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How to get to Milford Sound

Learn how to get to Milford Sound by road (self-driving or on a tour) or by air from Queenstown.

Milford Sound is one of the most visually stunning parts of Aotearoa New Zealand.

In fact, it often comes up as a ‘must-visit’ in our Facebook group and when I talk with our consultation clients… and it’s really no wonder!

Getting there isn’t as straightforward as many people think, but it’s worth coming up with a transport plan to reach this remote beauty.

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Milford Road with its beautiful green trees and towering mountains on either side.
The drive into Milford Sound is amazing – but it’s not the only way to get to our most famous fiord. Photo: Andrew Leggett, NZTT member.

How to get to Milford Sound

By road or air, there are transport options to suit every kind of traveller.

Join us as we discuss the pros and cons of each mode of transport, helping you decide the best option for you.

Planning your trip to Milford Sound last minute?

🚐 Popular tours from Queenstown

  1. Air Milford [discounted] (best fixed-wing fly-cruise-fly: experience Milford in half a day. Most affordable flight)
  2. Altitude Tours [discounted] (best small-group tour)
  3. Pure Milford – promo code NZTT (budget budget-friendly coach tour)
  4. The Helicopter Line [discounted] (heli fly-cruise-fly: an amazing splurge)

🚐 Popular tours from Te Anau

  1. Fiordland Tours [discounted] (best small-group tour)
  2. Pure Milford – promo code NZTT (budget budget-friendly coach tour)

🚗 Popular activities at Milford Sound for people driving themselves

  1. Cruise Milford [discounted] (amazing scenic cruise)
  2. Mitre Peak Cruises [discounted] (awesome scenic cruise)
  3. Southern Discoveries cruise, kayak, observatory combo – promo code NZTTPLAY (best combo)

Drive yourself to Milford Sound

  • Stop anywhere you like on the way to Milford, enjoying the spectacular Milford Road.
  • Spend as long as you like along the route – perhaps stay the night in Te Anau.
  • Save money – only pay for your fuel and [discounted] scenic cruise [Cruise Milford | Mitre Peak Cruises].
  • Travel privately in your car.
  • Less weather dependent (compared to flights).
  • You’ll need to plan your own stops.
  • No commentary to explain what you’re seeing.
  • It can be a long day on the road – many prefer to sit back and relax on a tour.

Pro tip: We recommend sailing around midday so you can allow time before/after to enjoy the stops on the way into Milford Sound.

Others prefer to book their cruise early, before the tours arrive. Cruise Milford [discounted to NZTT readers] undersells its boats though, so it’s never full.

A white ferry with tourists cruising on Milford Sound.

Self-drive from Queenstown in one day

  • Not recommended

Queenstown is the closest city to Milford Sound and where most people choose to depart.

It’s a long drive though (at 3 hours and 45 minutes, one way, without any stops). And you’ll want to make a lot of stops along Milford Road (State Highway 94)!

That’s 7 and a half hours of driving in one day, plus sightseeing and your scenic cruise [Cruise Milford | Mitre Peak Cruises].

Because of this, it isn’t advisable to self-drive in and out of Milford Sound from Queenstown in one day.

If you’re keen to make this trip in one day, we suggest joining a road tour or flight from Queenstown.

Or, if you have more time, why not stay a night or two in Te Anau and reduce your drive time?

Self-drive from Te Anau

  • Best for people who want to save money and have total flexibility, but have time to spare.

Te Anau is a great base for people who want to drive themselves into Milford.

By road, this quiet little town is about:

  • 2 hours and 10 minutes from Queenstown
  • 3 hours from Wānaka
  • 3 hours and 30 minutes from Dunedin.

Then, from Te Anau, it’s only a 1 hour and 45-minute drive into Milford Sound (plus time for stops)… that’s 3 and a half hours’ total drive time (which is quite reasonable) if going in and out of Milford on one day.

If visiting Milford from Te Anau, we recommend spending a minimum of two nights’ accommodation – one before your day trip and another after.

Let someone else drive you to Milford

  • Have someone else plan your stops and do the driving – sit back and relax.
  • Enjoy professional commentary along Milford Road.
  • Be able to make the big trip in and out from Queenstown in one day.
  • Less weather dependent (compared to flights).
  • More expensive than driving yourself – particularly if you have multiple people in your group.
  • No control over how long you stop in each place.
  • You can’t stay overnight in Te Anau.
  • You’ll have people you don’t know on board with you.
  • Your cruise booking will be included in the tour – don’t purchase this separately.

Join a tour by road from Queenstown

  • Best for people who want to see Milford Sound but have limited time and money.

Milford Road is spectacular so we understand why many people want to see it, however, it’s really too far to drive yourself in and out from Queenstown.

Joining a guided tour from Queenstown allows you to experience this road, while also knocking Milford out in one day.

