Want to do a Queenstown to Milford Sound bus tour? I have a suggestion for you. Use Real Journeys. Yes, there are lots of options to do a day trip to Milford Sound by bus, but when I asked my hotel to book me the best Milford Sound tour from Queenstown, they didn’t hesitate to book me with this company.
And it’s easy to see why:
Attention to detail.
Queenstown to Milford Sound with Real Journeys
I really don’t like tour buses. I’m 6’1″ (about 184 cm) and they are always cramped and uncomfortable for me. And when the journey is longer than a couple of hours, I’m usually ready to cry when I get off.
The day trip to Milford Sound from Queenstown was roughly 5 hours. And…
…it was great!
The Real Journeys coach has lots of leg room, even for someone my size. It was a very comfortable ride.
But beyond comfort, there was a lot more. It all started with our driver, Brian.
Brian was a natural storyteller. He didn’t just give you facts. He gave you experiences. When Brian was telling a story about an ancient “beer” brewed by Captain James Cook to help with scurvy, he didn’t just give you the Wikipedia entry – he told you that he found it for sale somewhere and how awful it was to drink.
Stuff like that.
Brian was knowledgeable.
He was funny.
He didn’t talk too much or too little.
Brian was the Goldilocks of drivers.
He was just right.
Cost of a Milford Sound bus tour with Real Journeys
I booked it through my hotel, and the price was approximately $200 NZD – or about $135 USD. That’s about normal for most bus trips that include a Milford Sound boat tour when you get there.
In addition, I opted to buy a box lunch for $20 NZD. Here’s what you get:
- half a sandwich
- an apple
- bottle of water (which you likely had anyway).
Not worth it, in my opinion. It’s not that anything tasted bad. It was actually OK. It’s not even about the value. But I recommend buying something you actually want either in Te Anau or back in Queensland.
The Real Journeys bus
As I said before, I don’t like buses. Not even a little bit. But this one was different. There was lots of legroom, even for me. And the seats were comfortable.
However, it was the little things about this bus that made me, and everyone else, appreciate it.
The bus was very clean
This bus was immaculately clean. I mean, spotless. Clearly, someone went through this bus with an eye for detail. If you happened to drop food on the floor, you might have picked it up and ate it anyway!
The windows were spotless
The windows were perfect. First, they were very large. Second, the ceiling was a big window, too. But more important than all that was that they were crystal clear.
There wasn’t a spot on them, inside or out. There was absolutely no excuse not to be able to get a great picture!
This was my absolute favorite feature. There are two USB ports for every seat. Keep in mind that this day is twelve hours, and you’re on the bus for several hours of that.
And you’ll be taking a LOT of pictures, so you’re going to be using your smartphone a ton and it will need charging.
I appreciated this because I not only had to charge my phone, but I also had a camera and a stabilizer that needed to charge.
Yes, I carry too much stuff, but it was nice to be able to keep it powered up!
The entire journey was translated for Japanese and Mandarin-speaking guests. Each of them got a set of headphones to listen to the translation.
The English version of the tour was broadcast on the main speakers.
I asked a Chinese passenger about it, and she said it was excellent.
Real Journeys Bus tour to Milford Sound
To my amazement, the 5 hour trip was not awful. In fact, it was quite a nice trip!
My Real Journeys bus picked me up right outside my hotel – the Millennium Hotel in Queenstown.
If you book a Real Journeys bus tour to Milford Sound, you’ll get a ticket that you need to hold onto. It’s your bus and boat ticket. For those who included a meal option in their package, that’ll be attached to the ticket and you’ll use it on the boat.
Be sure to make a toilet stop before you get on the bus. You know you’ll have at least one coffee or tea before you leave, and it will be two hours before you see another toilet.
“Go” before you go!
Stops along the way
Besides the truly indescribable scenery, the logistical thing I liked most about the trip with Real Journeys is that they had well-planned stops on their Milford Sound day trip.
There was always a good reason for each stop – they weren’t just leg stretchers.
The first stop you’ll make on the bus trip to Milford Sound by bus is Te Anau – a small town a couple of hours southwest of Queenstown. We stopped here for about 40 minutes.
At Te Anau, the Real Journeys bus parks at a place called “Kiwi Country.”
It’s a bit of a tourist trap, to be sure, but they have decent coffee. And the food – well, it’s OK. On the way back though, it’s more palatable because a lot of it is half price!
At Kiwi Country, you can get souvenirs, New Zealand clothing, trinkets, and more. Then it’s back on the bus for the ride to Milford Sound. Your coach may also pick up a few more passengers here.
Many people say Te Anau is a great destination in and of itself. Check it out! People going from Te Anau to Milford Sound will probably get on the bus here, too.
There are 3-4 more stops on your Milford Sound bus tour, including the Eglington Plains. Scenes from both The Lord of the Rings and Alien: Covenant were shot here.
Get off the bus and take your picture with massive mountains and a vast plain as your backdrop.
You also stop at Mirror Lakes, where you’ll do a short, five-minute walk along a boardwalk that leads you right down to the water.
