Fly-Cruise-Fly Queenstown to Milford Sound
Travelling from Queenstown to Milford Sound may look like a straight line on a map, but don’t be fooled. You’re looking at about 600 kms return or 10 hours sitting in a bus or rental car! Travellers often select the fly-cruise-fly option with a trusted local operator such as Real Journeys. From Queenstown, the return trip takes about 4.5 hours, so if you start in the morning you’ll be back in Queenstown around lunchtime. This flight passes over some of the most stunning scenery in New Zealand, so from that point of view alone, it’s worth it. View Fiordland and Milford Sound great boutique accommodation and exciting tour options.
The key challenge with all flight options ex Queenstown is the changeable weather. Conditions such as as fog, heavy rain or strong winds,can prevent the flight at any stage of the journey. Generally the flight operators expect that passengers will check weather conditions on the morning of departure. By the way, Queenstown can be totally different to the weather in Milford Sound. It’s all due to the Southern Alps running between Milford and Queenstown.
Once you’ve landed at Milford Sound Airfield you’ll be transferred to the wharf terminal and taken on a 2-hour boat, an example of this being the Milford Mariner, a nature cruise we recommend due to smaller passenger numbers and a wildlife guide on-board. And for an added level of excitement, a helicopter is an even better flight option.
Coach-Cruise-Fly – Getting from Queenstown to Milford Sound
Coach–cruise–fly will offer you the best of both worlds – a flight into Milford and back via the Fiordland National Park road (view road map) – regarded as one of the must stunning scenic drives on planet earth! It’s a full day and includes 5-6 hour journey by coach from Queenstown to Milford Sound (with stops in between). After the cruise you’ll fly back. If the weather conditions deteriorate during the day, the operator will provide a full a coach trip all the way back to Queenstown.
Coach-Cruise-Coach (or rental car) – Getting from Queenstown to Milford Sound
The least costly and most time-consuming travel option for a day trip between Queenstown and Milford Sound is Coach-Cruise-Coach. You’ll be on the road (and the cruise boat) for 12 hours. It’s a very long day. The advantage with the coach option is that you can kick back, relax and enjoy great local commentary by a friendly driver-guide, plus some stunning views as the seats and window views are specifically designed to make the ride as enjoyable as possible. There are toilet and scenic stops on the way where you get to breathe pure oxygen, touch the wet moss, walk past waterfalls and see those cheeky kea birds! A word of caution – not all operators are created equal – choose a reliable local operator with modern coaches and prompt service.
You can also do this day tour to Milford Sound with your own rental car. Keep in mind the 600 kms drive (this is a lot in New Zealand as we don’t have German autobahns, but very good country roads). In the Fiordland region you need to calculate on 60km per hour, so 600 kms will take about 10 hours driving (not included scenic stops and walks etc.) For some less experienced drivers we definitely recommend the coach option as there is also a long tunnel (the Homer Tunnel) just before you reach Milford Sound.
Overnight cruise in Milford Sound
If you really want to do things differently, consider the Milford Sound Overnight Cruise, departing late afternoon from Milford Sound Wharf. And if you have enough time to travel from Queenstown to Milford, do some walks in between and board the vessel around 4pm. There is plenty of car parking as well.
Talk a small bag for the night (and don’t forget your rain jacket!). Dinner and breakfast is provided on-board and you can choose to have your own cabin with ensuite bathroom. There are also some bunks with shared bathroom facilities. Although it’s less costly, it is definitely noisier. After breakfast, you’ll arrive back at the wharf and off you go to new adventures! You can also combine the Overnighter with a flight from Queenstown (subject to weather conditions). My recommendation: if you prefer a more quiet, leisurely accommodation experience go for the Milford Mariner ship. If you’re young and out there for party time, choose the Milford Wanderer (which has mostly bunks and suits those on a more limited budget.)
Stay 1-2 nights in Te Anau & explore Milford Sound from there:
Personally, I prefer this option as it allows more time for the Te Anau + Fiordland area. Stay for a couple of nights in Te Anau and make this your base. The small Te Anau village it’s more the “true New Zealand”. It has a lovely lake fronting your doorstep and the Te Anau Caves nearby with stunning short walks, such as the Rainbow Reach/ Kepler Track on which parts of the Lord of the Rings were filmed.
Drive yourself into Milford Sound, do the cruise (again I’d recommend the “Nature Cruise”) and have plenty of time in between for walks, photo stops and maybe just a little detour into the Hollyford Valley. Lake Marian is a gorgeous walk and further down a Kiwi-classic “Gunn’s Camp”. If you’re sick of driving, join a day tour with a good local operator such as “Trips and Tramps”. These guys “really know their stuff” and will get you to the right places at the right time! Talking about timing… one piece of advice, if you’re travelling with your rental car, avoid starting between 8-10am. Everyone will be on the road then. Instead, travel at 7am or after 10am and you’ll get the road almost to yourself. Whatever you choose dear traveller, you’ll get to enjoy one of the most beautiful and remote scenic spots on planet Earth – guaranteed!
View other travel blogs on the Queenstown region:
- Millbrook luxury resort near Queenstown
- Where to stay in Queenstown or Wanaka
- Off the beaten track in Glenorchy near Queenstown
- Zipline over Queenstown
- Azur Lodge near Queenstown
- Walter Peak Farm Tour from Queenstown