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Te Anau to Milford Sound Cruise: Is it Possible?

Te Anau and Milford Sound are two popular destinations for travellers. Milford Sound, nestled in the heart of Fiordland National Park, provides some of the most captivating landscape views in New Zealand and Te Anau serves as a wonderfully scenic and convenient base for Fiordland adventures.

With Te Anau being the closest town to Milford Sound, there is a common misconception that you can take a Milford Sound Cruise directly from Te Anau. While a direct cruise between these two locations is not possible, you can drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau, admiring beautiful scenery before boarding your Milford Sound Cruise.

This article covers why a direct cruise from Te Anau is not possible, the best way to reach your cruise, and what you can expect from a Cruise in Milford Sound.

Te Anau and Milford Sound Location

Te Anau to Milford Sound map

Te Anau and Milford Sound are separated by rugged, mountainous, and densely forested land. Milford Sound is located on the lower West Coast of New Zealand's South Island, opening into the Tasman Sea, while Te Anau is situated inland by the tranquil Lake Te Anau. 

No direct waterway connects these two towns, and the only road access to Milford Sound is from Te Anau via Milford Road (State Highway 94), 120 kilometres of well-maintained but winding road renowned for its dramatic scenery. Despite the absence of a direct cruise, you'll be treated to plenty of breathtaking views and amazing photo opportunities along Milford Road, making it an integral part of your adventure to Milford Sound.

Tip: To access the Milford Road and to get to Milford Sound, no matter where you come from, you must come through Te Anau. There is no other way, so give serious consideration to using Te Anau as a base before heading on your Milford Sound Tour, but also as a place to experience other tours and sights that Fiordland National Park has to offer.

Milford Sound from Queenstown

What’s the Best Way to Take a Milford Sound Cruise from Te Anau?

Milford Sound Tour from Te Anau

The journey from Te Anau to Milford Sound is a scenic drive that takes you through some of New Zealand's best landscapes. This drive typically takes around 2 to 2.5 hours without accounting for the numerous stops along the way, and when adding these in, it takes around 4 hours. You can drive yourself along Milford Road, but for maximum ease and convenience, the best way to experience a Milford Sound Cruise is by taking a guided tour from Te Anau.

TIP: Find the best Milford Sound Tour for you with this Quiz 👇

The Best Milford Sound Tour Quiz

Planned for You

Milford Sound Day Trip from Te Anau, Luxe Tours NZ

With a guided tour, your tour operator will arrange for you to either be picked up at your Te Anau accommodation, or from a convenient central Te Anau location. Your pick-up, Milford Road stops, and Milford Sound Cruise times will all be planned for you, so all you'll need to focus on is getting yourself ready for pick-up.  

Pick-up and drop-off times will vary depending on the tour operator, but in general, you can expect to be picked up for your tour between 8-9 am, head along Milford Road to Milford Sound for your cruise, and then be dropped back off in Te Anau between 5-6 pm. 

Your tour operator will also ensure you see all the key locations along Milford Road on your way to Milford Sound.

Safer Travels

A guided tour also ensures a much safer journey to Milford Sound compared to driving yourself. Milford Road is a narrow, winding road, with numerous blind corners, and there are multiple accidents on the road every year.  

Milford Road Traffic, Luxe Tours NZ

During the peak summer months, from November to February, Milford Road is very busy, with an average of 4000 visitors per day to Milford Sound. Traffic congestion is common, and it can lead to a lot of frustrated drivers rushing along the road. 

During the colder months, from April - October, the road has fewer travellers, but it can get very icy and is prone to black ice, making it particularly hazardous. Some icy parts of the road never thaw out in the colder months, and snow is also common.

Tour operators are skilled and experienced in driving safely in all Milford Road conditions, and they carry essential equipment, such as tyre chains, to get you to your cruise safely.

Milford Sound Tour with Luxe Tours

Incredible Scenery and Photo Opportunities

Photo spots on the way to Milford Sound, Luxe Tours NZ

Once you’re picked up for your tour, you'll head out of Te Anau along Milford Road, soon entering the Fiordland National Park. Some popular highlights along the road include the Eglinton Valley and Mirror Lakes. In the picturesque Eglinton Valley, you'll be surrounded by towering mountains, native bush, and golden tussock valleys.

There are plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the mountain air and take photos here. Mirror Lakes is one of the most famous Milford Road stops, and on a calm day, a short walk from the road will lead you to stunning reflections of the Earl Mountains in the still waters.

