Milford Sound Cruises

Milford Sound's Waterfalls: Popular & Hidden Gems in New Zealand's Wettest Place

Cruises in Milford SoundMilford Sound Waterfalls

Located in one of the wettest places in New Zealand, Milford Sound Falls can be permanent or temporary. These ever-changing waterfalls, framed by towering cliffs and lush greenery, enhance the ethereal charm of Milford Sound, making it a haven for those seeking the wonders of New Zealand's pristine landscapes.

Numerous enchanting waterfalls add to the allure of Milford Sound. Among them, the iconic Bowen Falls plunges 162 meters from a rocky precipice, creating a captivating spectacle near the mouth of the sound. Stirling Falls, with its 155-meter drop, is another highlight, casting a misty veil over the landscape. Read on to learn all about Milford Sound Waterfalls.

Milford Sound Waterfalls in a nutshell

Bowen Falls
  • Number of major waterfalls: 6
  • Tallest waterfall: Sutherland Falls is the tallest waterfall in the Fiordland, while Bowen Falls is the tallest in Milford Sound.
  • Best time to see: Although beautiful throughout the year, the best time to see Milford Sound Falls is during monsoon.
  • Best way to see: The best way to see the waterfalls is on a cruise.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site: Te Wahipounamu, since 1990
  • Number of visitors per year: Over a million

Why see Milford Sound Waterfalls?

Milford Sound Waterfalls
  • Spectacular natural beauty: Milford Sound's waterfalls, including the majestic Sutherland Falls and iconic Lady Bowen Falls, showcase unparalleled natural beauty, with towering cliffs and pristine waters creating a breathtaking spectacle.
  • World-class scenery: The waterfalls contribute to Milford Sound's reputation as one of the world's most stunning fjords. The dramatic backdrop of cascading waters against lush greenery and granite peaks provides a visual feast for you.
  • Unique boat cruise experience: A visit to the waterfalls in Milford Sound offers a unique boat cruise experience, allowing you to get up close to the falls, feel the mist on their faces, and witness the raw power of nature unforgettably.
  • Geological marvels: Beyond traditional waterfalls, Milford Sound features geological marvels like The Chasm, where rushing waters have carved intricate formations, adding an extra layer of fascination to the overall experience.
  • Rich ecological environment: The waterfalls in Milford Sound are not just a visual delight but also contribute to a rich ecological environment. Tour the surrounding wilderness, walking trails, and diverse flora and fauna that make Milford Sound a haven for nature enthusiasts.

Discover Milford Sound Waterfalls

Sutherland Falls

Sutherland Falls

Height: 581 meters (1904 feet)

Sutherland Falls, standing at a height of 580 meters, is a natural wonder nestled in New Zealand's Milford Sound. You can embark on the challenging four-day Milford track to get a glimpse of this magnificent waterfall. Alternatively, a more accessible option is a scenic flight, providing not only ease of access but also views of the falls as it descends from the elevated Lake Quill.

Lady Bowen Falls

Lady Bowen Falls

Height: 162 meters (531 feet)

Lady Bowen Falls, one of the two permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound, stands as a testament to the grandeur of New Zealand's natural wonders. Named after Lady Diamantina Bowen, the wife of New Zealand's fifth governor, this iconic waterfall is one of the tallest in the region and greets you with a refreshing mist.

Stirling Falls

Stirling Falls

Height: 155 meters (508.5 feet)

Stirling Falls, a magnificent waterfall in Milford Sound, contributes to the enchanting allure of this New Zealand fjord. Located further down the fjord, Stirling Falls begins its powerful descent from towering cliffs. One distinctive feature of Stirling Falls is its accessibility, allowing boat cruises to approach closely, providing an immersive experience for those seeking to feel the mist and hear the thunderous roar of the falls.

Waireinga Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

Height: 55 meters (180 feet)

Also known as the Waireinga Falls, this is only a 15-minute drive from Raglan and is on the Waikato walking circuit. Viewing platforms near the top of the falls offer excellent views and photo opportunities. Named so because the wispy white falls look like a bride's veil, this waterfall drops into a clear pool created over time. It's a semi-permanent waterfall, which means it gets smaller during the summer and is most magnificent after heavy rain.

fairy falls milford sound

Fairy Falls

Height: 30.48 meters (100 feet)

Fairy Falls is a smaller yet stunning waterfall offering an excellent scenic backdrop for taking Instagrammable shots. Fairy Falls is only accessible by boat from the water. Fairy Falls is a semi-permanent waterfall, which means it will dry up after a few days of dry weather. With over 250 days of rain in Milford Sound each year, it is unusual for Fairy Falls to dry out, and you will almost certainly get to see it on your visit!

