A journey to Milford Sound is an unforgettable experience filled with breathtaking views and abundant wildlife. However, with Milford’s famously changeable weather patterns and remote location, being properly prepared is crucial for your trip. So here we have the top 10 tips for visiting Milford Sound collated for you by our Luxe Tours team.
#1 - The Best Time to Visit Milford Sound
The greatest thing about Milford Sound is that there is no best time to visit because the area is sure to put on a spectacular show any time of year. One of the main reasons for this is the Milford Sound weather which is prone to changing from cold, to hot, to sudden downpours and clear sunny skies all in one day.
Every season provides a slightly different experience, and Milford Sound is accessible year-round. If you want to camp along Milford Road, you should go in summer for the warm days and mild night temperatures. If you want to avoid crowds but still want mild daytime temperatures, then you could visit in Autumn, the start of the off-season for tourism in the area. For maximum quietness and snow-topped mountains, winter is your time, and if you’re particularly fond of waterfalls, you might consider spring, when they’re at their most powerful due to melting snow and ice.
Time tip: Book any tours and Milford Sound cruises in advance, regardless of the season, as they book up quickly all year round.
#2 - What to Pack
Clothes for all Weather
Milford Sound is famously one of the wettest places on Earth, and it’s not uncommon to experience all seasons in one day while you’re there. You’ll need clothing layers for temperature fluctuations, a waterproof jacket, sunscreen, a sun hat, sunglasses, and a warm hat.
There are limited food options in Milford, so bring your own snacks, especially if you have any dietary requirements. Otherwise on some tours you can purchase a lunch box for the day, or even a restaurant meal on your cruise.
This is a no-brainer if you’re doing any of the hiking trails in the area, but it’s also necessary for a day trip to Milford Sound. There are many small walking tracks along Milford Road that can be bumpy and muddy, so ensure your footwear is sturdy and comfortable.
Camera and Cash
You won’t want to forget a camera to capture your Milford Sound memories, and although there are limited food options available in Milford Sound, cash is handy for the small cafe or souvenirs.
#3 - Mosquitoes and Sandflies - Come Prepared
There are both mosquitos and sandflies in Milford Sound, and they will be out in force most of the year, especially on warm, overcast, humid days. Though they are not dangerous, some people experience a lot of itching and swelling in response to their bites, so you’ll need to be prepared. To limit bites and itching:
Avoid dark clothing: dark colours absorb heat and make it easier for mosquitoes and sandflies to find you, so light colours are best.
Bring repellant: Insect repellant is a must in Milford Sound. You’ll find many options in Te Anau’s supermarket and pharmacy.
Take a non-drowsy antihistamine: taking an antihistamine in the morning can help limit the swelling and itching from bites.
#4 - Navigating Milford Road
Milford Road provides the only road access to Milford Sound. It is a very narrow, winding road that can be difficult to navigate for those unfamiliar with the area, particularly if you’re not used to driving on the left-hand side of the road. It can also become hazardous during particular times of the year, such as in summer when there are many divers on the road and in winter when snow falls and avalanche risk increases.
If you choose to drive yourself to Milford Sound, then you’ll need to take road safety very seriously. Give other drivers plenty of space on the road, and If you are the driver, make sure you are well-rested, fully concentrating on the road, and pull over when you want to look at the scenery.
Check the NZTA website for road condition updates throughout the year, and if you’re hiring a vehicle, take a day or two to get used to driving it before your trip.
Grab essentials in Te Anau
Te Anau is well-equipped with supermarkets, convenience stores, cafes, and a pharmacy, so grab any essentials, before you head off. If you’re self-driving, fuel up in Te Anau before you leave; there are no fuel stops along Milford Road, and fuel in Milford Sound is limited and sometimes unavailable.
Consider a Guided Tour
The safest option for getting to Milford Sound is to take a guided tour. Tours have the benefit of allowing you to enjoy the scenery without worrying about concentrating on the road or where to stop to get the best views.
Additionally, self-driving in winter is not recommended. Tour guides are very experienced in all weather conditions and will carry all the necessary equipment like snow chains.
#5 - What Tour to Take
There are multiple tour options available both from Queenstown and Te Anau. A tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound averages 13 hours of driving time for a return trip, so it’s not the best way to experience Milford Sound, but it’s good if you have limited time in the area and still want to see Milford.
