Discover the best Milford Sound tours in 2023, choosing from a range of options by air, road or water.
Milford Sound (or Piopiotahi, as it is known in te reo Māori) is the most famous natural attraction in Aotearoa.
Known for its towering fiord walls, rainforests, waterfalls, wildlife and serene atmosphere, it’s no wonder this spot is top of the wish list for most travellers.
The road into Milford Sound is an attraction in itself, including 15 or so worthwhile stops.
Most visitors to Milford choose to join a nature cruise. This is a popular way to see all that Milford has to offer, as are scenic flights and helicopter rides.
Whilst visiting the national park, many people will see colonies of New Zealand fur seals, penguins, dolphins and sometimes even whales. You’ll also want to keep your eyes peeled for the ever-cheeky kea, one of our native alpine parrots, and look out for the rare black coral that is found in this area.
How though are you best to see Milford Sound? The answer to this entirely depends on your budget, timeframe and personal preferences.
Join us as we compare the different options and help you pick the best choice for you.
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The Best Milford Sound Tours for 2023
The Best Tours: A Summary
All of the options included on this list are marvellous though, so if you have time, we’d recommend having a look through the article yourself.
If you’re short on time though and just want a quick recommendation, these are our top picks – they take into account value and quality.
|Best nature cruise (self-drive)||Cruise Milford|
|Best cruise combo (self-drive)||Southern Discoveries cruise, kayak, observatory combo|
|Best overnight cruise||The Milford Mariner by RealNZ|
|Best small-group tour from Queenstown||Altitude Tours|
|Best small-group tour from Te Anau||Fiordland Tours|
|Best coach tour from Queenstown||GreatSights|
|Best coach tour from Te Anau||Southern Discoveries|
|Best fly-cruise-coach from Queenstown||Altitude Tours|
|Best fly-cruise-fly fixed wing from Queenstown||Air Milford|
|Best heli from Te Anau||Southern Lakes Heli|
|Best flyover from Queenstown||True South|
|Best walking tour/cruise combo||Trips & Tramps|
If you’d prefer to compare each option for yourself, read on…
The Best Milford Sound Cruises (Self-Drive)
If you’ve got your own car, you might prefer to drive yourself into Milford Sound. The road in is stunning, and for most of the year is totally manageable for confident drivers.
Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to stop and enjoy the sights on the way in and out, and be aware that the Homer Tunnel operates in only one direction at a time. This means you might have to wait for a while before you’re allowed through – whatever you do, don’t leave this part of the journey until the last minute!
1. Join a Small Boutique Cruise with Cruise Milford
Cruise Milford is one of our favourite Milford Sound tour operators! Run by a kiwi family, this is a company that really cares about showing off the best of the region.
They will take you to all the spectacular highlights along the Milford Sound, always with guides (and your captain) close to hand to answer any questions you may have.
Not only that, but the boats are extremely modern and comfortable, and passenger numbers are limited to give guests the best experience possible. There are even free drinks and snacks on offer throughout the tour.
We’ve also got a discount code for you so that you can enjoy this amazing experience at an even more affordable price.
This is the crew we sail with when we head to Milford Sound.
Did you know? Cruise Milford also offers a cruise/kayak combo which is perfect if you’d like to be a little more active in your exploration.
2. Enjoy a Nature Cruise with Southern Discoveries
Southern Discoveries is the original Milford Sound cruise company. In fact, they have over 60 years of tour experience and a friendly team, making them another great option if you’re looking to do a cruise along the Milford Sound.
Get up close and personal with the fjord from the open top deck if you wish, or you can marvel at its beauty from the full-height windows, where you can be tucked up warm inside.
Either way, you’ll get to enjoy the Milford Sounds most spectacular sights from a stylish and comfortable vessel.
Not only that but there’s a licensed bar on board, free tea and coffee, and ongoing commentary from the skipper.
3. Book the Southern Discoveries Combo: Nature Cruise, Kayaking and Underwater Observatory
This is another of Southern Discoveries’ epic tours!
It gives you a totally unique perspective of the Milford Sound through its underwater observatory. There, you’ll get to observe the fjord’s unique marine life. You’ll also get to see rare coral species that are unique to this area.
This fiord day cruise also includes a guided kayaking experience, where’ll you head out on the beautiful waters of the Milford Sound. The sense of being totally immersed in the sound, whilst floating right on the water is unlike anything else.
