Review: Milford Sound Cruise with Cruise Milford, NZ inner banner

Review: Milford Sound Cruise with Cruise Milford, NZ

Milford Sound is without doubt one of the world's most sublime stretches of water and attracts up to a million visitors a year, all keen to cruise. You can avoid the crowds by opting for a cruise operator with smaller boats.
Milford Sound Cruise
Cruise Milford Sound with Cruise Milford. Image: Karllie Clifton
Review: Milford Sound Cruise with Cruise Milford

Poipiotahi — more commonly known as Milford Sound — is one of the most visited natural attractions in Aotearoa New Zealand.

However, it is not really a sound but a fiord. Carved out by glaciers during the ice ages, mountain peaks ascend from the deep waters of the fiord, creating the perfect environment for spectacular waterfalls. It rains on average more than 180 days of the year at Milford, making it one of the wettest places in the world. So, there’s a good chance it will be raining when you visit, but look on the bright side. It means even more waterfalls to enjoy!

On a recent South Island road trip, I decided to add a scenic cruise on Milford Sound to my itinerary. It’s an experience every New Zealander should have at least once in their lifetime. I settled on an option with Cruise Milford, who came highly recommended by word of mouth and online reviews. The mention of smaller boats suggested a more personal experience, which sounded good to me. I later discovered that Cruise Milford limits passenger numbers to 50% of their boat’s capacity, ensuring that everyone on board has plenty of space.

Watch our video of ten top things to do on a South Island road trip:

Ten Amazing Things to Do on a South Island Road Trip, New Zealand – The Big Bus

Welcome to The Big Bus tour and travel guide’s YouTube channel. In this video, we bring you ten amazing things to do on a road trip around New Zealand’s stun…

Milford Sound is situated in the Southland region and you get there by air, bus or car from Te Anau or Queenstown. I drove from Te Anau, which takes approximately 1.5 hours each way. It’s one of the most scenic drives in the country and there are numerous stops worth making along the way to take in the stunning views. If you are going to self-drive, plan for it to take the whole day. Te Anau makes a great base for visiting Milford, with a number of accommodation options and other attractions nearby. It’s also much less of a drive to the Sound than from Queenstown (around four hours each way).

Upon arriving in Milford Sound, I’m able to find plenty of parking just a five-minute walk from the wharf. Check-in is quick and easy and from there it’s just a short distance to the pier to board my cruise boat, the Milford Explorer. Skipper Roger and crewmember Julia greet passengers with friendly smiles and an offer of hot beverages and biscuits to enjoy before our adventure gets underway.

Milford Sound Cruise
Milford Sound Cruise

Once all passengers are on board we set off, and are instantly rewarded with a view of the mighty Bowen Falls. At 162 metres, this is Milford’s highest waterfall. We then detour into Deepwater Basin for a quick look and a briefing on the topography of the basin itself. The direction of Sandfly Point is pointed out to us as the trailhead for the popular Milford Track Great Walk.

South Island tours

South Island Tours, Activities & Attractions, NZ

Upon leaving Deepwater Basin we cruise up the left side of the fiord, heading for the Tasman Sea. The day is overcast and the iconic Mitre Peak is hidden in the clouds, but the sheer steepness of the mountain is clearly evident.

Milford Sound Cruise
Milford Sound Cruise. Image: Karllie Clifton

As we near the Tasman Sea, the swell becomes noticeable and the vastness of the open ocean apparent. We turn around and head back into the fiord and before long Julia spots a Fiordland crested penguin. Roger takes us in for a closer look, which reveals two more of these cute creatures. These are one of the rarest penguin species in the world, only found in the southernmost parts of New Zealand.

Dolphins frequent the fiord as well, but we have no luck there. However, we do see plenty of New Zealand fur seals lazing about on Seal Rock. There are not many places in the fiord where the seals can get out of the water (due to the steepness of the cliffs), so this particular rock is a popular place for them to stop and rest.

Milford Sound Cruise
Image: Cruise Milford

Now cruising along the opposite side of the fiord, we eventually come to Stirling Falls — the only other permanent waterfall in Milford Sound. Roger warns the passengers on the outdoor deck that they might want to move inside to avoid getting wet. That’s most of us! However, two passengers decide to stick with their position at the front of the boat and brave a cold sprinkling as we move under the falls. They appear to enjoy the thrill of it.

