What will I see in Milford Sound? How do I get there? And what exactly IS Milford Sound, anyway?!

The answers to these Frequently Asked Questions about Milford Sound cover a wide range of topics. Find out the information you need to know before you go to help you plan your trip.

You can also check out our blog for interesting posts and advice on visiting Milford Sound.

General Information

Milford Sound is a fiord on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Its remote alpine location and beautiful scenery makes it one of New Zealand’s most popular visitor attractions. Find out more about Milford Sound.

The name is a bit misleading – Milford Sound is actually a fiord, not a sound! Sounds are formed when a river valley is flooded by the sea, but fiords like Milford Sound are made by glaciers carving a path to the sea. Find out more about how Milford Sound was formed.

Milford Sound is named after a place in Wales called Milford Haven, a long narrow inlet on the Welsh coast. It was given the name in 1823 by John Grono, who was the first European settler to visit Milford Sound. (The Māori name for the area is Piopiotahi, which sounds much nicer!) Find out more about Milford Sound history.

The cliffs around Milford Sound were carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago. Find out more about how Milford Sound was formed.

Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in New Zealand, so no matter when you are planning to visit, you should expect some rainfall.

Find out more about Milford Sound weather and view a weather forecast.

The depth of the ocean floor in Milford Sound varies in different places, as there are several different valley floors as a result of glacial erosion. In some places it is just 27 metres (88 feet) deep, while in other areas Milford Sound is 400m (1,312 feet) deep. Find out more about Milford Sound geography.

Milford Sound is approximately 16km (9.94 miles) long.

Māori people living in the South Island discovered Milford Sound more than 1,000 years ago. The first European settler to see Milford Sound was John Grono in 1823. Find out more about Milford Sound history.

In the 1890s, British writer Rudyard Kipling visited New Zealand and called Milford Sound ‘the eighth wonder of the world’. With its impressive cliffs, mountains towering overhead and tumbling waterfalls all around, we couldn’t agree more!

Although not one of the official “Natural Wonders of the World”, Milford Sound is certainly still up there in terms of global natural phenomena!

The body of water we call Milford Sound was carved out long ago by ancient glaciers, but the last of the Milford Sound glaciers melted many years ago. However, many of the waterfalls and bodies of water feeding into Milford Sound are glacier-fed from high up in the Southern Alps. If you want to see a glacier, the best places to go are Fox Glacier or Franz Josef further up the West Coast of the South Island. GreatSights has daily coach tour services there from Queenstown and Wanaka.

The cliffs around Milford Sound were carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago. Find out more about how Milford Sound was formed.

Milford Sound is home to approximately 120 people, although this number fluctuates seasonally as the residents are almost all workers in the tourism industry.

Yes – take a look at the accommodation options here.

There is a small café inside the information centre called the Blue Duck, which offers coffee, lunch and snacks. However, if you are visiting Milford Sound on a day tour please be aware that there will not be time to visit it, as you will go straight from your coach onto the cruise boat.

There is also a restaurant on-site at Milford Lodge called Pio Pio, the only accommodation provider in Milford Sound. Please note that the restaurant is primarily open for evening meals only.

Milford Sound is home to a very small resident population, chiefly made up of the people who work on the various cruise ships and other tourism companies there. As a result there are no shops or stores. There is one accommodation provider with an on-site cafe.

Generally, no. New Zealand mobile networks have very limited coverage along the Milford Road and in Milford Sound.

There is a small range of souvenirs available at the information centre in Milford Sound. However if you are visiting on a day tour you will not have time to visit it, as you will go straight from your coach onto the cruise boat.

Most Milford Sound day tours stop for morning and afternoon tea in Te Anau. Here you will find a wider range of shops including an excellent range of New Zealand souvenirs at Kiwi Country.

Getting to Milford Sound

You can get to Milford Sound by driving along the Milford Road – either by driving yourself or by bus or coach tour, or by air.

The Homer Tunnel is 1.2km (0.75 miles) long, and is one of the highlights of the Milford Road.

During the winter season (June to November), the Milford Road may be closed on occasion due to weather conditions or avalanche risk. This happens on average eight or nine days per year.

Activities in Milford Sound

Yes – but there are restrictions. Check our Fishing Milford Sound page for more information.

No. Milford Sound is a large and fairly sheltered body of water and while conditions can be rough in bad weather, there is no surf to speak of. The best way to enjoy the water is by diving, kayaking or taking a cruise.

Some tour operators offer cycling tours into Milford Sound. However, please note that mountain bikes are not allowed on any tracks within Fiordland National Park.

There are skydive companies based in nearby towns and cities including Queenstown and Glenorchy, but there are no drop zones over Milford Sound. Find out how to see Milford Sound from the air here.

For the most part there are no beaches in Milford Sound, as it is bounded by sheer rock cliffs. Harrison Cove is one of the few ‘beaches’ in Milford Sound, forming a natural anchorage. You will see it on a cruise, or you may be able to visit it on a kayaking tour. With the chilly temperatures in Milford Sound, though, it’s not the kind of place you go to lie on a beach!

Migratory whales sometimes visit Milford Sound, but you’re more likely to view other wildlife such as penguins, seals or dolphins during your cruise.

Tours and Cruises

When the Milford Road is closed due to weather conditions like snow or avalanche risk, most tour operators will give you the option to either transfer your tour to the next available day, or receive a full refund. It’s a good idea to check the terms and conditions of your booking.

Because the weather in Milford Sound can change, it’s a good idea to be prepared for every possibility. We recommend wearing or bringing with you:

  • a hat (to protect you from the sun in summer, and keep you warm in winter)
  • sunglasses
  • a waterproof and windproof layer
  • at least one warm layer
  • comfortable footwear you can walk in