On a calm day, this water is like glass – disturbed only by the ripples of swimming birds and other wildlife that make their homes here.
Both Mirror Lakes and Eglington Plains offer stunning views of mountains that, quite frankly, make you feel small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Need a water refill on your journey? Preferably free? No problem! On this stop, you can refill your water bottle with the crystal clear and immaculately clean glacier water from the creek.
There’s also a very good chance you’ll see a bird called a kea here.
A kea is an olive-green colored type of mountain parrot that is very curious – and may even come right up to you.
But be careful and absolutely do not try to feed or interact with them (there are posted warning signs). A kea might seem friendly, but they have a sharp hooked beak that could easily do damage to human body parts it encounters.
Although I didn’t see a kea at Monkey Creek, I did see one on the side of the road. I thought it was a small eagle. I wouldn’t want that beak to encounter my hand – ever!
People do it though – you know they will – and kea injure tourists every year.
Finally, there is a toilet break at a place called Knobs Flat – which they call “the loo with a view!” This stop is just a building with toilets.
But outside, as always, the views are eye-popping!
Arriving at Milford Sound by bus
Your final stop on your bus journey to Milford Sound bus tour is – wait for it – the much-anticipated Milford Sound itself! Here, you’ll be dropped at the ferry terminal for your trip out into the sound.
Even though some of my photos look kinda cloudy, it was generally a sunny day – just not at ground level.
I’m told that the absolute best time to come here is when it’s raining, as the waterfalls are even more stunning than they are on a clear day. Not by just one person who preferred it, but by many people.
I can see where that might very well be true.
But I went for the sunny day. Better pictures and videos!
A large waterfall at Milford Sound. Simply stunning!
The Real Journeys Milford Sound Ships
In addition to taking a luxury coach from Queenstown to Milford Sound, you need to decide what Milford Sound cruise option you want.
When you book your ticket for your Milford Sound bus tour and Cruise, you have two options
Milford Sound Scenic Cruise
This option gives you a tour of the fiord, with commentary provided in several languages by a guide on the ship. You’ll see the cliffs, huge waterfalls, glaciers, and rainforest.
You’ll likely spot seals and maybe even dolphins.
Mitre Peak and the Pembroke Glacier are also notable sights. The cruise lasts about one hour and 40 minutes.
Milford Sound Nature Cruise
The nature cruise is a bit more relaxed than the scenic cruise and lasts roughly two hours and 15 minutes.
On this cruise, you’ll have a guide who is a Milford Sound nature specialist
I chose the scenic cruise aboard the Milford Monarch.
Highlights of your Milford Sound day trip
Waterfalls at Milford Sound
As you cruise around Milford Sound, your boat will most likely take you straight up to this waterfall.
And you’ll almost certainly be close enough to it to feel the mist of the waterfall on your face.
The height and beauty of the waterfalls here are spectacular. And you feel really small when you look up at them, straining to see how high they go.
New Zealand Fur Seals at Milford Sound
My biggest regret on my Milford Sound cruise was that I had the wrong lens on my camera when we saw these New Zealand fur seals. Otherwise, I would have got them more up close.
If I’d taken the time to change lenses, I might have missed them altogether.
Luckily, Halef was there several years ago and snapped some pics!
You’ll get to see these furry creatures frolicking in the water. It’s quite a sight to watch.
Penguins at Milford Sound
It’s a rare sight to see, but you may get the chance to see penguins while you are there. The Fiordland Crested Penguin is among the rarest in the world.
Sadly, I didn’t get to see one of these cute birds while I was there. But again, this photo is one Halef took when he visited years ago.
Halef 2 : Michael 0
Other sea life at Milford Sound
Although we didn’t see any of the following creatures, you might get lucky. Often, visitors to Milford Sound are fortunate enough to see the following:
- Humpback whales (rare)
- Little Blue Penguins
- Southern Right Whales (rare)
Don’t expect to see anything more than the seals though. The other sightings don’t occur as much. But I promise you, it won’t ruin your trip here if you don’t see any of this stuff.
Milford Sound is a life experience in and of itself.
The Bottom Line
The Milford Sound bus tour is a long one. And after a whole day of riding the bus there and doing a cruise, I was really grateful just to be able to relax on the bus for the journey back to Queenstown.
A few days later (while doing a bungy jump near Queenstown), I met an American couple who drove from Queenstown to Milford Sound in a rental car.
They told me they were completely exhausted at the end of the day from both the length of the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound and from navigating the winding Milford Road to get there.
If I were to do the bus tour to Milford Sound, New Zealand again, I’d do it exactly the same as I did this time – on a Real Journeys coach.
With Brian, hopefully.
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Milford Sound Travel Vlog
Here’s a video of my day at Milford Sound!
Are you currently in Auckland? We have a post for you – Day trips from Auckland, New Zealand!
Need to find Milford Sound accommodation? Check here.
You can check the Milford Road status by going here. The distance form Queenstown to Milford sound is just under 300 kilometers and Milford Sound winter weather can result in the closure of the road.
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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert. Michael has traveled to over 50 countries learning how to experience more for less as he travels.