Planning a trip to New Zealand? If you’re thinking about exploring the south island, you’re definitely going to want to immerse yourself in the world of stunning beauty, big adventures and memorable experiences New Zealand has become famous for! But with so much on offer it can be hard to decide which activities you should try and where you should allocate your time, to make sure you get the MOST out of your holiday.
I was fortunate enough to experience Milford Sound for the first time thanks to the incredible team at Air Milford and Southern Discoveries. I can honestly say it is one of those travel memories that will stay with me forever! I had the best experience and cannot recommend it enough as the very best way to see Milford Sound. Here’s why…
It’s all very exciting…
I wake up to a very chilly morning in Queenstown, pull on my very warmest clothes and hop outside to meet the pre-arranged transport waiting to collect me and take me to the Air Milford hangar a few minutes outside of town. We’re met by the Air Milford team, including Chief Pilot Matt Cameron, and taken through a safety briefing and some information on where we’ll be flying today, how the day will go and what we’ll be seeing along the way.
We follow Matt through the hangar and outside, where we get our first glimpse of the plane, a Cessna Caravan 2011 Model ZK-SKA. It looks incredible! It’s so sleek and new which, along with Matt’s calm demeanour, install a whole new level of confidence in my slightly nervous legs. It’s one of those things where you aren’t really afraid of anything, it’s just the size of the aircraft rattles your nerves a tad, sending a whisper of logic-fuelled questions through your mind. I ignore them and climb aboard with the other Top-Gun wannabes.
The plane takes off and I can’t stop the broad smile creeping across my face. Anyone who has been to or seen photos of Queenstown before will know how breathtaking the Southern Alps are. Climbing high above them in a plane is almost indescribable. Moments like these are why I quit my job two years ago.
We fly high over breathtakingly beautiful scenery. It’s so incredible I’m struggling to capture it properly with my camera. I want people to see it first-hand, to understand how amazing it is. Snow-capped mountains pass below, their jagged ridges jutting out, adding to the dramatic texture below. Bright blue and deep green form the colours of the lower parts of the mountains, along with rivers and streams, like veins in the Earth.
But that scenery is amazing…
Matt talks us through everything we’re seeing, including Skippers Canyon and the Paradise region, a filming location for the Lord of the Rings, and the Donne Glacier. Before we know it, we’re flying over the fiord of Milford Sound and soaking in views we would NEVER have seen otherwise. We’re getting the chance to gain a proper perspective for just how impressive Milford Sound is and the scale of how large the mountains are too.
We land, jump off the plane and hop aboard a transfer bus which takes us to the docks. Matt escorts us the whole way, even grabbing our passes for the scenic cruise with Southern Discoveries. We climb aboard one of the huge catamarans and set sail, greeted immediately by an on-board brunch buffet. The cruise takes us along the full length of the 12km long fiord of Milford Sound. The boat glides along gently while the skipper talks us through everything we’re seeing, including some pretty cute seals soaking up the sunshine.
Kia Ora, Milford Sound!
The cruise takes us all the way out to the Tasman Sea then back toward the dock, slowly, pausing at Stirling Falls, which, the skipper explains, is taller than Niagara Falls. The catamaran is huge, with plenty of space to sit downstairs, on an upper-deck or on the very top deck with uninhibited views all around, offering amazing photo opportunities. Our cruise takes around 1 hour 45 minutes or so, ending back at the dock.
With our cruise over, we meet Matt and make our way back to the plane again. We climb aboard, buckle up and take off again. This time we fly slightly lower, giving us a closer-up view of the incredible sights below. Matt guides the plane past Queenstown before we land, giving me a chance to see this beautiful spot in a way I’ve never seen it before. We touch down and I can’t help but feel the day is over far too soon. I want more!
I was really worried about getting badly motion sick on either the plane or boat (or both!) My tummy was a bit giddy on the flight both ways, but I took a couple of Sea Legs (travel sickness medication) before I left and one extra tablet while I was on the boat and found I was okay. Matt was fantastic on the way home and flew lower to help us have a smoother ride, which helped a lot. Nobody on the flight needed to be sick.
So, why is a scenic flight with Air Milford the best way to see Milford Sound?
There are a few very important reasons why I recommend Air Milford as the very best way to see Milford Sound. Here they are:
- Flight time each way is 35 minutes and the whole day takes around 4 hours
- To see Milford Sound by coach (bus) will take you 12 hours (5 hours on the bus each way + 2 hours for the scenic cruise) My tour mates did this and while it was do-able, they lost an entire day in Queenstown and didn’t get to see the INCREDIBLE scenery the same way you do from up-high in the plane
- Absolutely everything is organised for you, including the cruise, so all you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy every moment
- It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime things that you just would not get to experience anywhere else and will certainly never forget
- You get to see New Zealand from the skies and enjoy some of the most breathtaking views in the world, seriously, those mountains are INSANE
- The service is top-notch, from the staff who work in-house to the pilots and cruise staff too
- The scenic flight is, honestly, one of the most AMAZING things you can do in New Zealand. It is unforgettable.
Useful travel resources for your trip to New Zealand
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Agoda – our go-to site for booking hotels
Skyscanner – our go-to for booking flights
RentalCars.com – great search engine for car rentals
Booking.com – another go-to site for booking hotels
TourRadar – great search engine for tours
Uber – our go-to transport option