And of course, you’ll also board their cruise.
With the cruise, underwater observatory, and kayaking tour, you’ll need to allow around 6 hours for this experience.
This is easily one of the best Milford Sound tours out there, as you can witness this natural marvel from almost every angle!
4. Catch the Sights from a Motor Yacht with RealNZ
This tour will see you cruise the full length of the Milford Sound (as they all do), heading right past St. Anne’s Point Lighthouse into the Tasman Sea.
With purpose-built observation lounges and large deck areas, the RealNZ vessels are perfect for wildlife-watching and admiring the breathtaking views. They’re also full of character, making them a special way to see the sights.
This Milford Sound cruise is run by RealNZ, who have been offering spectacular tours in New Zealand since 1954, so you know you’re in for a treat.
These boats are also available for overnight stays which are out-of-this-world amazing (check out #12 on this list)!
5. Marvel at Milford Sound on a Glass-Roof Catamaran: JUCY Cruise
If you’re looking for a unique Milford Sound boat tour then take a look at this nature cruise offered by JUCY Cruise.
You’ll be exploring the fjord on a glass-roof catamaran, complete with spacious outdoor viewing decks.
Not only that but HD cameras are used to project footage to the TVs within the catamaran. This gives you the chance to admire the outdoors even if you aren’t able to stand on the deck (or perhaps don’t want to do so on a rainy day).
You won’t have to worry about over-crowding either, as this another company that intentionally keeps numbers relatively low.
Small-Group Tours to Milford Sound
Small-group tours allow you to sit back and relax while someone else does the driving. They’ll be well-equipped to get you into Milford Sound, regardless of the weather, and will be a wealth of knowledge, sharing local history and stories.
It’s a long day on the road if you’re travelling from Queenstown, and for this reason, tours are often preferred.
By joining a small-group tour you’ll have the benefit of more time with your guide and a touch more flexibility when compared to a larger group.
Did you know? The cost of your cruise is included in the advertised price, both for small group and coach tours. This makes budgeting easy.
6. Experience a Full Day in Milford Sound (from Queenstown) with Altitude Tours
When it comes to intimate small-group experiences, Altitude Tours is one of the best tour operators around.
If you choose this tour, not only will you get a 2-hour cruise of the Milford Sound on board Mitre Peak Cruises, but you’ll also get to see some fantastic spots along the way.
What’s more, their small-group tours take place in a glass-roof van too so you’ll get to enjoy the epic scenery all around you as you travel. With personal service, a maximum of 16 passengers, and panoramic views right throughout the day, it’s hard to beat Altitude for tours leaving Queenstown.
7. Join Fiordland Tours on a Day Trip from Te Anau
If you’re staying in Te Anau, then a day trip with Fiordland Tours is highly recommended.
We have been on tours with Ray twice and both times were amazing… I always recommend Fiordland Tours.Rae Harford, NZTT member.
This particular tour will take you to the Milford Sounds in a comfortable mini-van, before joining up with the Southern Discoveries nature cruise.
Along the way, you’ll stop off at 17 fantastic photo spots, enjoy scenic walks, and learn all about the geology and wildlife in this area.
Fiordland Tours limits this experience to 15 people, so you won’t have to worry about the tour being overcrowded. You’ll also be out from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, making it great value for money.
Our members frequently rave about the service they get on board with Ray, so why not try him out for yourself?
We went with Ray to Milford Sound a couple of years ago and were thrilled to have a smaller group, with heaps of information and genuine care that we had a great day.Lyndal Rwheeler, NZTT member.
8. Book a Day Trip with Cheeky Kiwi (from Queenstown or Te Anau)
Cheeky Kiwi is another great option for small-group tours.
Their Milford Sound day trip runs from both Queenstown and Te Anau, taking place over approximately 13 hours (if you choose to depart from Queenstown).
The tours are run in modern and comfortable minibuses, and are led by passionate guides who love to share stories and have a laugh along the way.
Your itinerary will differ depending on which destination you get picked up from, but either way, you’ll get to visit plenty of fantastic sites including Eglington Valley, Mirror Lakes, and of course, Mitre Peak.
Upon arriving at Milford Sound, you’ll hit the fiord with Cruise Milford.
Coach Trips to Milford Sound
Transporting more people, coach tours are another way to get into Milford Sound without the need to drive yourself.