Giant Gate Falls

Giant Gate Falls

Height: 30 meters (98 feet)

Giant Gate Falls is a spectacular waterfall near the end of the Milford Track. You can go on a guided day walk on the Milford Track to find this waterfall, which is roughly a 1.5-hour hike from Sandfly Point. Giant Gates Falls cascades into a magnificent pool of water; Milford Track hikers frequently risk freezing temperatures on summer days to refresh themselves. It also provides the perfect spot to take a break and enjoy a hot cup of tea.

Four Sisters Falls

Four Sisters Falls

The Four Sisters are mysterious waterfalls that only show up on rainy days in Milford. Four identically sized waterfalls line up along a mountainside, seemingly emerging out of thin air. The Four Sisters frequently have extraordinary rainbows streaming through them. Water obtained directly from a Fiordland waterfall is among the purest and best on the planet! According to local legends, drinking water from the Four Sisters will make you look younger.

Humboldt Falls

Humboldt Falls

Height: 275 meters (902 feet)

Humboldt Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in the Serpentine Range, in the broader Fiordland region. These lovely falls are about a 20-minute walk from the end of Hollyford Road and to reach the falls, you have to take a detour from the Milford Sound road. Humboldt Falls rushes down the mountainside in three massive jumps. The waterfall is on New Zealand's official 'Must See Waterfalls' list and you can only see it from the viewing platform.

The Chasm Fall

The Chasm

Although not strictly a waterfall, the Chasm in Milford Sound is a geological marvel. Carved by the force of rushing water over centuries, the chasm showcases intricate formations, smooth, sculpted rocks, and swirling whirlpools. The walking trail leading to The Chasm invites you into the lush rainforest. As you navigate the well-maintained paths, the sound of cascading water grows louder, culminating in a breathtaking encounter with its beauty.

Plan your visit to Milford Sound Waterfalls

From Queenstown (with transfers)
From Te Anau (with transfers)
Via Milford Track
Via scenic flights
Via cruise
Where are Milford Sound Waterfalls located?
Milford Cruise

Milford Cruise, Lunch & Return Transfers

  • Tour Timings: 6:10 AM, 7:40 AM, 8:40 AM

This tour option is perfect for those traveling on a budget or those who enjoy hiking, picnic lunches, and slow travel.

Round Trip Flyover with Landing & Cruise, Round Trip Flyover with Landing & Nature Walk, Round Trip Flyover & Milford Sound Nature Walk

  • Tour Timings: 9 AM, 1:45 PM

If you are short on time and want to enjoy the best of Milford Sound, like boat cruises, nature walks, and scenic flyovers, then these tour options may suit you.

Coach & Cruise with Return Flyover

  • Tour Timings: 7 AM

If you want the best of both worlds (coach and flight) on your Milford Sound Cruise Falls trip, this tour option is perfect for you.

Milford Cruise

Coach, Cruise & Short Walks: Large Group Tour

  • Tour Timings: 8.30 AM, 10 AM, 11 AM

This guided tour is great for those who prefer short walks, take in the snowy landscape, and want to go on a Milford Sound Cruise.

Coach, Cruise & Guided Nature Walk: Small Group Tour

  • Tour Timings: 8 AM

If you are starting your trip from Te Anau, this intimate guided tour offers hotel pick-up and drop-off and round-trip coach transfers, along with a cruise option.

Milford Track, Cruise & Return Transfers

  • Tour Timings: 6:30 AM

You can appreciate the incredible beauty of Milford Sound through a guided nature walk and an idyllic sail on the fjord with this tour option.

Milford Track Guided Walk to Giant Gate Falls

Milford Track Guided Walk to Giant Gate Falls

  • Tour Timings: 8:45 AM

This option will take you on a guided walk along the Milford Track leading you to the 30-meter-high Giant Gate Waterfalls—you can even upgrade your ticket to include a cruise option.

bird’s eye view of Milford Sound
  • Tour Timings: 9 AM, 1:45 AM

If you want a bird’s eye view of Milford Sound and the surrounding region, you can choose any of the tour options offering scenic flyovers from Queenstown and enjoy live commentary from your pilot.

