This short and sweet post is designed to give you an idea on what you can expect from a full day trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown.
Milford Sound was one of those places I had seen on so many photos beforehand, that it became a must-see for me. Even when you’re short on time, it’s totally possible to do in one day from Queenstown.
Milford Sound, a Day Trip from Queenstown
As an extension from my little South Island road trip, I decided to explore Queenstown and tick off visiting Milford Sound of my list.
Queenstown, considered the world’s adventure capital, is attracting 3 million visitors each year. The main draw for people is mostly their world-class skiing and snowboarding, bungee jumping, various water activities and the nearby wine trails. For me, it was more about having a base for a few days to spend Christmas, visit Milford Sounds and just finding out what’s this city all about.
For anybody thinking of going to Milford Sound within the Fiordland National Park keep reading on what to see along the way, costs and timings.
Milford Sound Landscape Photography
Milford Sound – Fiordland National Park: What To Expect On A Full Day Tour
One of the best trips you can do when down on the South Island of New Zealand, is to visit the vast Fiordland National Park. It’s totally possible to it on day-trip from Queenstown, which you would naturally stop at.
As I was travelling on a budget I was going for the Milford Sound Tour with InterCity. A full-day tour departs from Queenstown (or Te Anau), includes the return travel, the cruise, a few cool stops along the way and prices start from
$125 NZD ($80 US, 74€).
The tour starts as early as 9.15 am from the InterCity bus station on Athol Street in Queenstown centre. I’m not gonna lie, the drive takes a long time. It’s supposed to be 5 hours 45 minutes so you would arrive at the Milford Wharf at 3.00 pm. However, it does not feel that much as you stop a couple of times.
The first stop is at lunchtime in the town of Te Anau, considered the gateway to the Fiordland National Park. I ventured off from where the bus stopped, towards the lake and grabbed some decent veggie wrap at Lakefront Café.
A tip here – stock up on some snacks to avoid unnecessary running around in those 30 minutes, frantically looking for something healthy to eat.
Eglington Valley – Knobs Flat
The first sightseeing stop was at Knobs Flat, in the Eglington Valley. Carved out by glaciers, it’s one of the few areas in New Zealand where you can find large areas of lowland beech forest. Furthermore, there are more than 30 rare, endangered or threatened plant and animal species, which you cannot find anywhere else in the world.
Another beautiful stop in the Eglington Valley is the Mirror Lakes. One of the best places to catch a reflection of the surrounding Earl mountain, permitting it’s a wind calm day.
To see the Lake you’ll walk along a well-maintained boardwalk.
The Fiordland National Park was considered a World Heritage Area by the United Nations in 1986. The park was described as ‘superlative natural phenomena’ and ‘outstanding examples of… the earth’s evolutionary history’.
Continuing from there, we stopped at Monkey Creek – my favourite spot along the route! Its snow-covered mountains everywhere you looked, the creek fed by the glacier and a pristine environment made it a special place.
If you are lucky, you can even spot the kea, New Zealand’s alpine parrot or the Rare Whiro (blue duck), who lives in the creek. We sadly did not encounter them…
From there the scenery gets more and more dramatic – numerous small waterfalls crashing down the enormous mountain slopes, patches of snow revealing recent avalanches.
The final stop before reaching Milford Sound is held at The Chasm. From the car park, it’s a leisurely stroll through tranquil native bush, with many New Zealand typical ferns. The closer you get to the chasm the louder becomes the sound of the gushing waterfalls, disappearing through the rocks.
Nice enough stop and a good opportunity to stretch your legs. Also, the car park there is another known place for spotting the kea!
Milford Sound – Fiordland National Park
Often described as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, Milford Sound’s is actually a fiord. Carved by glaciers thousands of years ago, it’s known for cliffs that rise vertically from the ocean (the Mitre Peak being the highest with 1,700 metres)and waterfalls that drop from as high as 1000 metres into the sea.
Once at the Milford Wharf, the driver will tell you the boat you are on. The drive lasts about 60 – 75 minutes and brings you out towards the opening of the Tasman Sea.
Although the weather was fine, as in blue sky and sunshine, we got some very strong winds going on. Standing on deck, facing the direction we went I had tears streaming down my face because of the winds. Coming from Wellington, I thought it couldn’t get stronger, wrong!
With that being said, I think it accentuated the experience and you could truly feel the forces of nature, the roughness of the place.
It’s on the return that the ship stops at the might Stirling Falls. It’s one of Milford two permanent waterfalls, dropping down a stunning 151 metres. This, by the way, is three times the height of the Niagra Falls! Who knew?
Seeing the falls from afar was just as stunning was when we got up close. Just before reaching it comes a huge rock with New Zealand fur seals resting on them. Super cool!
Once the boat gets to the falls, it almost goes underneath it, so you might get a bit wet.
Just before the wharf, you’ll pass again the giant Lady Bowen Falls – Milford’s tallest waterfall. It’s created by the Bowen River that gushes down a 161-metre high cliff and provides electricity for the township of Milford.
Once the cruise is finished at around 4.45 pm, the bus is waiting for you outside. You will stop again in Te Anau for a short break until arriving in Queenstown at 9 pm-ish.
I hope this post inspires you to visit one of New Zealand’s most remote places. Although you have to invest some time – it will be worth every minute!
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