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Queenstown to Milford Sound: One of New Zealand’s Best Day Trips

Queenstown to Milford Sound: One of New Zealand’s Best Day Trips

Fiordland National Park is one of the most rugged and beautiful areas of New Zealand. Massive waterfalls, lush forests and jagged mountains make for some amazing views. Milford Sound is without doubt the star attraction – its sharp green peaks rise from the water while boats slowly pass by. It’s quite a scene, and is more than worth the long day trip from Queenstown.

There are heaps of tour options from Queenstown to Milford Sound or you can drive yourself. Driving yourself means you can see more of the area around Milford Sound and maybe do one of the world-class day hikes in the area. The tours are fun too though (we did it that way the first time we visited) and you’ll still see some cool places along the way. Whatever option you choose, a day trip to Milford Sound (or a few days if you have the time) really is a New Zealand must-do.

The Mirror Lakes

After a few hours of driving you’ll be itching to get out and stretch your legs, and the Mirror Lakes is a great little place to stop. You’ll see the tree covered slopes of the surrounding mountains reflecting in the calm waters of the Mirror Lakes — if the weather plays along you’ll get some nice photos there. You can also stop in Te Anau, the gateway to Milford Sound, but there isn’t a lot to see there unless you do one of the hikes nearby.

Awesome Mountain Scenery

The road from Queenstown to Milford Sound continues to roll on past some special scenery. If you’re on a bus tour you’ll be able to get out and admire the views a couple of times on this part of the journey. You can also fill up your water bottle from an ice cold stream – water doesn’t get much better than that. Bus rides can sometimes drag, but the scenery, especially towards the end, completely takes your mind off it. If you’re driving yourself you’ll have to make an effort to keep your eye on the road rather than the surrounding scenery! After a while you’ll arrive at the Homer Tunnel, once the longest gravel-surfaced tunnel in the world (it’s sealed now though).

Milford Sound

Finally you’ll arrive at Milford Sound, which isn’t even a sound (it’s a fjord — check out this site for an explanation). Despite the false advertising it’s hard not to be humbled by the sight of it. You’ll see Mitre Peak off in the distance and you can walk the foreshore track where you’ll get nice views of mountains reflecting in the water close to shore. You can also head up the hill behind the cafe / information site to get a view of Milford Sound from above.

A Cruise Through Milford Sound

Most people visiting Milford Sound opt for a two-hour cruise though the sound and out towards the coast, although you can also do a kayak tour or even a flight. On our recent trip to Milford Sound we were hosted on a cruise by Go Orange and it was a great experience. We had perfect weather and the scenery on offer is second to none. The boat was cool too – there’s a cafe / restaurant serving craft beer, coffee and food and there are heaps of areas to sit and take in the views. One of the best parts of the cruise is getting up close to Stirling Falls. The boat driver backs the boat right up next to the falls for a close-up look.

Hikes Near Milford Sound

If you’re visiting Milford Sound on a day trip from Queenstown you won’t have much time, but if you drive yourself you could fit in one of the day hikes in the area. Lake Marian, Key Summit and Gertrude Saddle are the best ones — you’ll struggle to find a better trio of day hikes anywhere else in the country.

Key Summit -- the best day hike near Milford Sound, New Zealand

The Details

Half the fun of a trip to Milford Sound is the journey, which is longer than it probably needs to be (if you went in a straight line from Queenstown it’d take you a fraction of the time). There has been talk of putting a monorail in to open it up to more tourists from Queenstown, but the system they have now is fine in my opinion. It’s definitely a long day but is more than worth it. Of course, if you have time, you should definitely spend a bit longer in this area. The day hikes are some of the best in New Zealand and there are heaps of other short walks and scenic spots to check out. All in all, a trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s best day trips – you won’t forget it in a hurry!

Have you been to Milford Sound? What is your favourite natural wonder in New Zealand? Let me know!

I was hosted by Go Orange on the Milford Sound cruise. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.