Milford Sound Southland New Zealand Credit Liz Carlson

Essential packing list for a Milford Sound Cruise

21 Jun 2023

There is no doubt, the best way to see Piopiotahi, Milford Sound, is by getting out on the water and cruising by boat.  Milford Sound is surrounded by sheer cliffs rising from the depths of the inky water and framed by the snow-capped peaks beyond.  Waterfalls tumble into the fiord, and when it rains and the mountains come alive, with hundreds of temporary waterfalls cascading through the mist. Milford Sound is also home to native wildlife, including dolphins, seals, and penguins which may be seen from the vantage point of a boat. All this combines to ensure a boat cruise on Milford Sound is a travel highlight not to be missed on your New Zealand holiday.

With this awesomeness comes challenges, and when you travel to Piopiotahi, Milford Sound, it is important to be prepared.  Here are some things you need to know about Milford Sound, and learning about them will help you understand the basis of our essential packing list.

photographer in red rainjacket and hat at Milford Sound, Trips and Tramps

Dress for the wild conditions to enjoy your Milford Sound Boat Cruise



Located in the depths of Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound is a truly remote place.  The closest town is Te Anau, 120 km away via a windy alpine drive. With only one road linking Milford Sound, it can be susceptible to delays and on occasion, extreme weather events.  Even in our connected world, cell phone coverage is limited and only pockets of coverage exist at Milford Sound, so being self-sufficient is important.  Facilities at Milford Sound are limited, and shops are non-existent.  So, it is essential you pack in everything you may possibly need to make the most of your boat cruise and be comfortable for the journey.  There really is no chance of popping back or purchasing anything you may have forgotten!
penguin on rocks at Milford Sound Fiordland Trips and Tramps

The Fiodland Crested Penguin can be spotted as you make your way around Milford Sound at certain times of the year.


The geography of Milford Sound is characterised by a long narrow inlet, 16 km (approx 10 miles) in length, opening out onto the Tasman Sea. Created by the erosion of ancient glaciers, Milford Sound is in fact a fiord, rather than a sound.  Typical of a glacial landscape there is a terminal moraine deposit or ‘sill’ at the mouth of the Milford Sound. So, although the fiord is very deep, up to 400 m (1,312 feet) in places the ‘sill’ is only 27 m deep.  This ensures a smooth ride within the fiord with no swell and an enjoyable cruise, without the fear of getting seasick. However, the narrowness and open Tasman Sea beyond creates a day breeze on any sunny day, as the land mass heats up, drawing the cooler sea air into the fiord. This creates plenty of wind, which will keep the temperatures cool, but the sandflies away.
Group of poeple on a boat at Milford Sound looking towards the moutains

It is worth bringing warm clothes so you can get outside on the boat to really embrace the surroundings at Milford Sound. Credit Mitre Peak Cruises


Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world, with an average of 182 rainy days per year.  Plus is it’s very unpredictable.  Temperatures at Milford Sound can fluctuate wildly from 25 degrees Celsius on a hot summers’ day, to 0 degrees in winter (and anything in between, on any given day). So, it is important to be prepared year-round. 
All Milford Sound cruise boats offer both indoor and outdoor viewing areas. If you’d prefer to keep warm and dry you can stay inside.  You’ll still be able to enjoy the amazing views out the window. However, we recommend dressing warm so you can embrace the elements outside on the deck.  This is the best way to feel the pure awesomeness of the landscape and nature that surrounds you.
rain falling down on a mountain side at Milford Sound, Fiordland Trips and Tramps

Ensure you bring  to Milford Sound a good attitude and enjoy the full experience, whatever the weather may bring, rain or shine the landscape is incredible!



With all this information in mind, here is our list.
  1. Day pack – to carry your belongings onto the boat.
  2. Layers of clothing – so you can take on and off as required. Make sure you have plenty of warm layers that are quick drying. If you don’t need the extra layers, you can always just keep them in your bag. Remember layers of clothing for all family members, especially the younger ones, as they are most likely to spend more time outside in the elements, and hence get wet and cold! Note: jeans and cotton clothing are best avoided, as once they get wet, they can be heavy, uncomfortable, and difficult to dry.
  3. Rain jacket – bring a wind and waterproof jacket. This is an essential piece of equipment in Fiordland and should be carried no matter the weather forecast.
  4. Shoes – Comfortable, covered walking shoes, with socks.
  5. Trousers, shorts, or tights – quick drying material is best. If you are concerned about sandflies, ensure they are long to minimise bare skin.
  6. Hat – a warm one for cold, and a sun hat on sunny days. Ensure this can be secured on your head, as the wind can whip it off into the fiord very easily (so many hats find their way into the sea at Milford Sound).
  7. Water bottle – travel with a reusable water bottle, you can drink from taps in New Zealand.
  8. Insect repellent – just keep this in your pack and use only if required. Long clothing to protect your skin is better.
  9. Personal medication – you may just get caught out longer than you expect, so best to bring it with you today.
  10. Camera - or phone, for photos.
  11. Food – some boat companies will offer lunch to purchase at an additional charge, but this must be pre-ordered. We recommend you at least brings snacks, as it can be a long day out, and there is limited food to purchase (also it’s expensive).
  12. Spare clothes and shoes to change into after the cruise - did I mention you may get wet? Even if it’s not raining, the boats travel under the waterfalls, and the spray comes at you from every direction. Traveling under the waterfalls is an exhilarating and exciting experience, and one not to shy away from, but you will appreciate being prepared for this!
  13. A good attitude - Milford Sound is best enjoyed with an open mind, and the ability to enjoy any weather on the day. Embrace the elements and be kind to your fellow travellers, also the staff who will share this experience with you.


Being prepared is essential, and it’s so worth getting it right. I hope this list helps you make the most of your cruise at Milford Sound.  Whatever cruise option you decide on. 


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