New Zealand multi-day tours and trips

Save $100pp on New Zealand Multi-Day Tours

As we near the end of our journey Roger takes us into Harrison Cove, which is home to the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory — New Zealand’s only floating facility of this kind. I’m told that to view the untouched marine environment from 10 metres below the surface is an amazing experience in itself. From the cove, we also get a great view up into the snow-capped mountains (the source of the Harrison River), before heading back to the wharf.

Milford Sound Cruise
Milford Sound Cruise

We’ve spent nearly two hours soaking up the breathtaking views and our hosts’ knowledge of the Sound and its history, but there’s one more thing I must mention about the experience — and that’s the fresh air. It has felt so amazing to inhale the clean, crisp air with every breath. Cruise Milford’s staff were superb from start to finish and I did enjoy the experience of being on a smaller boat. This is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one worthy of your travel bucket list.

The writer travelled as a guest of Cruise Milford.

Browse our range of New Zealand tours and experiences here.

Additional images: Bigstock

Karllie Clifton

About the writer

Hailing from Aotearoa New Zealand, Karllie Clifton is an avid midlife traveller and blogger who loves an adventure. In 2015, Karllie left her teaching profession, sold her home, and spent the next three years travelling full time. It sparked a real passion for budget solo travel, which she now loves to inspire others to do. In recent years, Karllie has visited more than twenty countries across three continents. She loves hiking and anything to do with the ocean.



Travel essentials

You can book many aspects of your holiday on the Top Oz Tours & Travel Ideas website, including flights, hotels, car hire, travel insurance, and more. When you purchase a product or service using the following links from our partners, we receive a small commission. It does not affect the price you pay, and it enables us to continue to provide readers with amazing travel inspiration.


Compare airlines, flights, and fares in one place with They don't charge any credit card fees and you can always see exactly what you’re paying for in the price breakdown. You can book one-way, round-trip, and multi-city flights, and change your travel dates with ease when you opt for a flexible ticket option (an additional cost applies). It all adds up to a great flight! Search for flights with


If you're looking for a great deal on your next hotel or homestay, look no further than Their mission is to make travel affordable and accessible to more people, and to deliver seamless accommodation experiences that complement your holiday. Search for hotels and homestays with

Car hire

Discover Cars is an award-winning (World Travel Awards) car rental comparison website, which helps customers find, compare, and hire cars at the most competitive prices globally. You’ll get access to meticulously maintained cars, 4WDs, and minibuses from the world’s leading brands, and at the best possible price. Search for car hire with Discover Cars

Campervans & motorhomes

Make Jucy your first choice for campervan and motorhome hire. Since 2001, this progressive company has had a vision to be world-famous for enabling experience seekers to discover happiness on the road. The Jucy crew live and breathe their core values of passion, pride, family, and fun, and these values influence every one of their interactions with customers. They’re ready to help you find 'your happy'. Search for campervans and motorhomes with Jucy

Day tours & experiences worldwide

Search and book day tours, guided experiences, and attraction tickets and passes worldwide with Top Oz Tours and Viator. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book through us, and you’ll have access to the widest choice of activities and most competitive prices. Search for tours and experiences

Multi-day tours & trips worldwide

Travelling on an extended tour with a local guide is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the destination of your choice. Top Oz Tours has joined forced with Tour Radar to bring you a fabulous range of multi-day tours and trips from the world's leading operators. Travel with like minded people and get the best possible price on the holiday of your dreams. Search for multi-day tours and trips

Travel insurance

World Nomads aims to be a part of every traveller’s journey by providing a reassuring range of travel insurance services. Travellers can buy insurance, extend their policy, and claim online, 24/7, on the road or from home. Travel insurance benefits include coverage for emergency medical and evacuation or repatriation, lost baggage, trip cancellation, and more than 150 adventure activities. Get an insurance costing from World Nomads

Subscribe to our newsletter for the chance to win a $100 voucher



Please leave a comment

  1. My husband and I did the early morning cruise on Sunday 23/01/22 and it was excellent. All aspects of the cruise, from the weather to the boat, were fabulous. We were very taken also by the crew members who were sanitising surfaces throughout the cruise. Thanks for a wonderful trip. We have recommended you to all our friends. Regards Ange & Steve Rush

Please Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

Your Cart
Your Cart Is Empty
error: This content is protected.