top of page

Opinion: Taking children to Milford Sound - a good idea?

Skip Forward

Luxe Tours NZ

I write this with a hint of irony, due to the fact that it was originally my idea to start a new day tour from Te Anau to Milford Sound after sitting in the Eglinton Valley (on the drive to Milford Sound), watching bus after bus pulling up, spending just a few minutes there before reloading and taking off again. In the back seat was my two year old son. I cringed at the thought of being on some of those buses, having to quickly unstrap him from his carseat, get off the bus and then hustle back on within minutes, likely being that annoying last person that everybody else is waiting on. So with all that said, is taking your children on a Milford Sound tour a good idea?

Getting to Milford Sound.

Milford Sound is 120km from Te Anau and 288km from Queenstown. Directly from Te Anau you are looking at a 1:45-hour drive but this is without stops. Most Milford Sound tours will make multiple stops on the way in to show you special locations, do some nature walks and take photos, as well of toilets of course. Tours vary, but you are looking at about three - four hours for the drive in with these photo stops. From Queenstown, this time blows out to about six hours - more on that later.

You can either self drive into Milford Sound, or take a tour. The latter is becoming increasingly popular as the Milford Road ( a one way in and out road) is commonly congested, especially in the summer months and tours have a knack of finding the right time to travel and timing the gaps. For example at Luxe Tours we leave slightly earlier than most others and we are often standing in some of the beautiful photo locations alone. If you are considering self driving, it may pay to have a read of our Milford Road Safety article. In winter and early spring (June - September) I simply wouldn't suggest self driving to Milford Sound, especially with family. Put yourself on a tour with local experts and let you and your family be looked after while the Milford Road is at its most dangerous.

Milford Sound Tours - Depart from Te Anau or Queenstown?

Te Anau, Luxe Tours NZ

This is an easy one for me and plainly put - there is no way, even if it was the only option available, that I would take my child on a tour to Milford Sound from Queenstown. I would sooner change my travel dates and grab a tour from Te Anau, than spend 9-hours of the day in a vehicle. The tour from Queenstown is about 12 hours and is too bigger day. I don't recommend it for adults, let alone adults with children. We have a great article on this and the multiple reasons why, but the main point I would make is that Te Anau offers a base for your family before you venture into Milford Sound. Find yourself some nice accommodation in Te Anau, maybe something like an AirBNB house or motel unit and start with a fresh day for Milford Sound. There are other very family friendly activities in Te Anau, such as the very popular Glowworm Caves, that will make it even more worth it.

If you are not convinced, jump onto TripAdvisor or Google and have a look at some of the one, two or three star reviews - you will often find the comment "we should have done the tour from Te Anau!"

The family experience.

The experience your family, but in particular children will have is going to be quite different between a small group tour and a large group tour. From my experience of tours, not just in Milford Sound, but across the world when travelling is that the larger group tours (big buses) tend to seem more difficult for families with children. Fitting carseats to bus seats for example can sometimes be a challenge, and just the timing of everything like I talked about in the opening intro. I will focus on small group tours as I fundamentally believe these are better suited to families, for several reasons.

Time & patience.

Most of the small group tours to Milford Sound, especially from Te Anau have plenty of time built in for stopping at locations along the Milford Road and there is ample time to get your children in and out of the coach. Small group tour drivers/guides are more likely to have more time to assist you with children as well and because they have less people to worry about, they can help keep them safe as they enter & exit the coach. As Guest Experience Manager at Luxe but also a mother, I make sure our guides are ready to assist throughout the day.

The vehicle.

Most vehicles on a small group tours will have a three, three, four seating configuration meaning families can often sit together, instead of the two, two split where a parents have to sit either side of each other.

Milford Sound Cruise.

Dolphins and wildlife in Milford Sound, Luxe Tours NZ

From our experience, children often really enjoy the Milford Sound cruise part of the tour and are often happy to pick up the wildlife spotter job. My son has done a few trips through Milford and is often busy pointing at something. Guides aboard the cruise will always point out wildlife or anything of interest for kids specifically. The cruise is two hours which can get to a child's limit but there is always something around every corner of the fjord to entertain them. One tip I would offer is purchasing a cold packed lunch-box for children can be a good way to chew up a bit of time and keep them from being hangry!

What might excite kids on a Milford Sound tour?

Marian Falls Milford Sound

The best reactions I have observed with the children in my family & friend group have usually come from wildlife encounters. Early in the day, around halfway along the Milford Road, you are very likely to start seeing the Kea parrot. Kea are only found in the South Island of New Zealand and are a very interactive and cheeky bird. While you are not allowed to touch or feed them, once we pull over on the road it is almost guaranteed they will jump up on the coach and pose for photos.

In Milford Sound itself the seals, which you are basically 99.9% guaranteed to see on any day, are very popular with children of all ages, as well as adults. Dolphins sometimes frequent the fjord and they are equally as exciting to children.

