We were driving from Invercargill to Kingston when we saw the sign saying ‘Milford Sound’. It was before noon and we were half an hour from the next holiday house. We could only check in at 4 pm and we thought ‘What do we have to lose?’. This is our guide to Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound, NZ, with kids
The weather was beautiful, the kids were being nice and happy, we were fine, the car needed gas, but we could stop in Te Anau and fuel it up.
A day trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound (NZ), with kids
We checked the map: it would take us 2,5 hours to get there. Fine by us.
The drive from Queenstown to Te Anau
The drive from Queenstown to Te Anau is incredible and, rightly, is considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world. The whole West Coast of the South Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it deserves it. The scenery is unique!
There are many, many keas* around, and there are signs everywhere asking people not to feed them. I don’t believe people respect it so much, as the keas fly to people’s windows to ask for food. Don’t be that tourist. Respect
*keas are New Zealand’s native parakeets. They are green, but the underpart of their wings is a bright red so, when they fly above you, all you see is a red bird.
From Te Anau to Milford Sound
So we drove the remaining 2 hours through what’s said to be one of the most scenic drives in the world. I must say: it IS beautiful. So incredibly beautiful it’s hard to think about anything else.
Te Anau is the last city before Milford Sound. If you need gas, food, or whatever, do it there. There’s a restaurant at Milford Sound but the selection isn’t great and they do close before it’s dark.
There are tunnels made out of trees, bushes, natural vegetation, with its tall golden grass, rivers, lakes, mountains, and waterfalls. Even the rain that started pouring halfway there wasn’t enough to spoil it.
And we were all amazed by the drive when we reached Milford Sound.
Milford Sound with kids
On our first visit, it was foggy enough so that we could barely see the mountains. It was raining enough so we couldn’t walk around freely. There were tiny super annoying bugs that kept flying around us, finding their way inside people’s eyes, noses, mouths, and ears. And it smelled like fish.
Coral kept freaking out about the bugs. The boys were having fun with the bugs for a while but even they had enough. Angelo had a bug under his eyelid and it got his eye irritated for a few hours afterward.
It was still pretty, you know, the mountains and the fog, they do make quite a combo. But it was definitely NOT what we see in people’s photos. I’d say it was unrecognizable.
But then, for our second trip, we made sure it’d be a clear and sunny day. It was, really, a lot better. It was summer, and we managed to walk around the place for a couple of hours before leaving, which was a huge improvement.
There are a few walks around, and you can also take a cruise around the fiord but it’s not cheap. Prices range from NZ$ 80 per person and, for a large family, it’s a lot. Find some of the latest prices below!
Even though Milford Sound IS as breathtaking as breathtaking can be, it’s highly touristic, crowded, and not one of our favorite places. It’s also far from everything, which makes it not a very likely day trip just because. You really need to want to see it.
The best of it, in our opinion,
The drive back from Milford Sound to Te Anau
So, on our first trip, right before the creepy tunnel one must cross to reach or leave the fiords, we stopped to wait for the green light and a kea* came near the car. Angelo opened the window a bit to take a photo. The kea walked around the car and flew up to the windshield. And I recorded this little video for all of you to see how our interaction went. By the way, we aren’t allowed to feed it, so we didn’t.
After it flew up to the top of the car, another kea came to the side mirror. It was super fun. The first kea, the one on top of the car, kept walking around, poking its head down on one window or another and cheering us up.
It was great. The drive was worth it for the keas only.
This is not to mention that we saw 2 wekas, too. One right in front of us, at Milford Sound, not minding us a bit, and the other crossing the road while we were being entertained by the keas.
Things to do in Fiordland National Park (New Zealand) with kids
There are many things to see and do around Fiordland National Park, NZ, so if you have a whole day or more just for it, the better. If you have very limited time, like we always do, then below is my suggestion of the best things to see – without getting off-track.
The Mirror Lakes
The Mirror Lakes are a short walk away from the carpark (around 5 minutes roundtrip) and it’s very, very worth it. The lakes are crystal clear and they reflect perfectly all the surrounding beauty – the green trees and bushes, the flowers, the snow-capped mountains, the white fluffy clouds, the sunset.
Even when the wind is blowing and it’s not a perfect mirror, it’s still beautiful. During spring and summer, there are baby birds swimming on the water and it’s a fun and easy time for even the smaller child. The path is safe and easy.
Falls Creek Waterfall
This little waterfall is a must stop. You can’t swim in its water, nor dip your toes, and not even touch it BUT it’s right by the road (no detours required) and the sounds of the water are just a meditation in itself. Then, the color of the water is just intense and unique.
You barely need to leave the car, which is great for when the little ones have fallen asleep. It is, though, better if you have at least a couple of minutes to enjoy the smells and the sounds.
It’s a bit of a longer walk, of around 15~20 minutes roundtrip, from the car park. It’s a super easy walk, done kids of all ages. I don’t recommend strollers, but since it’s such a short walk, you can carry your babies in your arms or in your carrier.
So you walk through the bush until you find a bridge. There, you see this crack of the photo. The river gushes in it strongly and determined. Small pebbles run around sculpting the rocks with the most intricate designs. It’s stunning.
So you walk a little bit more and faces another bridge, from where you have a whole new view of even more astonishing nature-made carvings and mazes. It’s just a wonder of nature. Very, very worth the stop!
Wilderness Scientific Reserve
The Wilderness Scientific Reserve is right by the road. It’s stunning but it gets even more beautiful during the sunset. There’s a short walk (5 minutes) to the lookout, but anywhere there is just the best lookout. everything was perfect.
It was the best way to end our day. Even the kids, who were tired and hungry and grumpy, enjoyed it.
Tips for visiting Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park with kids
- Bring insect repellent. The sandflies are mean and this area is known by its huge number of these tiny blood-suckers.
- The whole park is huge. It’d take days driving around to see it all. Pinpoint what you really want to see and do those things first.
- Or, do what we did and visit only what’s right by the road, no detours needed.
- Fill up your tank in Te Anau. There’s nowhere else after it to buy fuel.
- Also, eat something in Te Anau, there are more options than in Milford Sound or the other little towns.
- Don’t feed the keas. If they come to your car, close up the window. Leave a tiny gap open, but if I were you, I wouldn’t let it in.
- Stop often. Even if there’s no sign, no other car, nothing that you can see. Stop, get out of the car, smell the nature, listen to the sounds, walk a bit. It’s all too beautiful to be true.
- If you want to see the stars, stay in Milford Sound for the night. Or better yet, take an overnight cruise from either Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound.
And our little video!