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9 incredible things to do in Milford Sound

written by Intrepid Travel October 4, 2021
A group of kayakers out on the water in Milford Sound

From kayaking through deep inky fiords to waking up to the sound of waterfalls, Milford Sound is all about getting up close and personal with nature.

Nowhere does wild, dramatic scenery and jaw-dropping landscapes quite like New Zealand. It’s the kind of beautiful that forces you to be totally in the here and now. Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park is one of the South Island’s biggest draws. The stunning landscapes have been carved by glaciers over thousands of years and the steep granite peeks, beech tree forests and hanging valleys remain practically untouched.

Rudyard King (author of The Jungle Book) once said Milford Sound is the “eighth wonder of the world”, and you’ll understand exactly what he means when you get here. Without further ado, here are some of our favourite things to do in Milford Sound.

1. Walk the Milford Track 

A scenic view of the fiord and peaks in Milford Sound

Dust off your hiking boots and get ready to see some spectacular sights. The Milford Track is one of the Great Walks of New Zealand (ahem, and the world!). This 53-kilometre trail (open from April to October) takes four to five days to complete. You’ll tackle a range of terrain through the foothills of mighty peaks, glacier-carved valleys, lush alpine forests, tranquil rivers and tumbling waterfalls. 

There are also several shorter trails including the Milford Sound Lookout, Foreshore Walk and Key Summit Track. These trails take you through beech forest, dense bush and sandy foreshores and offer impressive panoramic views of Milford Sound, Mitre Peak and the surrounding Fiordland.

2. Go kayaking

A group of kayakers having fun on the water in Milford Sound

The feeling of being in the open water surrounded by soaring cliffs is like nothing else. The scenery is constantly changing. One minute the sky will be perfectly clear and the next minute a blanket of mist and clouds will roll over the mountains, making everything look and feel even more mysterious. Paddle into hidden coves, glide past hanging forests and get up close to waterfalls – maybe even close enough to feel the refreshing mist on your skin. If you’re lucky, you might come face to face with curious bottlenose dolphins, seals or Fiordland crested penguins (from July to November).

3. Visit Te Anau Glowworm Caves

Glow worms lighting up Te Anau Caves

Te Anau Caves is a magical labyrinth of limestone passages. The caves are only 12,000 years old (this is young in cave years), so they’re still being carved out by the river that runs through them. After hopping in a small boat, you’ll glide deep inside the caves where you’ll see unique rock formations, a hidden waterfall and whirlpools. You’ll then drift into a pitch-black, silent grotto where you’ll discover an underground world lit up with thousands of tiny glowworms. Seeing these bioluminescent beings is truly magical.

4. Sleep aboard a heritage-built vessel 

Intrepid travellers standing on the deck of a cruise ship in Milford Sound

Step aboard your home for the night (AKA a heritage-built vessel) and enjoy the stunning journey into the Tasman Sea. After spending time outside soaking up the scenes and spotting wildlife, head inside for a delicious three-course dinner. The night skies above Milford Sound are incredible and you might want to sit out on the deck with a blanket for a spot of stargazing. The best part of this experience is waking up. It’s pretty hard to top waking up to the sound of waterfalls and the sunrise peeking through the granite clifftops. 

EXPERIENCE AN OVERNIGHT CRUISE IN MILFORD SOUND

5. See local wildlife 

A colony of fur seals resting on the rocks in Milford Sound

Milford Sound is a haven for wildlife lovers and you have a good chance of seeing animals from the land or water. Over 60 bottlenose dolphins live in the fiord and they’re known to be quite playful – they might even pop up to say hi (not literally) when you’re sailing or kayaking. The other residents are fur seals, Fiordland Crested Penguins, the rare blue duck, the kiwi and the kea. Keep an eye out for fur seals hanging out on the rocks at Seal Point. If you’re really lucky, you might see a whale as they sometimes visit the fiord to hunt for food.

6. Marvel at Mirror Lakes

Earl Mountain reflecting on the water of Mirror Lakes

You guessed it – on a clear day Mirror Lakes is so pristine you can see the towering Earl Mountains reflecting perfectly on the water. Mirror Lakes is located in Eglington Valley and you’ll pass it on the scenic drive into Fiordland. No doubt you’ll want to stop here, stretch your legs and get some epic photos for the ‘gram, but keep a lookout for wildlife. You might see some of the country’s rarest birds here including New Zealand’s smallest duck, the scaup (or pāpango) and the grey duck (or pārera).

7. Chase waterfalls

A cruise ship docked near Bowen Falls in Milford Sound

Milford Sound gets a whopping 200 days of rainfall per year. But you don’t need to worry about a bit of rain putting a dampener on your spirits. In fact, you’ll want it to rain at least once. Huge downpours mean temporary waterfalls can literally appear out of nowhere, sometimes tumbling from heights of 1000 metres. There are a couple of permanent waterfalls including Bowen Falls which plunges 162 metres from a hanging valley. You can get close to the falls either on a boat cruise or kayak. Or get a bird’s eye view of the cascades on the Bowen Falls Walk (only accessible with the purpose-built boat). Be prepared to get wet!

8. Go stargazing 

Stars illuminating the night skies above Milford Sound

Oh, boy are you in for a treat. Milford Sound is blessed with hardly any light pollution, and on a clear night, the sky shimmers with millions of stars. There’s nothing but you, blissful silence (or the odd bird chirping or rustling in the trees) and the Milky Way. Keep your eye out for satellites and the Southern Cross, Anchor and Maui’s Fish Hook constellations.

9. The Milford Sound Scenic Drive 

You can’t not do the Milford Sound Scenic Drive. No, seriously. It’s the only way in and out of Fiordland. But even if it wasn’t, it would still deserve a place on this list. The Scenic Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound showcases the beauty of Fiordland. You’ll drive through the mountains and see giant granite peaks towering over you in every direction. You’ll pass the lush Mirror Lakes and Lake Gunn, and the gorgeous Milford Sound Forest Walk which is well worth it for the view of Mitre Peak. The drive takes around 1.5 hours, but it’ll go by in a flash with so much to see.

DISCOVER THESE NATURAL WONDERS FOR YOURSELF ON A MILFORD SOUND TOUR

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