Fiordland is a World Heritage Site and includes Milford, Doubtful and Dusky Sounds which cruise ships will cruise by. Milford Sound (Piopiotahi in Māori) is perhaps the most famous of all, with its well photographed, Mitre Peak.

Ironically, Milford like Doubtful and Dusky, are all fiords, but were incorrectly termed sounds by Captain Cook who charted the region in the 1770’s. The word ‘Sounds’ subsequently appeared on maps and remains to this day.

Milford Sound
Milford Sound is by far the best known of all of the fiords and the only one that can be accessed by road. It is approximately 16km from the head of the fiord to the open sea, which means visitors can comfortably travel the length of the fiord to open ocean and return on one of the many cruise options available in 1½ to 2 hours cruising time.

Milford’s abruptly carved peaks are majestic, and everyone recognises the dramatic figure of Mitre Peak rising from the fiord. The drive into and out of Milford is a journey in itself in terms of the beautiful scenery en route and can only be accessed on an overland tour.

With a mean annual rainfall of 6,813 mm (268 in) on 182 days a year, a high level even for the West Coast, Milford Sound is known as the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world. Lush rain forests cling precariously to these cliffs, while seals, penguins, and dolphins frequent the waters and whales can be seen sometimes. The sound has been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International because it is a breeding site for Fiordland Penguins.

As of the 2006 census, just 120 people lived in Milford Sound, most of them working in tourism or conservation.

Doubtful Sound
Doubtful Sound on the other hand is more subdued. The rounded hills put up a greater resistance to glaciation so are not as dramatically carved into the abrupt cliff faces that appear in Milford, but the scenery is still awe inspiring. Doubtful Sound is the second largest fiord in Fiordland, and is also the deepest at 421 metres. It is is long and winding with three distinct ‘arms’ and several outstanding waterfalls in the area from Deep Cove to the open ocean, a distance of around 40.4 kilometres. Wildlife is slightly more abundant here so there is a higher chance of seeing the resident pod of dolphins or penguins and seals. Most areas of the sound itself are only accessible by sea however, as the road network in this area of New Zealand is sparse or non-existent, as is the human population.

Dusky Sound
One of the most complex of the many fiords within Fiordland, Dusky Sound is also one of the largest at 40 kilometres in length and eight kilometres wide at its widest point. First sighted by Captain Cook, he named it Dusky Bay because of its sombre aspect. The upper reaches of the sound are steep-sided, and the high precipitation of the region leads to hundreds of waterfalls cascading into the sound during the rainy season. A breeding site for Fiordland Penguins, Dusky Sound is an Important Bird Area, with a wealth of birdlife to be found here. Seals and dolphins are often sighted in the sound’s waters and occasionally visited by whales. Access to the sound is by sea or air only, with no roads reaching the coast at this point.


All cruise vessels entering Fiordland are required to be a signatory to the Deed of Agreement with the regional council, namely Environment Southland. The Deed prescribes operating conditions, including passage plans and procedures.

Fiordland is typically a cruise by port, but passengers booked on overland tours are allowed to disembark or embark in Milford Sound. Small ships may also tender ashore at points of interest.

In Doubtful Sound, ships tend to visit Thompson Sound.
In Dusky Sound, ships tend to visit the Acheron Passage and Breaksea Sound.

Gateway to
Milford Sound is where passengers booked on overland tours are tendered ashore to travel to Queenstown, New Zealand’s most famous resort.

Queenstown is picturesque and known for its outdoor and adventure activities. It is famous for introducing the bungy to the world, and was also the backdrop for much of the filming of the Lord of the Rings. Queenstown and its surrounds are also conducive to producing award-winning Pinot Noirs.

Distance to the city
Closest township is Te Anau which is a 1.5 hours drive from the Milford berth. Queenstown is a 5 hour drive away.


What is Fiordland known for?
Fiordland has achieved World Heritage status and is renowned as the home of Mitre Peak, Milford and Doubtful Sounds, and for the many Great Walks (the Milford, Routeburn, and Kepler Tracks), within the Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks.

Attractions & Activities
Cruising the fiords – Milford & Doubtful Sounds, wildlife, hiking & walking in the Fiordland National Park (many short and multi-day hiking opportunities including the world famous Milford Track), and gateway to Queenstown (from a cruise ship).

To learn more about the Fiordland region, visit

Member Contacts

Environment Southland
Contact: Kevin O’Sullivan, Maritime Manager

Real Journeys
Contact: Tony McQuilkin, GM International Sales

Venture Southland
Contact: Bobbi Brown, GM Tourism, Events and Community