Children in Milford Sound

Waterfalls are another part that I have found to be a highlight and in some cases you can get very close to them such as Stirling Falls in Milford Sound itself. Some tours will visit Marian Falls which is a 10min walk from the Hollyford Road. The walk itself is manageable for children four years & older, or of course a piggyback can get younger ones there. I have taken my son there and he didn't want to leave!

What might bore kids on a Milford Sound tour?

Time spent in any vehicle can always have its challenging moments right? I haven't met a child yet that is immune to getting bored in a vehicle after a few hours. The reality with the Milford Road is that you have a few hours of driving each way from Te Anau. I go back to my earlier point - this is a reason to do your tour from Te Anau. The drive time from Queenstown is four hours each way at least.

My suggestion would be to bring something for them to do such as a tablet with games that don't require internet. One thing to be cautious of is tour operators who advertise that they have WiFi onboard. That is all good and well for the parts of the road, mostly between Queenstown & Te Anau, that have service available but between Te Anau & Milford Sound there is effectively nothing, and in the parts that there is minimal coverage, it will not be enough to provide videos or games. Even if they have Starlink (very rare), it is prone to dropping out in the weather conditions that Fiordland can experience.

I have a rule for myself that whatever entertains my child at home that is not reliant on certain technologies such as WiFi, I will take it in the vehicle on a trip such as this.

One of the good things about the journey into Milford Sound is that most tours will be stopping often. For example our tour at Luxe, once we get past Te Anau Downs (25mins in), we are basically stopping on average every 10mins. This really helps with managing vehicle boredom. Good drivers & guides also have a way of making it relatable for the younger members of your family. Our lead guide at Luxe is a father of young children and understands the entertainment struggle!


If you have any questions regarding travelling to Milford Sound with children or your family, feel free to personally email me at: and I can help!


How many stops is the right amount?

I see some tours advertising up to 17 photo, rest or toilet stops, or more in some cases. There is two problems with this:

  1. Even if you could fit in that amount of photo, rest & toilet stops, they would be very rushed and you just don't get enough time to actually enjoy them. After a certain amount, mountains and forest tend to blur into one. A whole lot of photo stops doesn't make a tour necessarily better.

  2. For families with children, it becomes too much of a drawn out day. By the time you have finished your Milford Sound cruise in the afternoon, most people are ready to just get back to Te Anau.

The sweet spot.

With a Milford Sound cruise in your tour, which will be about two hours, I find the right amount of photo stops on the Milford Road to be around 8 - 11. This means you can spend quality time at most of them and not just take a photo but also walk to waterfalls, experience the native forest, watch wildlife for longer, and get more of a well rounded Fiordland & New Zealand experience.

Hygiene & Feeding.

If you are travelling with a baby or toddler, there are a few places where you can feed or do things like a nappy change in privacy. An advantage to local guides from Te Anau is they can help you find the perfect spot.

Knobs Flat.

There are full bathrooms here, as well as a few seated areas, some in quiet areas if you are looking for privacy. Knobs Flat is about 70mins from Te Anau with a few stops before it included. Most tours will only stop here for about 5-10mins, however I know in our tour that our guides are aware of the need for time if a mother needs to feed for example and will adjust for this.

Marian Falls Track.

While there are no appropriate toilets or buildings here for feeding, some tours will stop here to walk this track. Luxe Tours stops here for about 30mins to walk to the waterfalls. You can choose not to do the walk and use the privacy of the coach.

Milford Sound.

Milford Sound has a large cruise terminal with ample facilities such as seperate parent bathrooms and some private spaces. While I wouldn't recommend it due to sandflies, there is plenty of space outside also for nappy changes or feeds but be prepared to be swarmed!

Top Tips

  • Take a tour from Te Anau, not Queenstown. I simply can't stress this enough. Stay the nights either side of your Milford Sound tour in Te Anau, its more relaxing and kids are less tired come bedtime. I've experienced the opposite of this - not good!

  • With a Milford Sound tour, if there is an option to purchase a lunchbox of some sort, I would highly recommend this. This will set you back about $30. Otherwise make sure you pack plenty of snacks for a 8 - 10 hour day.

  • Pack a second set of clothes for children, if your child is like mine then they seem to have a radar lock on any puddles or spending time our in the rain. Milford Sound has very changeable weather and in one day you can experience four seasons.

  • Bring entertainment for in the vehicle, ideally not something that is reliant on WiFi.

  • Take a tour that has a manageable amount of photo stops. You will thank me later for that one.

I am a big advocate for bringing children to Milford Sound, I have found my own to be engaged with the experience and especially when wildlife or waterfalls are present. There are many ways to keep them entertained outside of the vehicle, the trick is just inside. Local guides have experience with families and can make the spend on a tour worth it. Be sure to bring your camera as there will be forever memories created during your family trip to Milford Sound.

If you have any questions regarding travelling to Milford Sound with children or your family, feel free to personally email me at: and I can help!

bottom of page