5 Reasons to Kayak in Milford Sound

Kayak in Milford Sound
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Milford Sound is nicknamed the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ and it doesn’t take long to realise why. This absolutely incredible destination is an absolute must-visit in New Zealand’s South Island. Its raw and breathtaking beauty is like nowhere else on Earth.

Visiting Milford Sound is at the top of most bucket lists when visiting New Zealand. With its endless waterfalls, rugged mountains and wild rainforest, it’s one of the most jaw-dropping places to visit. There are several ways to visit Milford Sound including a cruise or scenic flight. But a less-known way to see Milford Sound is by kayak.

I went back and forth over whether to choose a kayak or scenic boat cruise, but in the end, I did both. I had skipped a lot of other paid attractions up to that point, so decided to make the most of being in Milford Sound.

Kayak in Milford Sound
Kayak in Milford Sound

Kayaking in Milford Sound is an experience like no other. You get to see the fiord from a whole different perspective. Everything seems so much grander and more impressive when you’re down in the water. There are many reasons to choose to kayak in Milford Sound which I’ve shared below.

If you’re planning to visit Milford Sound but are not sure whether to book a kayak, I’m here to tell you it’s absolutely the best way to see Milford Sound and a bucket list activity. How many people can say they’ve been kayaking in Milford Sound?

Below you’ll find everything you need to know about kayaking in Milford Sound.

If you have longer in the area, consider seeing more of Milford Sound on foot. Here are some of the best hikes in Milford Sound.

How to kayak in Milford Sound

The only company which offers dedicated kayaking tours is Rosco’s Milford Kayaks. They operate all year round and there are different tour options depending on the time of year.

Classic Tour

This classic tour is Rosco’s most popular activity. It’s suitable for those with little experience, and you’ll get to spend around 3 hours on the water exploring Milford Sound. You’ll get up close and personal with some of Milford Sound’s highlights including the famous Lady Bowen Falls. The total distance you will kayak is approximately 10km and you’ll be taken on a loop of the fiord.

If you’re visiting Milford Sound in the autumn or winter, this tour will likely be your best option. They also offer an option with pick-up from Te Anau.

Milford Cruiser

For those who want to see Milford Sound by kayak but are nervous about finding it too difficult, consider the Milford Cruiser. This is the easiest tour on offer and is suitable for children over the age of 8. The tour shows off some of Milford’s highlights including Lady Bowen Falls while still being suitable for those with little kayaking experience.

Stirling Sunriser

This Milford Sound kayak tour allows you to explore more of the magnificent fiord. The 12km paddle starts with a boat ride to the incredible Stirling Falls. From here, you’ll kayak back to the base. This is a fantastic option to see more of Milford Sound and get up close and personal with one of Milford’s Highlights.

Morning Glory

If you’re an experienced kayaker, this tour option could be for you. On the Morning Glory tour, you’ll kayak the full length of Milford Sound and return via water taxi. This Milford Sound kayak tour is a fantastic option to see the entire fiord from a different perspective.

Milford Track Paddle and Walk

If you want to experience a hike in Milford Sound while also kayaking, this is the tour for you. On this tour, you kayak to Sandfly Point and then explore a small part of one of the world’s most famous walks, The Milford Track.

A full list of the different options to kayak in Milford Sound is available on Rosco’s website.

I really enjoyed my experience with Rosco’s. Our guide, Olly, was fantastic and despite the kayaking being hard work, he made it fun and relaxed.

About Milford Sound Kayak Tours

Once you’ve chosen your kayaking tour in Milford Sound, there’s little else to worry about.

The tours are guided tours, meaning you’ll have a guide who takes you out onto the water. Safety is the guide’s top priority, so you’ll receive an in-depth safety briefing beforehand.

You’ll also be given any equipment you need, as well as thermal and waterproof clothing.

Milford Sound Kayak and Cruise Tour Packages

The best way to experience Milford Sound and all it has to offer is to choose a cruise and kayak option. These tours allow you to kayak in Milford Sound and also take a scenic boat trip around the fiord.

Milford Sound kayak and cruise tours are fantastic budget-friendly options for people who want to do both.

Cruise Milford offers a fantastic combination package. You’ll spend a couple of hours kayaking around Milford Sound, then see more of the fiord on a scenic boat cruise.

Five Reasons to Kayak in Milford Sound

You can get closer to Milford Sound’s famous sights

Kayaks are way, way smaller than the boats. If you choose to kayak in Milford Sound, you’ll have the chance to get closer to some of the incredible natural attractions such as the stunning Lady Bowen Falls. In a kayak, you will also be able to explore some of the smaller channels leading to the fiord, something the boats can’t do.

You’ll also be moving much more slowly than when in a boat. This will give you time to really immerse yourself in Milford Sound.

