Our day down at Milford Sound was one of the most epic out of all our time in New Zealand. We woke up early and explored a few places on our way to Milford Sound. We then went on a fantastic boat tour along the Fiord before spending the rest of the day exploring the area on various hikes. I am sooo glad that we went on a boat tour as it was a brilliant way to see the area. The tour we chose was called a Milford Sound Scenic Cruise with Real Journeys. This was partly because we also booked our trip to the Te Anau glowworm caves with the same company, so we were given a 20% discount for booking both tours at the same time.
Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations, so if you visit here, expect it to be busy! We stayed quite nearby at Te Anau Downs, so we figured it would be easy to arrive early before the crowds. Lots of people come here as a day trip from Queenstown, which is almost 4 hours away.
This post was not sponsored in any way. I just really enjoyed our trip, so want to share the experience.
Milford Sound Scenic Cruise – Real Journeys
Time: The tour was 1 hour 40 minutes
What’s included: There is a large boat with comfy seats and huge windows. We ignored the main lounges and spent all our time on the top deck in the open air. They provide free tea and coffee, but you have to pay extra if you’d like them to provide lunch.
Cost: NZ $80.00 (although we were give 20% off because I booked two tours through the same company)
What to bring: Waterproofs! Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in New Zealand so you’ll need a good coat if you plan to stay warm!
Where: The tour starts at the Milford Sound Cruise Terminal. There is parking pretty nearby if you arrive early. This was all pretty full by the time our cruise was over.
Our cruise started at 9:00am after a really rainy night. Rain had continued to pour on our drive down to Milford Sound, so I was quite worried that we wouldn’t get to see anything. But, once we parked and walked out to the Milford Viewpoint, the photo above was the stunning vista that greeted us. Not bad eh!?
Milford Sound Boat Tour – So fun!
This was our boat, the Milford Monarch. It was huuuge, and because we opted for a tour early in the morning, it was quite empty. Most people seemed to want to stay in the warm cabin, so we had the top deck and views almost all to ourselves. There are several different companies running tours in Milford Sound. They all seemed similar, although we could see the boat next to us was far more crowded on the top deck. I’m pretty sure you can have fun whichever company you choose.
I instantly fell in love with the view of Mitre Peak rising out of the mist.
Weather in Milford Sound
I had seem some beautiful lush, green photos of Milford Sound under pretty blue skies, and initially that is what I was hoping to see. However, as we got closer to our arrival in the Fiordland National Park, the weather forecast looked worse and worse. I even considered cancelling our tour as it looked like the weather would be truly awful. Luckily, when I spoke to locals about it, they all said that Milford Sound is actually best seen in the rain, or at least soon after rainfall. This is because many of the amazing waterfalls are only temporary. After heavy rainfall, in addition to the glacier-fed massive waterfalls, hundreds and hundreds of smaller temporary waterfalls line the steep cliff edges.
Here are some examples of the temporary waterfalls. Some of these were already drying up before our return journey, so they really don’t last long! If you plan to visit Milford Sound on a wet day, you’ll love it! It looks like the mountains are decorated with white pin stripes!
Our boat went right up close to Fairy falls so we had an amazing view staring up at the almost vertical wall of mountains. Some of the smaller boats went right up and dipped their bows under this waterfall! We ended up pretty soaked just by getting close to it!
I did attempt to take a soggy selfie right up close to Fairy falls, but it was soooo wet that my photo didn’t come out! This second attempt is from further away. Once I’d had time to wipe my screen!
Fiords vs Sounds?
What is the difference between a Fiord and a Sound? We learnt on our previous boat tour on lake Te Anau that Sounds are created by rivers and rising sea levels, so they are normally wider and shallower than fiords, which are created by glaciers. So, Milford Sound is actually a Fiord. The glaciers that created this landscape must have been ginormous!
This is the narrowest part of the fiord. This means it can get pretty windy at that point! Warm air from further up the fiord starts to rise, so cooler air from out in the ocean rushes in to replace it. Even on this cool morning, we were blown around at that point in the cruise! These photos were taken from Dale Point where the fiord meets the Tasman sea.
The steep cliffs really were amazing for long waterfalls! I am not sure if this temporary waterfall even has a name, but it was so, soo pretty! We spotted it just before we reached Seal Point.
As you can probably guess from the name, Seal Point is where the local seals like to hang out. There is one large rock with plenty of room for big-moustached seals! If you look carefully at the smaller rocks surrounding the point, they were full of sleeping seals too!
Stirling Falls was one of the most impressive sights on our Milford Sound Boat Tour! This waterfall is fed from a glacier further up the valley; So you’ll get to see this even on a sunny day. It has a huge 146 m drop from a u-shaped, hanging valley between two huge mountains. Again the Milford Monarch (our boat) took us up close.
We got reeeeally wet! I had to hide my camera under my waterproof coat as we got close to the waterfall as it was just so soggy! Once we realised it would not be possible to take photos, we just enjoyed the experience! Just be ready for this part! That glacial water is really chilly. I couldn’t even open my eyes close to the waterfall as there was so much wind and water blowing everywhere!
While we got completely soaked at the top of the boat, we noticed a man getting even more of a watery deluge down in the bow! So, once the boat tour moved onto calmer waters, I ran down to explore that too. It is pretty fun to be in the bow down close to the water, but I wasn’t quite tall enough to see much. Our Milford Sound Boat Tour’s best views were from above.
The other really fun thing about seeing Milford Sound on a rainy day was the amazing misty views! There was so much water in the air that all the mountains kept being surrounded by interesting, ever-changing misty shapes. Milford Sound is one of the wettest inhabited places on earth. Rain falls for around 200 days per year, with 6700 mm falling annually. No wonder the forest we explored near here was full of moss!
I loved zooming in to see how the mist highlights the trees at the edge of the mountains.
This is the only natural harbour in the fiord. It looks like if you’d like to explore the area at a more relaxed pace, you can take a kayak tour around this cove. This is one of those places that looks completely different if you see it on instagram! There are some days when the water looks all azure-blue, rather than grey!
You can also see the amazing, million year old Pembroke glacier towering above the cove. Mount Pembroke is 2,015 m, so it is the tallest giant looking down over Milford Sound. It was partially hiding in the mist from us, but you can still see that it is beautiful.
So, that was basically the end of our Milford Sound Boat Tour. Somehow the rain held off for an hour, so we had only been soaked by waterfalls, rather than rain! In that short time, many of the temporary waterfalls had started to dry up! So our return journey displayed more misty views, rather than waterfall views.
Real Journeys left the best for last! Although we could see the cruise terminal and the end of our trip, the Monarch turned towards Bowen Falls to show off one more amazing waterfall! Bowen Falls has an epic drop of 162m. To put that in perspective, Niagara falls is only 51m high! The village at Milford Sound collects all of their power and drinking water from Bowen Falls. So, as we stopped off for a cup of tea, we must have drank from this epic waterfall!
This really is not bad for a final view from a boat tour!!
I hope you like the look of this Milford Sound Boat Tour! If you have plans to visit Milford Sound and you are concerned that it looks like the weather might be all rainy, still go! Seriously! This is one amazing place where it will be brilliant, no matter what the weather throws at you!
If you are interested in our other adventures on the way to Milford Sound, you can read more about them here:
- Te Anau Glowworm caves – We also booked this through real journeys
- Lake Mistletoe – a really quick walk on the drive down to Milford Sound
- Boyd Creek Track – a quiet, but stunning hike through mossy forests
- Key Summit Day Hike – the first peak on the famous Routeburn track
- Lake Marian – a gorgeous alpine lake in hanging valley