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Milford Sound: daytrip or overnight?

Travel Forums Australia / New Zealand & The Pacific Milford Sound: daytrip or overnight?

1. Posted by janmcn (Budding Member 5 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

We'll be in NZ for 3 weeks, 2 of them in the South Island. We want to see Milford Sound, but would like to know if the daytrip in a smaller boat is better than the overnight in a larger one. Also, if overnighting...what are "the best" boats in people's opinions?


2. Posted by Clanger (Full Member 201 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

I didnt think an overnight trip on Milford Sounds is really worth the money to be honest, I did a day trip there and we saw a lot in the 2.5 hrs we were on it. Plus the coach journey/tour over to Milford from Queenstown is spectacular too.

I have however been told that Doubtful Sounds is the larger of the two and fantastic for an overnighter.

I did Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and feel that Milford Sounds came nowhere close to that trip! (Granted Ha Long is much much bigger and we did kayaking around the caves which made it something special)

3. Posted by Sander (Moderator 5235 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

I personally wasn't all that impressed by Milford Sound (the trip there was better than actually being there), but I did do the overnight stay (and also did a daytrip from Te Anau several months later), and I'd say that overnight is by far the better way to do it. You get virtually the exact same rushed loop with commentary past all the highlights in the morning, but before that you have the entire evening with the place all to yourself. I lucked out and had blue skies on my overnight trip; kayaking, sailing out into the Tasman, sunset, the works. As I said, the place itself didn't really manage to impress me, but what I did dearly love was the tranquility of being there in the middle of the night. Nothing like it during the day, when tourists are filing into these huge boats by the hundreds.
Also good, I had several hours before and after the boattrip to wait for my bus, so I could leisurely walk to the bottom of Bowen Falls and do the Foreshore Walk. (Things that I want to bet your average tourist to Milford Sound doesn't even know exist.)

As for which boat is the best, that's easy, there's two: the cheap one (the Wanderer) with four-bed cabins and less expensive food, and the expensive one (the Mariner) with twin-beds. There were more backpackers on the cheap one than on the expensive one, for some strange reason... (I was on the cheap one as well, myself.)
Both are operated by the same company, and as far as I could tell, they offer the exact same experience.

4. Posted by magykal1 (Travel Guru 2026 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Actually I thought Milford Sound was awesome - we did a one day kayaking trip, and when the brochures say that the peaks look mighty from sea level they ain't kidding.

For about an hour of our paddling we had dusky dolphins leaping over the front of our boats in formation.

I don't think its worth 2 days though - one full day is enough.

5. Posted by magykal1 (Travel Guru 2026 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Sorry - just thought to post link - check out:

6. Posted by marksaunt (Budding Member 18 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

The comparisons can be made on a few fronts...Milford is the more touristed, therefore more people, boats and planes. The sound itself is about 6k once you've navigated it, you've seen it. It IS amazingly beautiful and stunning, no question about it.

The Doubtful Sound is not as touristed, there is only one operator with an overnight cruise and a day trip and therefore much more pristine and tranquil. I've done the overnight trip twice, and I can tell you the boat is really quite fine....a great operation (but almost anything done by RealJourneys is a top notch experience). To do the Doubtful you need to either take the RealJourneys bus or get yourself to Lake Manapouri where you do a 55 minute speed boat trip across that lake, a trip in itself of majesty. Then buses pick you up and take you over the pass to the sound, and if it's not raining (and even if it is) it's a dramatic ride replete with waterfalls, etc.

The boat trip is spectacular, usually pods of dolphins are seen at some point along the trip. The boat goes out to the mouth of the Sound to the Tasman Sea, turns around and comes back into an arm of the Sound to drop anchor in a tranquil cove and then you have the option of going kayaking, out ina tender with a naturalist or even go swimming! Meals are outstanding and plentiful, and the staff are fantastic. The sleeping accommodations are either private cabins with ensuite or more hostel like sleeping sections of 4 bunks, with a curtain separating that sleeping space from a common area. Common showers as well...and very very well run. The second day is a trip back into harbor and then the bus and second speed boat ride back.

Hope that info helps...I've done a flyover to Milford and loved seeing it, but also was glad I didn't do a 7 hour drive from Queenstown or the boat trip, to be honest. Doubtful was just awesome.

7. Posted by T.J. (Full Member 85 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

hey how much are the tours from queensland to milford sound as i would love to visit where lord of the rings was filmed ans i am on a budget ..

8. Posted by Sander (Moderator 5235 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

Milford Sound was one of the few locations in New Zealand which wasn't used as a location in LotR. (Here's a handy map of all the locations which were used.)

That said, a daytrip from Queenstown to Milford Sound is about $180-$220 (NZD) depending on the organization you travel with and which discounts you get. (Might be possible to get it even cheaper, it's been a while since I was there.)
(If you really meant from Queensland, add the cost of a ticket brisbane-queenstown to that.) :)