Like a small-group tour, you’ll benefit from professional commentary and can rest easy knowing that you’ll make it to your cruise at the most appropriate time.
Though a coach service isn’t as personal, you will have an incredible view from high up in the bus. These tours also tend to be more affordable than small-group trips, making them a great choice for those travelling on a budget.
9. Depart from Queenstown or Te Anau with GreatSights
If you’d prefer a coach day trip, then make sure you check out this tour from GreatSights.
As you explore Fiordland, you can relax in your reclining leather seat and admire the scenery through the coach’s glass roof!
In addition to your Milford Sound sailing onboard JUCY Cruise, your tour includes a buffet lunch. What else could you need?
If departing Queenstown, your tour will start at approximately 7.40 am and you won’t return until about 8 pm, so be prepared for a full day of adventures!
GreatSights offers luxury tours across the whole of New Zealand and has a fantastic reputation. You’ll be in great hands with them.
10. Travel to Milford from Te Anau or Queenstown, with Southern Discoveries
This is another fantastic Milford Sound tour option from Southern Discoveries. As we mentioned previously, this tour company has over 60 years of experience and offers fantastic tours of the Milford Sound.
Leaving from Te Anau or Queenstown, this day trip will take you to plenty of awesome spots along the way including Te Anau, Eglington Valley, and our favourite spot, the Mirror Lakes. You’ll travel on board a tall coach, providing an excellent vantage point. Plus, with glass above head, you’ll feel immersed in the native bush and forest all around you.
You’ll then head out on a 2-hour nature cruise onboard the Southern Discoveries boat. From the water, you’ll be able to get up close with the fjords’ natural wonders and wildlife.
As with all these tours, this is a big day on the road (but not as big from Te Anau), but don’t worry the friendly guides will be there for you every step of the way, ensuring your comfort and enjoyment.
11. Join RealNZ on a Coach Tour to Milford Sound, from Queenstown or Te Anau
If you love the character of the RealNZ boats, or are pining after an overnight stay in the sounds (but your budget just won’t stretch), this could well be the coach tour for you.
RealNZ follows a similar itinerary to the other coaches on this trip, transporting you in a comfortable bus (complete with glass ceiling – perfect for those towering mountain views).
Once in the fiord, you’ll sail onboard either the Milford Mariner (a motor yacht) or Milford Haven (more like the other boats on this list) and have the opportunity to purchase food and drinks from the onboard cafe and bar.
Both boats are fabulous, but we’re particularly found of the Milford Mariner (which is also the ship they sail for the overnight trips – more on that at next up).
The Ultimate NZ Experience – Stay the Night on the Sound
12. Cruise Overnight on the Milford Mariner
If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, then why not book an overnight cruise on the Milford Sound?
We LOVED our cruise on Milford Mariner in January – such an awesome bucket list experience, definitely recommend it to anyone on the fence!Philippa Griffith, NZTT member.
You’ll be spending the night aboard the Milford Mariner, and will cruise the entire length of the fjords. That includes taking a trip out to the Tasman Sea, paddling in kayaks and riding in the tender.
After spending a day exploring the fjord, you’ll settle down for a fresh carvery buffet and then you can head to the licensed bar. Make sure you spend some time up on the deck too if you’re a keen stargazer!
The vessel sleeps up to 60 people and the cabins are incredibly spacious too, each with ensuite bathrooms.
The onboard experience feels surprisingly intimate, making this one of the very best NZ tourism experiences around.
I was lucky enough to do an overnight cruise with RealNZ. We self drove to Milford Sound to meet the cruise for 4 pm. The staff were informative and friendly, food delicious and plentiful and staying the night on the sound was an experience I’ll never forget – so peaceful, so many stars and so quiet! I felt a million miles from the rest of the world, and watching the sunrise and animals wake in the morning was magical. The bed was comfy and warm, showers hot and all staff on board so friendly and helpful. Wine and beer was available for purchase (credit card only, no debit or cash). I can’t recommend the overnight option or RealNZ highly enoughMadison Elizabeth, NZTT member.
Head to Milford by Air
The fastest way to get to Milford Sound is undoudedly by air, particularly if you’re travelling from Queenstown.
Far more than just a convenience though, Fiordland National Park is spectacular from the sky!
