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To cruise or to explore Milford Sound?

The most common question people have when planning their trip to Milford Sound is whether or not it’s worth it to jump on a cruise. For some, the answer is easy – if you prefer to check things out at your own pace or from the comfort of land (i.e. if you are not a fan of boats), then the Milford Sound Fly | Explore | Fly option is a no-brainer. If you’re looking to get as much ‘Milford Sound action’ packed into your tour as possible, you can’t forego the cruise on the Milford Sound Fly | Cruise | Fly. Even with that said, it can be a tough decision to make.

There are many factors that need to be considered before you make your decision, but my top consideration would be whether or not you’ll ever be back to Milford Sound in your life. If this is your one and only chance, I heavily recommend that you cruise. If this isn’t your first visit, or you plan to come again someday then by all means the Explore option could still be a strong contender. After spending years visiting Fiordland National Park for work and play, these are my findings.

The Milford Sound Fly | Explore | Fly trip runs alongside the Fly | Cruise | Fly trip, meaning while other passengers are cruising, you have that same amount of time (roughly two hours) to explore the shores. Those visiting for the cruise are on a tighter schedule, so they don’t have the chance to wander around. The top reason to visit Milford Sound as an Explorer is the opportunity to find a spot to yourself where you can simply sit and marvel at your surroundings.

Follow the Foreshore Loop Track through the lush temperate rainforest. As you approach the visitor terminal, the path is speckled with picnic tables and great vantage points for photography, offering stunning views of the famous Mitre Peak. As it is a self-guided trip, there are interpretive visitor panels with a wealth of information about the history and culture of the area. You can pack a lunch to bring with you or visit the Discover Milford Cafe as you make your way along the shoreline. If you’re the type, you’ll spot some opportunities to go off-track. Many on the Instagram scene would have seen photos of the Milford Sound swing, dubbed the “best seat in the house” by all who’ve found it. Don’t miss the chance to snap your own photo, just don’t forget to stop and soak in the beauty while you’re at it!

For those who’ve done your research, you’ll know that Milford Sound is famous for its gushing waterfalls, temperate rainforest, ancient glaciers and wildlife. The Fly | Cruise | Fly trip allows you the opportunity to get up close and personal with all of the above. Though the views along the foreshore are stunning, the only way to properly see the fjord is by boarding a cruise. The catamaran will take you almost all the way out to the Tasman Sea as you enjoy the open-air viewing decks (there’s also plenty of seating inside), tucking in close to shorelines to spot fur seals and penguins as the skipper provides commentary throughout your journey. This provides a great opportunity to learn a bit more about the area, if that’s what you’re into. If you’re lucky, you might even meet a few playful dolphins swimming alongside the boat.

Hot Tip! The wheelhouse has an open-door policy, so you can pop in and chat to the skipper. They are always good for a yarn and they have the keenest eye when spotting wildlife (and access to binoculars if you haven’t brought your own).

After getting a glimpse of the Tasman Sea, you’ll cruise back along the opposite side of the fjord, which is where you’ll usually find the colony of fur seals sunbathing on the rocks. The main event, in my opinion, would have to be Stirling Falls. As you approach it, there’s a great opportunity to get photos before running down to the splash zone! Don’t forget to pack a waterproof jacket, you won’t want to miss this.

Hot Tip! There is free tea and coffee on the cruise and you’re welcome to pack a lunch and eat it on the boat. There’s a small snack bar on board, but there’s also the convenience of pre-ordering a picnic lunch. They also cater to dietary requirements!

After several visits to my favourite corner of New Zealand over the years, I can honestly say that there are very strong arguments for both options of Exploring or Cruising. Milford Sound has plenty to offer for all sorts of travel needs. The best way to see it all (and avoid sandflies – they can’t keep up with the boat) is definitely to jump on the cruise, but if serenity and self-exploration are your guilty pleasures then opting for two hours on land should be a strong consideration for you! No matter your decision, the place will amaze you. And believe it or not (but believe it), the views from your window seat of the plane as you fly over the Southern Alps are going to top it all!

Ready to book your Milford Sound adventure?

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