You'll also get the chance for some short nature walks (depending on the tour operator), waterfall viewing (depending on the tour operator), and maybe some kea bird interactions. By the time you reach Milford Sound, you'll have already been treated to some of the most beautiful scenery in Fiordland National Park.

Here are some of our Milford Sound Tour Guest Photos 💚

What to Expect on Your Milford Sound Cruise

Cruise Terminal and Boarding

You will travel to the end of Milford Road and board your Milford Sound Cruise from the cruise terminal. There is paid parking available beside the terminal if you're driving yourself. If you're on a tour, you will simply be dropped off close to the terminal entrance and head inside.  

When you enter the terminal, you'll find restrooms, information desks, and vending machines. Outside the terminal, you'll see multiple different cruise vessels lined up along the dock. Different tour companies partner with different cruise vessels, and if you're on a tour, your tour guide will let you know exactly where your boat is docked and when to head there for boarding.

Milford Sound Cruise Terminal

The boat crew will direct you onto the boat at boarding time and direct you to the seating area. Some tours will arrange reserved seating on the boat for their guests, and a member of the boat crew will point you in the direction of your seats if this is the case for you. If not, you'll be able to find a seat somewhere in the seating area. Once everyone is seated, a crew member will give you a rundown of the cruise and safety information as you head out into the fiord.

Seating and Food

Some cruise vessels, like the Milford Haven, have a full restaurant and bar on board. Your tour operator may provide the option to pre-order a hot meal for your cruise during the booking process. If you choose this option, you'll have a delicious hot meal waiting for you when you board the boat. You can also order food and drink throughout the cruise, depending on the amenities available on your boat.   

Tip: Some boats don't have restaurants or bars on board, so when you book your cruise, check what will be available to you on the boat, and pack some lunch and snacks to bring with you on the day if you need to.

What You Might See

Cruises typically range from 1 to 2 hours, where you'll be treated to views of the fiord’s dark waters with towering, forest-covered mountains all around. To get the best Milford Sound cruise experience, make sure you've packed some warm layers so you can be out on the boat deck and taking in the views regardless of the temperature.    

Milford Sound Tour photo of waterfalls, Luxe Tours NZ

Dolphins in Milford Sound on a cruise

A crew member will provide interesting information throughout the cruise as you move through the fiord to meet the Tasman Sea. You'll be guided past iconic landmarks like Mitre Peak, and get up close to tumbling waterfalls plunging off the cliffs into the dark fiord waters below. Milford Sound also puts on an incredible waterfall display in rainy weather, where hundreds of temporary waterfalls spring from the mountain tops, so make sure you have a waterproof layer with you so you can enjoy the scenery if you strike rainy weather. 

Throughout the cruise, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as seals basking on the rocks, playful dolphins swimming alongside the boat, and occasionally, the rare Fiordland crested penguin.

Back to Te Anau

Your cruise will end back at the Milford Sound cruise terminal, where you'll either be greeted by your tour driver or head back to your own vehicle. You'll then get to experience the scenic drive along Milford Road on your way back to Te Anau.

Safety Tips for Self-Driving

If you do choose to drive yourself from Te Anau to Milford Sound for your Milford Sound cruise,  keep the following things in mind to keep yourself and others safe.  

  • Take your time: plan for plenty of extra time so you can go slow if you need to, have time to enjoy the stops along the way, and don't feel the need to rush at any stage.  

  • Let others pass: If there is a lot of traffic behind you, look for a safe stopping place, indicate with plenty of warning time, and pull over and wait for the traffic to pass.  

  • Stop to enjoy the views: There is no doubt that Milford Road will provide stunning scenery for your drive, but it's easy for drivers to get distracted and make mistakes. Keep your eyes on the road when you're driving and plan time to stop so you can enjoy the views safely.

Helpful Links

If you'd like some more in-depth information on Milford Sound and Milford Sound Cruises, check out these helpful articles here:

While it's not possible to cruise directly from Te Anau to Milford Sound, the drive along Milford Road is filled with stunning views and opportunities to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Fiordland. Once you arrive at Milford Sound, you'll be treated to views of rare wildlife and cascading mountain waterfalls on your Milford Sound Cruise.

With a road trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound, you'll have a day full of expansive valleys, towering mountains, lush native forests, unique wildlife encounters, and plenty of amazing photos. Plan accordingly, and look forward to a spectacular journey and cruise that showcases some of the best landscapes New Zealand has to offer. 

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