Milford Sound Cruise vs Helicopter: How to Explore New Zealand’s Fiordlands

Milford Sound is a must-visit in New Zealand, but there are multiple ways to see the stunning scenery of the region. The Milford Sound cruise vs. helicopter tour offers two very different experiences. On my recent trip to New Zealand, I was able to enjoy both experiences; I did the bus and nature cruise day trip with Real Journeys, and the next day, I went with Over the Top Helicopters on a scenic flight over the area.

Milford Sound View from the Boat
Views from the Milford Sound nature cruise

Milford Sound Cruise

The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is spectacular. It is long—about 5 hours—but the views are wonderful, and with Real Journeys, you can get out and take in the scenery at a number of stops along the way.

Views on the Drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound
The scenery on the drive from Queenstown

The weather at Milford Sound is unpredictable. Most of the day, it was raining, and we even had a bit of hail. Milford Sound is still spectacularly beautiful in weather like this, and the clouds even add to the drama. You can get amazing photos from the boat and truly appreciate the grandeur of the mountains rising from the water!

Milford Sound Cruise in New Zealand Fiordlands
Views on the cruise

On a Milford Sound cruise, you have the opportunity to spot some unique New Zealand wildlife, including dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, and the adorable Fiordland Crested Penguin.

New Zealand Fur Seal
New Zealand Fur Seal. Image: Dunedin Tourism

There are options to enjoy a Milford Sound cruise without the long drive. If you stay in Te Anau instead of Queenstown, the drive time will be cut in half.

You can also take a helicopter or scenic plane one or both ways. The downside is that the weather may not cooperate, and your flight may be canceled like it was for us. If you choose the coach-cruise-fly option, you’ll still be able to catch the bus back. If you decide fly-cruise-fly and your first flight is canceled, you’ll have to reschedule the excursion for another day (which is why I always recommend booking this tour for the beginning of your time in Queenstown).

Milford & Fiordlands Helicopter Tour

The next day, I had the opportunity to see Milford Sound and the surrounding Fiordlands by helicopter. While being on a boat in the Sounds was incredibly peaceful, it was nice to skip the 10 hours of driving (it’s only 30 minutes via helicopter from Queenstown to Milford Sound). And seeing these views from the sky is an experience I will never forget.

Over the Top, Helicopters offers two stops on the trip where you can get out of the helicopter and you’re surrounded by gorgeous nature. HIGHLY recommended!

Views of Milford Sound from a Helicopter
Scenery on the Milford Sound helicopter tour

We flew over the Fiordlands, through Milford Sound, and out to the Tasman Sea. We then landed on this spectacular black sand beach. Just look at that!

Black Sand Beach in New Zealand
View of the Tasman Sea from the helicopter

Black Sand Beach in New Zealand
Black sand beach outside of Milford Sound

Seeing the mountain ranges from above—WOW!

Milford Sound Helicopter Tours - Queenstown New Zealand
Helicopter tour over the Fiordlands

We then landed on the Park Pass Glacier, where this Chicago girl was happy to jump out into the snow. Fresh snow, sunshine, views from the mountains, and taking steps somewhere no one’s ever been—truly an unforgettable day. Thanks to Over the Top Helicopters for an incredible experience!

Milford Sound Helicopter Tour - Park Pass Glacier in New Zealand
Park Pass Glacier near Queenstown

I’m happy to provide more information about the difference between Milford Sound cruise vs. helicopter experiences to anyone considering the trip. There’s no wrong way to see this spectacular, pristine part of the world.

Call me at (888) 229-0082 or email me at if you’d like to learn more about trips to New Zealand!