travel tips 

On a map, the Milford Sounds are right next door to Queenstown, but because of lakes and mountains in between, it is roughly an eight hour 'U' shaped drive to get there and back - two hours to Te Anau and two hours from there to Milford, which includes stopping at some of the scenic spots. So when you factor in a cruise too (usually two hours) it too much for a day trip, especially with kids, which is why we broke our trip up with a night in Te Anau. 

Most people take the bus from Queenstown, but I like the freedom and privacy of going in our own vehicle. We could go at our own pace, no-one but we heard the kids bickering (LOL), there was way less motion sickness in a car than a bus on those windy roads, we could pull over and stop where and when we wanted to and we could listen to our own music. For me, the Milford Road was just as enjoyable as the Sounds, the scenery was so incredibly breathtaking! So even if I had the money to fly there, on this road, I would choose to drive. 

 


Te Anau 
If we were to do this trip to the Sounds over, we would have spent the day in Queenstown (another free snow day maybe!) and travelled over a little later to Te Anau. We left Queenstown at 10:30 am to do the glow worm tour and we also had a dinner booking, but both those things were

a bit of a flop. It would have been more ideal to get into town just before dark, headed straight to the supermart to buy snacks and lunch for the next day, and something convenient there to eat for dinner too. 

Here are a few tips on Te Anau; 

 

  • A nice little spot to eat at if you are in Te Anau during the day is the Habit Food truck, serving bao from 9am-5pm. We really enjoyed the food here (although the Bao at The Chop Shop in Arrowtown was more memorable), it was by far the best of the 3 places we had food at in Te Anau.
     

  • For dinner, we went to the restaurant that had the best reviews on TripAdvisor and also one of the only 'good ones' open over the winter season, as some businesses close. It was very average - in fact, the worst meal we had on our trip. It would have been cheaper to have just brought a rotisserie chicken, salad and some bread rolls from the supermarket.
     

  • Skip the glow worm tour! We did this tour in Te Anau with Real Journeys, and although the guides and service were great, the glow worms were a bit lame, and the kids got bored. The majority of the trip was taken up by travelling there by boat and then waiting around at the end for the other people to finish their tour of the cave (they can only take so many people through at one time) before the boat ride back. The Waitomo Cave glow worms are far more impressive. 
     

  • Choose your accommodation wisely - especially if you have an early morning start. We had already paid for our accommodation in Queenstown for the week, so I wanted somewhere cheap to stay at in Te Anau and it was just somewhere to put our head down for the night. I booked a family room a holiday park, and the walls were so paper thin you could hear every sound and movement from the families in the rooms next to us...on both sides, and they were just having regular conversations (ie not partying!). Thankfully with a few bangs on the wall, it was quite by 9:30 pm, but it's not ideal if there were late nighters staying next to you, or if you were a light sleeper. This experience reminded me of how much I actually prefer renting holiday homes, as the noise levels are never quite as intense as in a shared complex. We met a Scottish traveller on the Milford cruise who was with his two kids, and they stayed in the cheapest cabins at Milford Sound Lodge (the only accommodation on the Milford Road and close to the Sounds) and he said it was great when they stayed. However, that would completely depend on whom you were sharing the area/room with. Milford Lodge also does luxury chalets by the river which looked beautiful...if you have the budget for it. If you are staying in Te Anau, read reviews on TripAdvisor for a general consensus before booking (anything!).

 

  • You will also need to get fuel, as this is the last stop for petrol on the road to the Sounds. 

 


Milford Sounds 
After reading reviews, I choose a 10:30 am morning cruise over the Sounds as I had read that the morning tours are often less crowded (the busses from Queenstown usually arrive at lunchtime), and for this reason, it also meant the roads were a little quieter too. With fewer buses, it meant you had the scenic stops to yourself a lot of the time, which made them quite and that much more special. 

Here are some things to know about Milford Sounds; 

 

  • Take bug spray - even in winter! Those South Island mozzies and sandflies are relentless. 
     

  • There is no cell phone coverage, so although everything is well posted, take a paper map so you know what scenic stops are coming up and also, about how long you have to go. You can view and print this one online HERE.
     

  • They say to allow at least 2 hours for the drive there - with stops. We left Te Anau at 7 am for our 10:30 am tour and I thought that was a good amount of time - we didn't feel rushed. 
     

  • The Homer tunnel (a 1.2km hand dug, one-way tunnel) is not too far away from the sounds. There is a timer sign that lets you know how long you have to wait to go through. It is here, on both sides of the tunnel where Kea congregated on our visit. We counted a dozen in total and this was one of the highlights of my trip - my most favourite bird, and seeing them for the first time in the wild was pretty special. 
     

  • The roads are windy - so make sure you are travelling with food in your belly and that the kids have things they can snack on and plenty of water too (there are lots of signposted toilet stops on the Milford Road). I brought sea sick bands and a homoeopathic travel spray which helped a lot with motion sickness...no vomits! Yay! 
     

  • The car park in the Milford Sounds is about a 10-minute walk from the dock and check-in areas, and all of the different tour places are located in the same building. You can drive up to drop people off if you need.
     

  • Allow a little extra time for when you get to the dock/check-in area. This is where the boats leave from and it is also the entrance to the Sounds, and it's so beautiful. There are plenty of good places for photos. 
     

  • I did lots of research of which company to travel with for our cruise in the Milford Sounds and Real Journeys had the best and most consistently positive reviews, and they did not disappoint. They were fantastic - such great staff, perfect commentary and warm and generous facilities on board. In winter they offer you free soup and a hot bread roll and there is unlimited tea, coffee and hot chocolates. A lunch pack can be purchased for an extra $19 per person when booking, but we took our own food. Additional snacks, drinks and alcohol can be brought on the boats small cafe - but you can only use cash or credit card (no debit cards or EFTPOS) as they use the old-school manual credit card payment process. 

    We took the 2-hour 15-minute tour (this one HERE), and I was worried about how the kids would like it - there is only so much scenery kids can get excited over. They spent some time out on the deck, and when they were cold and bored, they parked up at one of the booth tables in the dining area. I brought little presents for them to open (Lego and slinkies etc) and that kept them entertained, dishing them out throughout the trip rather than giving them to them all at once. I loved that the tables had a little wooden lip around the edge of it, to stop things, like Lego pieces falling off. If you were going with kids, you could also take books, drawing things, beeswax clay etc for them to do, just in case. Our boys were quite happy inside while Aary and I spend the whole time (apart from checking on them and eating) out on the deck! We 100% loved this tour, and the only stink thing about the trip is when it ended, we wished it was longer because we liked it so much.
     

  • Back in May, I tried to book the overnight Doubtful Sound cruise but it was booked out until November! If you are planning well in advance, you should look into this cruise and save for it, apparently, it is absolutely incredible! 
     

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