Milford Sound/Piopiotahi is New Zealand's best-known tourist destination; once you have visited, you will see why! Milford Sound is a glacially carved fiord located in the northwest of Fiordland National Park, guarded by towering mountains, enveloped by water and drenched in lush, green rainforest. Whether you take a tour, drive, fly or even walk to Milford Sound - you will love both the journey and the destination, so take your time to enjoy it all.
A Brief History
Milford Sound/Piopiotahi wasn't always as easy to access as it is now, but it's understood that Māori would have travelled extensively through the area to collect the precious tangiwai pounamu (greenstone) and also to access the fiord for its abundance of sealife and birdlife to use for food and other resources. Māori legend has it that the atua (god), Tū-Te-Rakiwhanoa had carved out Fiordland with his adze and his final and most spectacular work was of Milford Sound. Māori named the area Piopiotahi after the now extinct, thrush-like bird, the Piopio.
Captain James Cook was famously passing through the Fiordland area in the early 1770s aboard his ship, the Endeavour, and despite his meticulous mapping skills, he sailed past the entrance into Milford Sound, not once, but twice. It wasn't until some years later, in 1812, when Captain John Grono entered the 'cove' and discovered it opened up into what is now known as Milford Sound. He initially named it 'Milford Haven' after a waterway in his native Wales and it was later changed to Milford Sound. The name is a misnomer, as the geographical feature of Milford Sound is technically a Fiord, being a valley carved by glacial action, and not a 'Sound', which is a valley carved out by river action. However, the name Milford Sound has stuck, and from 1998 it is officially named Milford Sound/Piopiotahi to incorporate the name given by the first guardians of this whenua, the Ngāi Tahu iwi (Māori tribe of the South Island).
Once the route between the head of Lake Te Anau and Milford Sound was forged with the European discovery of the Mackinnon Pass/Ōmanui in 1888, many tourists followed thereafter to be able to access Milford Sound and experience the incredible scenery. Made even more famous by an article published in the London Spectator in 1908, labelling the Milford Track 'The Finest Walk in the World', you could say that the word was now out! Identifying Milford Sound as a potential tourism hotspot for New Zealand, in 1933 the idea of boring a tunnel through the Darran mountains was proposed to allow road access, and the Homer Saddle area was surveyed. Work began on the Homer Tunnel in 1935 with just a few men using picks and shovels. It was an extremely tough area to work in, with hard granite rock, constant rain, avalanches and sandflies to contest with. The Homer tunnel was opened almost 20 years later in 1954, at 1.2 kilometres long, with a gradient of 1:10; this was a fantastic engineering feat.
What to do in Milford Sound
Te Anau is the closest town to Milford Sound and is the best place to base yourself if you plan on visiting. You can either self-drive or take a tour from Te Anau to Milford Sound, and it is most popular to take part in a kayak or cruise tour on the water of the Sound to get the whole experience. Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park is a booking agent and we can reserve any of the recommended tours below on your behalf.
Talk to our friendly team to find out which tour option is the best for you!
Our friendly reception team can recommend which tour will be best for you, and they will make the bookings on your behalf (note that all reservations require a minimum of 24 hours' notice if you wish to change your plans).
Milford Sound Coach & Cruise Day Tours
Milford Sound Private Day Tour with Tracknet Transport
Take your group of 1-11 people on a private tour of Milford Sound. Tracknet's Milford Sound Day Tour is a relaxed journey from Te Anau along the Milford Road in a private late-model Mercedes Van, a historical and awe-inspiring alpine drive. Leave your vehicle in Te Anau and take advantage of the local knowledge and experience of Te Anau-based driver guides. The frequent photo stops and short walks combined with a comprehensive commentary and cruise on Milford Sound will make your Milford Sound experience memorable.
Once at Milford Sound, the tour joins a 1 hour and 45 minute Nature Cruise. There is lots of space inside and out to view and take photographs, and complimentary tea and coffee during the cruise. You will see towering peaks, outcrops where seals and penguins may be seen, waterfalls, and occasionally, the local bottle-nosed dolphin pod will be sighted from the cruise.
- Waterproof Jacket, warm clothing & comfortable walking shoes
- Sunscreen, sunhat & insect repellent
- Water bottle
- Snacks (or picnic lunch can be arranged)
Departs on demand for private group travel. Please enquire to Tracknet Transport
Milford Sound Coach & Cruise
Join a tour from Te Anau and relax while you take in the dramatic views along the Milford Road. Learn about the history, geological features and more, and be shown the best places to stop along the way. Once in Milford Sound, board a cruise and be wowed by the sheer-sided Fiord and spectacular waterfalls. There are several Coach & Cruise options, from small groups to large, scenic or nature cruises, added Key Summit or Lake Marian hikes, and extras such as the Underwater Observatory or lunches.
Get in contact with our reception team to discover which options will be the best for you.
Wings & Water Floatplane Flight
Take a flight from Te Anau to Milford Sound. Fly the length of Lake Te Anau and follow the Milford Track to Milford Sound, while taking in the views of lakes, mountains, waterfalls and glaciers from above.
Milford Sound Self-Drive Tour Options
If you choose to drive to Milford Sound, you may wish to meet up with a Scenic Cruise, Nature Cruise, Kayak tour or a flight from Milford Sound airport. Ask our reception staff to help find the option that is best for you.
On the way from Te Anau to Milford Sound, you will see the landscape is dominated by impressive mountains, lakes and rivers. There are scenic areas and short walks that you can do along the way. Allow 3 hours to drive to Milford Sound to allow time for scenic stops and to find a park once you get there. If you plan on doing some longer walks or stops, factor these into your drive time if you need to be there at a specified time.
Join these modern style boats for a 1 hour 40 minute cruise on Milford Sound with an informative commentary. There are several departures each day, with extra tours during the Summer season (Oct - April).
Leisurely Cruise on board a sailing style boat which has a Nature Guide on board to answer your questions. The cruises are 2 – 2.15 hours in duration. There are two or more departures each day.
If you are staying two nights or more at the Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park, take advantage of our Awesome Fiordland package deal and add a tour to the Te Anau Glow Worm Caves.
Roscoes offers sea kayaking tours in Milford Sound for those that want to get close to the action. There are several departures throughout the day from Milford Sound for a variety of tours that are rated from easy - moderate - tough, depending on your skill level.
Helicopter or fixed wing flights depart from Milford Sound Airport and vary in duration. You can even inculde a glacier-landing on your helicopter flight! These can be booked in advance, but are weather dependent.
Milford Road Driving Tips
- Take your time, stop and get out to stretch your legs and do some of these walks along the Milford Road
- From Lake Gunn to Milford Sound is an Alpine Road and great care should be taken, follow instructions on all road signage for your own safety and that of others.
- The Milford Road/State Highway 94 can be busy at times, with buses and campervans slowing traffic down. Be patient! Allow some extra time and pull over where it's safe to let people pass if required.
- Snow chains must be carried as instructed on road signage (particularly April – November each year). Failure to obey these signs may result in a police fine.
- Ensure you fill your petrol tank before departing Te Anau – it is a 242km round trip.
- You need to be at the Milford Visitors Terminal ready to board your cruise 20 minutes before departure.
- From the main car park to the Visitors Centre is a further 5-minute walk.
- Please allow up to 45 minutes to find a park for your vehicle. Parking in the main area is $10/hr. Payment is by credit or debit card. If you are taking a cruise, you will need 3-4 hours of parking.
- If the main car parks are full, free parking is available at Deepwater Basin Road (back past the airport) where you can catch a complimentary bus service to the visitors terminal – please allow an extra 30 mins for this option.