13. Book a Fly-Cruise-Fly Package and See the Best of Milford in Less Time
Milford Sound is scenic no matter where you view it from, but there’s something special about witnessing it from the air.
Hop on board your small fixed-wing plane to enjoy Milford Sound from the perfect vantage point. Travel from Queenstown to Milford Sound, before embarking on a 2-hour cruise to explore Milford from the water.
Then, you’ll head back to Queenstown via a different flight path, enjoying stunning views of Fiordland National Park.
If you’re looking for an incredibly memorable Milford Sound tour, check this one out!
Air Milford are brilliant. Very friendly and skilled staff with a strong focus on safety. The flight was one of our most memorable family holiday experiences.Paula Hogg, NZTT member.
Pro Tip: If you’re short on time, flying in and out of Milford really is the best option, as it avoids the long drive by road. These tours take four hours, while a tour departing Queenstown by road takes approximately 12 hours. If you don’t have four hours to spare, it’s possible to see Milford in just two hours on a flyover tour – check out #16 on this list.
14. Helicopter in from Queenstown, including a Fiord Cruise and Glacier Landing
If you’re looking to see Milford Sound from above, then this is another great option.
Soar high above Fiordland National Park for the ultimate bucket list experience, before landing on one of the fjords’ glaciers, where you’ll be able to admire the views and take endless photographs.
Continue on your journey to Milford, landing ready for a memorable cruise onboard the Southern Discoveries boat.
Throughout the day, you’ll be offered endless wildlife watching opportunities and spectacular views. The friendly pilots will also share their extensive knowledge of the area, whilst you sit back and relax.
15. Hop onboard a Helicopter from Te Anau
Departing from Te Anau, these helicopter flights are the ultimate in luxury.
Choose from their Milford Sound tour or go all-out and book the Milford Sound/Doubtful Sound combo, ticking off both of these natural attractions in the one trip.
You’ll enjoy the beauty of Fiordland from the air, whilst having the maneuverability of a helicopter to really get you into those special spots.
With at least two different landings in the national park, you’ll have ample opportunity to spread your legs and snap some photos for the scrapbook. Our favourite landing spot is beside Lake Quill, located in a hanging alpine valley that feeds the incredible Sutherland Falls.
16. Fly in the South Island’s Only Float Plane with Wings and Water
Wings and Water run trips from Te Anau, offering a truly unique experience.
This company operates the only float plane in the Fiordlands, so you’ll be able to see Milford Sound from both the air and the water, without even stepping foot on a cruise!
The tour will take you over Lake Te Anau, the Milford Track, and Sutherland Falls, before flying over Milford Sound. From up there, you’ll get impressive views of cascading waterfalls and towering glaciers.
There’s a window seat for everyone on board, and passengers will benefit from the inflight commentary too.
Run by husband and wife, Ivan and Kylie (one of which will almost certainly be your pilot), this is a great kiwi owned-and-operated company.
17. Short on Time? Join a Flyover Tour of Milford Sound from Queenstown
If you’re based in Queenstown and find yourself really short on time, but you know Milford is top of your must-do list, then a flyover tour is the most efficient way to see this incredible natural sight.
With endless panoramic views of lakes, waterfalls, razor-backed ridge lines, forested river valleys and snow-covered peaks, this really is the flight of a lifetime.
Though you won’t land in Milford Sound itself, you’ll enjoy unparalleled views throughout your time in the air. Plus, your pilot will fly through the fiord, ensuring you get a real sense of where you are.
On the way home, you’ll fly past the Sutherland Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in New Zealand.
Walking Tours of Milford
18. Join a Full-Day Milford Sound Hiking Tour (with Cruise) from Te Anau
If you’re a big hiker, then this is the perfect tour for you!
You’ll spend a full day hiking and driving the scenic road to Milford Sound, in a small group of 15 people or less. Along the way, you’ll stop off at a variety of scenic points, where you’ll take guided walks out into the national park, with each walk ranging from 5 to 20-minutes.
Once you reach Milford Sound, you’ll then hop on a 2-hour boat cruise through the fjord and out into the Tasman Sea.
As you can see this tour has much to offer those who prefer to be a bit more active.
Did you know? This region is home to the Milford Track, Routeburn Track and Kepler Track? All of which are New Zealand Great Walks.
No matter how you choose to see Milford Sound, you’ll be in for a treat. Ensure it is a part of your next New Zealand itinerary!