Admiring the Epic Scenic Flights to Milford Sound from Queenstown

After I posted about the amazing Sognefjord in Norway I thought it would be interesting to post about the Milford Sound in New Zealand, on the opposite side of the earth. Milford Sound is legendary – it has been named the world’s number 1 travel destination in the 2008 Traveler’s Choice Destinations Awards by TripAdvisor, which isn’t the best fjord of all!

The location is also where (one of my favorite series…. but well, it is not the best) Alien: Covenant was shot, and it’s the setting of the film’s remote alien planet. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski made the mountains so magical with its soft lighting.

Milford Sound is the most beautiful tourist destination in New Zealand and it offers the best staggering coastal scenery that I have seen. The Sound is located on the Northside of the Fiordland National Park and while it’s physically not far from Queenstown, it takes 4 hours to drive there because the roads had to go around the mountains in between Queenstown and Milford Sound.

Ways to go to the Milford Sound

Thus, there are a few common ways to experience Milford Sound:

Coach > Cruise > Coach

It’s the cheapest way to visit Milford Sound on a day trip that takes about 12 and a half hours (departing from Queenstown, via Te Anau) while you would spend 8 hours in a coach. The coach is comfortable with a glass ceiling, and the nature of the way was something to see. But for me… it’s a long drive just to travel 8 hours both ways in a day. When I was in Queenstown the locals told me that there were some discussions about building a shortcut to connect the two places… Me (and the locals) would rather keep it this way by not spoiling the beauty of nature!)

Coach > Cruise > Fly

The trip is about 9 hours (as it saved 3 hours of driving on the way back after the Cruise), but it’s the “full package” that tourists could experience all three types of transportation and stopover at Te Anau, a small town that is a gateway to Milford Sound and other scenic spots of the Fiordland National Park. Lake Te Anau is the second largest lake in New Zealand. However, it’s the most expensive choice as tourists have to pay for the coach’s returning fare even though they just use it one way.

Fly > Cruise > Fly

So, after consideration Fly > Cruise, > Fly was what we chose and I would recommend it. The trip was just about 4 hours yet we saw everything from above. Milford Sound, Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, the icebergs, the cascading waterfalls, alpine lakes, and cloud-piercing summits… the scenic flight showed me the best scenery of Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks.

Milford Sound 1

Flight Plan

We were picked up at the hotel and we arrived at a small airport in the city center of Queenstown. The scenic flight took us to Milford Sound airport in about 30 minutes and we had a great good look at Milford Sound before landing. The flight route has quite a lot of scenic spots on both sides!

Milford Sound 4

    1. Skippers Canyon: The second finest gold-bearing river in the world.
    2. Glenorchy: Township at the head of Lake Wakatipu, it was also the place that we went for horseback riding. 😊
    3. Mount Earnslaw: the Highest Mountain in the area (2,819m) after which the TSS Earnslaw steamship was named.
    4. Mount Tutoko: The highest peak in Fiordland National Park (2,723m)
    5. Mitre Peak: An iconic mountain on the shore of Milford Sound (1,692m). It rises straight out from the sea which is 3.5 times the height of the Eiffel Tower and it’s the most photographed scene in Milford Sound. Waterfalls cascade into the fjord and the Luxuriant rainforest cling to sheer rock faces in this exceptional place.
    6. Arthur Valley: Lake Ada (in the Valley) was part of Milford Sound until about 1,000 years ago when a landslip broke it off.
    7. Sutherland Falls: Sutherland Falls is the highest in New Zealand (580m)
    8. McKinnon Pass: McKinnon Pass is the highest point on the Milford Track. (1,100m)
    9. Milford Track: it is a famous hiking track that takes about 4 days to complete (55km)
    10. Eglinton Valley & Greenstone Valley

The experience was beyond words. It is humbling to witness such breathtaking beauty. It was such a terrific day that I could see the mountain range and beyond…. But soon, we were getting ready for the next stop of our trip – boarding the Nature Cruise and immersing in the awesomeness of the Sound.

Milford Sound 10

What’s the difference between Fjord and Sound?

Generally speaking, both fjords and sounds are narrow ocean channels.

Originally formed in a valley by melting glaciers, a “fjord” is often found on long rocky mountain coastlines of some northernmost or southernmost countries – i.e. Norway, Chile, New Zealand, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska (in the US). On the other hand, A “sound” describes a large ocean inlet that’s larger and deeper than a fjord, usually formed by rivers, like the Long Island Sound in New York. Therefore, Milford Sound was actually a fjord, not a sound. It was mistakenly named because it was thought to be created by a river at the time the place was discovered.

Milford Sound 15

Cruise Plan

We had a peaceful and tranquil cruise journey after an astonishing scenic flight where we immerse in the beauty of the spectacular Milford Sound (Once we set off we headed into the sound between towering cliffs and peaks, though the first 20 minutes were windy getting out to the water, the remaining of the cruise journey was pleasant and calm). There were packed lunch and refreshments on the cruise and the vessel took us to quite a lot of attractions in the sound:

    1. Milford: The pier where we took off
    2. Sandfly Point
    3. Mitre Peak: An iconic mountain on the shore of Milford Sound (1,692m). It rises straight out from the sea which is 3.5 times the height of the Eiffel Tower and it’s the most photographed scene in Milford Sound. Waterfalls cascade into the fjord and the Luxuriant rainforest cling to sheer rock faces in this exceptional place.
    4. Anita Bay: A seam of Jade runs through Fiordland National Park at Anita Bay.
    5. At Anne’s Point Lighthouse: Established in the late 1800s.
    6. Tasman Sea: it’s the other end of the route, where the Milford Sound meets the sea before we return to the pier after seeing the Tasman Sea waves hitting the rocks
    7. Mount Pembroke: The Pembroke Glacier is over 1 million years old
    8. Seal Rock: Most of the walls of the sound is vertical, while here, the adorable New Zealand Fur seals could lie on the rock and sunbathe 😛
    9. Stirling Falls: Glacial water plummeting from a beautiful U-shaped hanging valley 146 meters high, it’s the second-largest permanent waterfall in the fjord.
    10. Underwater Observatory
    11. Harrison Cove: Where the overnight cruise stops and in the rainy season, hundreds of waterfalls could be seen on the cliff
    12. Bowen Falls: Another permanent waterfall dropping from a high valley in the Darren Mountain Range (160m)


Milford Sound 21

The stunning views of Milford Sound gave me a renewed understanding and appreciation of nature. Apart from the scenic cruise, there are lots of options for those who would like to spend more time in the Sound and get closer to nature, like the Milford Track and overnight cruise. I was told that an overnight cruise is a wonderful experience.

The overnight package includes guided tours that take guests to wildlife viewing in a small boat, hiking to explore the shorelines and kayaking. The cruise has a private or shared cabin, where guests could enjoy a three-course evening meal, go to the bar underneath the stars, and wake up to see hundreds of waterfalls while having continental breakfast… If I am coming back it would be on my bucket list!

Beautiful Milford Sound. Gorgeous weather and I left speechless. @ South Island

Doubtful Sound

Milford Sound is the landmark of the South Island, but for those who are interested in exploring a little bit more, they might consider the Doubtful Sound. The Doubtful Sound is three times longer than the Milford Sound and so there’s much more to see. It’s more secluded from the crowd (because the sound has no direct road access!) and visitors would like to venture out to another place – it would be an excellent choice.

The only way to visit Doubtful Sound is on a cruise across Lake Manapouri and a coach trip over Wilmont Pass. To me, isolation makes this place very special. A place only those in the know get to see.😊

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