Whether you've arrived into Milford Sound under your own steam via the Milford Track, or ridden the exciting 950m (3100ft) final descent through the Homer Tunnel down to sea level by coach - we're sure you'll agree Milford Sound is a truly magical place. The scale of the granite mountain faces, the flooded glacial valleys and the views of untouched forests as far as the eye can see, are simply breathtaking. Rudyard Kipling described this place as the eighth wonder of the world; it's easy to see why!
A still day on Milford Sound gives a perfect reflection of Mitre Peak and the surrounding peaks.
So where does the name Milford Sound come from?
Milford Sound has had a bunch of name changes since it was discovered in 1812 by Sealer Captain John Grono, who named it Milford Haven after his home town in Wales. As us Kiwis have become more conscious of conservation, and protecting our Maori culture and influence, Milford Haven became Milford Sound (also known as 'Piopiotahi' in Maori) in 1998. But wait - Milford Sound is actually incorrectly named! A sound is a river valley which has been flooded by the ocean, and just like so much of our dramatic South Island - Milford was actually formed by glaciers. This means it is a fiord. This is a very popular trivia question, so take notes for your New Zealand adventure!
Milford Sound has several permanent waterfalls, including Stirling Falls - more than three times the height of Niagara Falls, and Lady Bowen Falls; a short distance from the wharf area. Seeing as the granite landscape doesn't absorb a drop of the annual 6,412mm (252in) rainfall, it made sense for Bowen Falls to be used to power the small town of Milford Sound. It is during the regular periods of rain in Milford, that he waterfalls really come alive. Hundreds of new falls cascade down the steep faces of the mountains, and if you catch Milford on a rainy day, why not name your own?
Milford Sound's thundering waterfalls on a rainy day
Overnight Cruise on Milford Sound
If you choose to take an overnight cruise on Milford Sound, you'll be choosing an experience of luxury, tranquility, and stunning natural beauty. You'll board the 'Milford Wanderer' mid afternoon and cruise the 15km (9.3miles) out to the Tasman Sea, passing by Lady Bowen Falls, and getting close enough to Stirling Falls to feel the fresh spray from the Wanderer's deck. As the afternoon fades into the coloured light of evening the captain will drop anchor in a sheltered cove, where you can go exploring with specialist nature guides, either by kayak or in the vessel's small craft, until it's time to climb back on board for your carvery buffet dinner and some stargazing with a glass of New Zealand wine.
The Milford Wanderer cruise
The next morning we suggest emerging from your private cabin in time to watch the sunrise - it should help clear your head if you really enjoyed the Kiwi wine! Then tuck in to a hearty buffet breakfast. Your captain will once again point the Milford Wanderer in the direction of the Tasman Sea. Take this opportunity to do some wildlife spotting, including Hector dolphins, New Zealand fur seals and the Fiordland Crested Penguins! Occasionally, and most recently in 2016, a pod of Sperm Whales made the 15km (9.3miles) trip into Milford from the coast - marine biologists attributed this to the uncharacteristically low levels of rainfall for that time of year, which in turn allowed Phytoplankton to thrive (the whales' main food source). If you get to see whales on your cruise you'll be among a very lucky few - don't forget your camera!
Finally the Milford Wanderer will return to dock at the wharf. We're positive you'll disembark rejuvenated, full of good food and great memories - ready to continue your New Zealand adventure!
Highlights of the Overnight Cruise:
- Full length Milford Sound Cruise.
- Optional access to a section of the Milford Track (guided).
- Three course buffet dinner, fully licensed bar, cooked or continental breakfast.
- Overnight stay on the Fiord in Harrison Cove.
- Specialist Nature Guides for duration of the trip.
Check out our Essence of the South Island 'Tui' trip for an itinerary that includes the overnight option.
Day Cruise on Milford Sound
Several of our itineraries involve cruises on Milford Sound - it's definitely one of the best ways to get up close to the unique nature and wildlife in this stunning corner of New Zealand. The day cruise is included in our Weka itinerary, as well as our Kiwi and Manuka trips.
Numerous companies operate daytime cruises from Milford Sound wharf and we always aim to pick the most personal local experience for our guests. We like the folks who only allow their vessel to be booked to half capacity, leaving you with plenty of room to relax, roam around the decks and even visit the open wheel house and have a yarn with the Captain.
The two-hour Milford experience starts with a slow cruise up the left side of the fiord. Your captain will point out hanging forests, permanent waterfalls and name some of the tallest peaks. The specialist nature guides on board can also help answer your questions about the geology and wildlife.
Once your vessel arrives at the Tasman Sea, the captain will turn her around and slowly head back up the opposite side of the glacial valley. On the return journey they like to point the bow towards Stirling Falls, and give you a chance to stand outside and quite literally 'get drenched' by the spray of one of Milford's highest permanent waterfalls - waterproofs provided!
A Day trip boat on the Milford Sound
We know that Milford Sound is right up there on everyone's bucket lists and can be the main reason our guests choose to come to New Zealand in the first place. We have put together a list below of our trips that include either the overnight cruise or the day trip. If you'd like to get even more up close and personal with this incredible eighth wonder of the world - check out our Rimu itinerary which includes a kayaking activity option, or read our page on kayaking Milford Sound here.
Two kayakers enjoy a moment of quiet on Milford Sound
No matter which experience you choose - making the journey down to Milford Sound alone is unforgettably special. You will walk away feeling tiny in comparison to the impressionable raw lush green landscapes and vast serene fiord. Milford Sound has left it's mark on many travellers all around the world!