You see Milford Sound from a different (and more impressive) perspective

Arguably, one of the best things about seeing Milford Sound by kayak is seeing the fiord from an entirely different perspective. And it’s a perspective not many people can say they have done.

Milford Sound somehow felt so much bigger being on the water. It was my favourite part about kayaking in Milford Sound.

That’s not to put the scenic boat trips down, they are beautiful in their own way. But seeing Milford Sound by kayak is a unique and wonderful way to see the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’.

You can get closer to wildlife

It’s always a game of luck when it comes to wildlife in Milford Sound. However, if you choose to join a Milford Sound kayak tour, you have the opportunity to get much closer.

Our guide told us that it’s not uncommon to see dolphins while kayaking, and they’d even seen whales in the past. We were lucky enough to see several seals in Milford Sound. By being in a kayak, we were able to get very close to them without disturbing them. It was truly an amazing experience.

Seal in Milford Sound
Seal in Milford Sound

Of course, wildlife sightings in Milford Sound are never guaranteed.

It’s more peaceful and away from the crowds

You’ll be away from the crowds when you choose to kayak in Milford Sound. There were only eight of us in our tour group and it was a much more personal and peaceful experience.

As brilliant as a boat trip around Milford Sound is, it can feel very busy and crowded. Some of the boats in operation can hold well over 100 people. The beauty of kayaking in Milford Sound is that you get to escape this. It’s a small tour with only a handful of people. Your guide will lead you out into the fiord without the crowds.

For an even more peaceful experience, consider a trip to Doubtful Sound.

Milford Sound by Kayak
Milford Sound by Kayak

You can spend longer on the water

Depending on which tour you do, you’ll be spending at least three hours out on the water. Most of the cruises last just under two hours. So if you choose to kayak in Milford Sound, you’ll be able to spend way longer on the water and discovering its wonder.

A Milford Sound kayak tour feels a lot less rushed than boat trips. You have the chance to slow down and take it all in, enjoying the serenity of it all.

Bonus: the outfits

A bonus one here…. But the outfits you have to wear! We put on some stripy thermals underneath our clothes and finished it off with a spray skirt and fluorescent coat. Attractive, right?

Note: I went in the autumn/winter, I’m not sure how this differs in the summer.

Kayak vs cruise around Milford Sound

“Is it better to kayak or take a scenic cruise in Milford Sound?” This was the big question for me before I decided to do both. There’s no right answer here. If you don’t enjoy kayaking, then choose the boat trip. If you can do both, do both.

I loved the kayaking. It’s a unique and wonderful way to see Milford Sound and is one of the best activities in the South Island. It’s an incredibly intimate and peaceful experience. However, kayaking isn’t for everyone. It can be hard work, it’s cold and very exposed.

The boats have their advantage in that they can go further faster, you have shelter and it’s a lot less effort than the kayaks. Having said that, the kayaking is incredibly rewarding. So don’t let a bit of hard work put you off.

Milford Sound
Milford Sound

Choosing whether to do a boat trip or kayak in Milford Sound is really a personal decision. If you’re up for an adventure and want to experience what I’ve listed above, then book the kayaking tour. You won’t regret it. Either way, Milford Sound is beautiful and an absolute must on any trip to New Zealand.

What to bring on a Milford Sound kayak tour

As mentioned above, you’ll be given all the essentials for your kayak tour. This includes thermals and waterproofs.

However, there are still a few essentials I’d recommend you bring on your tour.

  • Extra layers: Milford Sound can be very cold and exposed. If you’re visiting Milford Sound in the autumn, winter or spring, make sure you have enough layers. It’s not recommended that you wear anything with down feathers in it as this can be a pain to dry.
  • Snacks: kayaking is hard work, so bring plenty of snacks and water with you. You’ll be given a dry bag to keep your snacks and belongings in.
  • Spare change of clothes: even though you’ll be given waterproof clothes, I’d suggest taking a spare pair of clothes (and shoes) with you.
  • Camera or phone: a kayak tour in Milford Sound gets you up close and personal with some of the best scenery in the South Island. Make sure you capture this and take a phone or camera with you. You’ll be given a dry bag to stop it from getting wet.
  • Sun protection and bug spray: If it’s a sunny day, make sure you take sun cream and sun hat with you. The sand flies in Milford Sound can be very annoying too, so take some bug spray.

Kayaking in Milford Sound review

If it’s not obvious already, I loved my experience kayaking in Milford Sound. It’s one of my favourite memories from the South Island.

I’m always hesitant to splurge on big activities, worried that they’re not worth it. However, a Milford Sound kayak tour is truly worth the money (in my opinion).

The team at Rosco’s were incredibly professional and helpful. I felt looked after out on the water and it really was an experience to remember.

Driving to Milford Sound is a fantastic way to explore the area in full. The Milford Sound Road is full of amazing stops and hikes.

Related read: Discover other epic day trips from Queenstown.

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