Tours from Te Anau to Milford Sound average 8.5 hours of driving time for a return trip. What one to pick depends on your needs and preferences. If you don’t mind a lot of people and quick stops along the way, then a bus tour is a great option. It’s also a good option if you’re on a tighter budget.
For a more personalised, relaxed experience, more quality time at each stop, and fewer people, a smaller group tour is the way to go. These tours usually transport you in a 12-18 seater coach, and the guides have more time to share information and answer any questions.
Queenstown - Milford Sound Tour price range: NZD $200-350
Te Anau - Milford Sound Tour price range: NZD $180-280
See our Milford Sound Day Tour Options
#6 - Best Stop - Marian Falls
There are many incredible stops along Milford Road, but you don’t want to miss Lake Marian Falls. The falls are located off Hollyford Road. You’ll walk along a short track through lush forest, where you’ll find a series of spectacular waterfalls.
This is a reasonably relaxed walk that takes around 10 minutes each way and is manageable for kids of around aged 4 and over.
For the best experience, book a tour that includes this stop in the itinerary, as you can ensure your safety in any weather. Tour guides are experienced in all weather conditions and will carry safety equipment, such as first aid kits and a satellite phone for emergencies.
#7 - Stay in Te Anau
Consider staying in Te Anau for at least one night, ideally two, when you’re visiting Milford Sound. You’ll ensure you are well-rested so you can get the best experience possible and are less likely to feel stressed and rushed than if you are traveling from Queenstown.
You’ll also find a range of things to do in Te Anau to add to your Fiordland experience, such as seeing the famous rare Takahē bird, taking a mystical glowworm cave tour, biking the Lake 2 Lake cycle trail, or walking some of the great hiking trails in the area.
#8 - Helicopter Tour Trip Add-on
If your budget allows, consider adding a scenic helicopter flight to your Milford Sound Tour experience. A helicopter trip add-on makes for a truly awe-inspiring experience, where you’ll fly over Milford viewing the mountains from above before landing on the top of a glacier. You’ll also get to drink some pure glacier water and view alpine lakes.
Prices vary depending on tour operators, but you can expect to pay between NZD $450 - $1,000 for a tour + helicopter add-on package.
See our Luxe Helicopter Tour add-on
#9 - Visiting Milford Sound with Children
Leave from Te Anau
Trust us when we say you’ll have a much better experience traveling to Milford from Te Anau than from Queenstown, regardless of whether you’re self-driving or taking a tour. Leaving from Te Anau will make it far less stressful and tiring for everyone. Te Anau is also a great base for your family, where you can rest at both ends of your trip and do some fun activities in Te Anau as well.
Take Entertainment on the Road
There are plenty of opportunities to stop along Milford Road, and Milford Sound Cruises are really engaging for kids. Though they’ll likely be entertained a lot of the time, it’s a good idea to take some entertainment on the road that doesn’t require wifi, just in case.
Take Plenty of Snacks
Take enough food for you and your family for an 8-10 hour day. Some tours may offer a packed lunchbox for about NZD $30.
Take Extra Clothes
Pack layers and a waterproof jacket for the kids, especially for a cruise, and take an extra set of clothing so they can get as wet as they like but be comfy and dry for the trip back.
#10 - Responsible and Respectful Tourism
Give animals plenty of space, and never touch or follow them. Also make sure to never feed them, as human food can make them sick and disrupt their behaviour and diet.
Choose Responsible Tour Operators
Milford Sound is more than just a tour destination. It is a unique environment containing many rare and threatened species found nowhere else on Earth, so it must be conserved as much as possible. Choose tour operators who prioritise sustainable practices and support local conservation efforts.
Leave Only Footprints
Put your rubbish in designated bins, and take it with you if there are no bins nearby. If you’re in a campervan, ensure you only dump waste at the designated dump stations in Te Anau, Knobbs Flat, and Milford.
Respect Indigenous Culture and Heritage
Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa, New Zealand, discovered Piopiotahi, Milford Sound, over 1000 years ago, many years before European Explorers. The area holds profound significance for Māori. It’s important to respect Piopiotahi’s cultural heritage and acknowledge its sacredness to Māori and their role in its discovery.
Milford Sound is one of the most incredible locations to visit in New Zealand, and as long as you’re properly prepared, you’re guaranteed a spectacular trip. If you’re after some more in-depth planning info, browse our Milford Sound planning articles, or feel free to reach out for a chat with one of our team members. We’re always happy to help!