskine, Lake Te Anau


Milford Sound Helicopters, Fiordland Helicopters & Southern Lakes Helicopters.

Note: The above is taken from helicopter operators websites and what is publicly advertised. Operators may offer other personalised itineraries departing from inside Milford Sound or from Queenstown/Te Anau.

Our Luxe Tours Milford Sound helicopter add-on.

I could spend a long time talking about this one but I will try to keep it short, even though its a great option that I am very proud of!

There are some key spots that we felt people should see after we have spent a lot of time experiencing them personally. They include:

  • Mitre Peak from above.

  • Mt Tutoko - the tallest mountain in Fiordland at 2,723m.

  • Mt Tutoko Glacier.

  • Gertrude Saddle - we have climbed these mountains and to see it from above is incredible.

  • Mount Christina.

The only issue with doing this flight path is it usually means you have to return to Milford Airport if you want to keep the cost down and this doesn't work in that well with a Day Tour that needs to get back on the road to Te Anau or Queenstown.

What we have done is build this into our tour by having the helicopter land at Lone Tree, near Monkey Creek (a 35min drive from Milford Sound). This means our tour coach can meet back up with you and then you are able to carry on back to Te Anau with the final hour of driving. The helicopter tour takes in all of the above spots over 30mins and is an affordable add-on to your Milford Sound Day Tour - starting at $749 for the entire day tour!

We partner with Milford Sound Helicopters who operate a very modern helicopter for this tour and are experts in this area with friendly pilots who provide great commentary through the two-way headset. This tour is great for adults & families due to its length not being too long that kids get bored.

Our family helicopter experience.

I took our family including my wife and two year old son along with my wife's parents, on a helicopter trip back in January with Milford Sound Helicopters. Now let me tell you, there was a bit of pressure getting this right when your in-laws are involved!

We chose to depart from Te Anau for a big journey across Fiordland - I wouldn't recommend this if you are on a budget though, we were lucky to have been offered this special trip by the operator. As I mentioned at the start of this, I am not a big fan of flying but I was very surprised with the difference between a plane and a helicopter. The latter in wind gives more of a gentle sway, than a turbulent bang or drop feeling that you get in a plane.

We tracked across Lake Te Anau, then the Milford Track until we landed at Lake Erskine. After 20mins of photos and a quick drink 3000 feet above sea-level, we did a quick circle of Lake Marian and Gertrude Saddle, before returning along the far west side of Lake Te Anau.

What did we learn?

  • You think you know an area well when you live & play in it (for us Fiordland), but this was something else. It is completely different from above, there is so much more that you don't realise is there such as dozens of mountain lakes, waterfalls and mini glaciers.

  • After an hour our two year old fell asleep - we are lucky two year olds do that, older children tend to just get bored and that can get a bit awkward in a helicopter - hence our 30min helicopter tour at Luxe Tours.

  • A group of three - five people is a lot of fun! Lots to talk about and memories to share.

  • The pilots that operate in the area every day are extremely knowledgeable on the area. Ours from Milford Sound Helicopters could name every lake, peak, road, stream and almost cloud on the journey!

  • While our tour was fantastic and almost 90mins in length, we all commented that the action really started once we got into the Milford area and so 20 - 40mins would be a perfect length for the main highlights.

Are you considering a Milford Sound Helicopter Tour?

  • 0%Yes

  • 0%No

My opinion & recommendation.

Putting bias to the tour that we offer here at Luxe Tours aside, I think that a Milford Sound helicopter add-on experience is well worth the money but I do believe that as you approach the $1000 mark you do need to really consider if you are getting bang for your buck as you start to simply pay for flight time over very similar looking mountains.

milford sound helicopter tour

A package between $450 - $1,000 that operates directly out of Milford Sound is going to give you a real treat of highlights and likely include a remote landing at an alpine lake or a glacier such as Mt Tutoko. My feeling is that this is more than enough as an add-on.

If you are not intending on doing a Milford Sound tour including the Milford Road or a Milford Sound Cruise, then you could justify the extra $$$ as we did on our family tour earlier in the year but be aware it does start to really add up if you have children and they may struggle to last the distance. When you travel the Milford Road by coach/bus, there are many stops along the way that make it more manageable with children.

An add-on helicopter tour of about 20 - 40mins is going to be the perfect addition to a Milford Sound day tour & cruise for most travellers. Enjoy!

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