Sure, it’s a long day on the road (approximately 12 hours), but it can be the best option for:

  • people who are short on time
  • don’t have the budget to fly in
  • still want to see Milford Road.
A glass roof on al Altitude Tours van travelling to Milford.
We love Altitude Tours – comfortable small group tours with glass-roof vans.

Join a tour by road from Te Anau

  • Best for people who want a guided tour but don’t want to spend such a long day on the road.

Many people who choose to stay in Te Anau opt to drive themselves to Milford Sound to save money – but you can still join a great guided tour if you’d like.

Departing on a tour from Te Anau means a shorter day on the road and the possibility of more stops.

Plus, the best scenery is between Te Anau Downs and Milford, so you’re not missing much in that sense.

Tourists standing beside the road with a field behind them and cloud-covered mountains.

Fly to Milford

  • By far, the fastest way to Milford Sound from Queenstown.
  • Enjoy spectacular views from the air.
  • Still allows you to include the scenic cruise (which we highly recommend).
  • One of the most expensive ways to see Milford.
  • More weather dependent.

Pro tip: We recommend booking scenic flights as early as possible in your itinerary. This allows you to rebook in the following days if your departure is delayed due to weather.

Flyover from Queenstown

  • Best for people who have a reasonable budget and want to see Milford Sound quickly from the air.

If you’re particularly short on time but can’t stand the idea of leaving Queenstown without seeing Milford Sound, a flyover is just what you need.

Departing from Queenstown on a small plane, you’ll enjoy incredible views of Lake Whakatipu, Mount Madeline and Mount Tutoko, and of course, Milford Sound – our most famous fiord.

Then you’ll turn around in the air and fly back to Queenstown, ready to continue your travels.

⚠️ A flyover will show you Fiordland from the air – it does not land in Milford Sound and doesn’t include a scenic cruise on the fiord.

Fly/cruise/fly from Queenstown

  • Best for people who have a good budget and want to see Milford Sound in less than half a day (including a scenic cruise).

A fly/cruise/fly tour is our favourite flight option into Milford Sound.

Taking off from Queenstown, you’ll enjoy the spectacular scenic flight over towering mountains and through the fiord itself, before landing at Milford Sound Airport.

Then it’s a short private bus ride over to the cruise terminal to sail Milford Sound, before flying back to Queenstown.

What’s more, you’ll be back again in time for lunch or an afternoon activity which is perfect for those keen to maximise their time in Queenstown.

Choose from a more affordable fixed-wing experience with Air Milford or Milford Sound Scenic Flights, or a more expensive (but amazing) heli flight with The Helicopter Line.

All of which come with your NZTT discounts!

Looking out the side window or an Air Milford Scenic plane at the snow capped mountain peak.

Fly from Te Anau

  • Best for people who are already in Te Anau and want to see Milford from the air.

Though Te Anau is much closer to Milford Sound by road, it’s actually further than Queenstown by air (and more expensive).

Hence, we only recommend flying from Te Anau to Milford Sound if you want to enjoy a scenic flight and you don’t plan to visit Queenstown or won’t have enough time while you’re there.

Pro tip: It’s better to fly from Te Anau to Doubtful Sound or the even more remote Dusky Sound. These flights are amazing, they’re closer to Te Anau and you’ll visit locations that fewer people get to visit.

Coach/cruise/fly

  • Experience Milford from the road and the air – the best of both worlds.
  • Scenic flights can’t always depart, so you may end up in the coach/van both ways.
  • It can be more expensive to coach/cruise/fly than to fly/cruise/fly, even though it’s a longer day.

If you’re struggling to choose between flying or seeing Milford by road, there is an awesome combo option.

You’ll be taken into Queenstown by coach or van, then you’ll enjoy a scenic cruise before being flown back to Queenstown.

This really is the best of both worlds in terms of scenery, but as stated above, it’s not without its downfalls too.

Once you start travelling to Milford by road, you may find the weather isn’t good enough for your flight to return (in which case you’ll have to take the long trip back by road).

Temporary waterfalls falling down a mossy rock face after heavy rains in Milford Sound.
Heavy rain in Milford creates beautiful scenery but can make flying difficult. Photo: Andrew Leggett, NZTT member.

Surprisingly, it’s also more expensive to join a small group van/cruise/fly than it is to fly/cruise/fly.

Cruiseship

Finally, it is also possible to visit Milford Sound (and the surrounding fiords) by cruise ship.

If you’re sailing on a cruiseliner, it’s unlikely that you’ll get off the ship – instead, you’ll enjoy the views while onboard.


And there you have it, our tried-and-tested transport options for Milford Sound.

Do you have a favourite way to get to this spectacular part of Fiordland?

If so, we’d love to hear from you in NZTT!

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