2-hour guided cruise of Milford Sound
  • Tour Timings: 9:30 AM, 11 AM, 12 AM, 1:30 PM, 2:30 PM

Go on a 2-hour guided cruise of Milford Sound, sailing past iconic landmarks such as Mitre Peak and Lady Bowen Falls, and spot a variety of regional flora and fauna, from playful penguins to sunbathing seals.

Best time to visit: The best time to visit Milford Sound is from October to April (early spring to autumn). The best time to see the waterfalls in Milford Sound is during the rainy season.

Milford Cruise

Milford Sound Address: Southland, 9679, New Zealand. 

Milford Sound Waterfalls are in Milford Sound, a stunning fjord situated on the southwest coast of New Zealand's South Island. Milford Sound is part of the Fiordland National Park and is famous for its breathtaking natural beauty, characterized by towering cliffs, lush rainforests, and cascading waterfalls, including prominent ones like Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls. Accessible by road or boat, Milford Sound is a popular tourist destination, offering unparalleled views of the majestic waterfalls amid the dramatic landscapes of Fiordland.

History & significance of Milford Sound waterfalls

Milford Sound's waterfalls bear witness to a rich history deeply intertwined with the dramatic geological processes that shaped the region. Carved by glaciers during the last Ice Age, the fjord and its waterfalls have evolved over millennia. European exploration of the area began in the late 18th century, with Captain John Grono venturing into this remote wilderness first. In 1888, Donald Sutherland, a surveyor, "discovered" the eponymous Sutherland Falls, drawing attention to the area's natural wonders. Maori legends also narrate the fjord's creation, adding cultural significance to the site. Milford Sound gained international recognition in the early 20th century, and by 1952, it became part of the Fiordland National Park. Today, the waterfalls not only showcase geological marvels but also stand as symbols of Milford Sound's enduring allure, drawing you to a place where nature's beauty and cultural history intertwine.

Topography of Milford Sound Waterfalls

Milford Cruise

Nestled within the majestic Fiordland, Milford Sound's waterfalls adorn a landscape shaped by ancient glacial forces. Carved during the last Ice Age, the fjord's cliffs and deep valleys showcase dramatic topography. Serrated peaks, like Mitre Peak, frame the cascading waterfalls, including the renowned Sutherland Falls and Lady Bowen Falls. Unique geological elements, such as the dramatic U-shaped valleys and hanging valleys, contribute to Milford Sound's distinct allure. This sub-attraction, with its enduring features, provides a glimpse into the geological history of New Zealand, captivating you with the raw beauty of its topographical marvels.

Fun facts about Milford Sound Waterfalls

  • Milford Sound or Piopiotahi, including its waterfalls, is part of the Fiordland National Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990 for its outstanding natural features and ecological significance. 
  • According to Māori legend recounting Māui's quest for humanity's immortality, a solitary piopio journeyed to the fjord in mourning after Māui's demise. The name Piopiotahi reflects this bird's significance, with ‘tahi’ meaning 'one' in Māori.
  •  In 1823, John Grono bestowed the European name Milford Sound upon the fiord, drawing inspiration from Milford Haven in his Welsh homeland. 
  • The Cleddau River, flowing into the fjord, also took its name from its Welsh counterpart.
  • If you watched the Wolverine, you might recognize the magnificent Stirling Falls.

Frequently asked questions about Milford Sound Waterfalls

What are the famous Milford Sound waterfalls?

Some of the most renowned Milford Sound waterfalls include Lady Bowen Falls, Stirling Falls, and Sutherland Falls, each renowned for their majestic beauty. Several semi-permanent waterfalls like the Fairy Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are also notably beautiful and famous.

Are Milford Sound waterfalls worth seeing?

Yes, they are worth seeing. Milford Sound waterfalls showcase nature's grandeur. The sight of cascading waters against the fjord's backdrop is an unforgettable experience, making a trip to Milford Sound a must while you are in New Zealand.

What are the best ways to see Milford Sound waterfalls up close?

Take a boat cruise for an up-close view or opt for scenic flights. Cruise tours allow intimate encounters with waterfalls like Stirling Falls, while flights provide a birds-eye perspective.

What is the best time to see Milford Sound waterfalls?

The waterfalls are most impressive after rainfall, so visiting during the wetter months (October to March) enhances the experience. However, Milford Sound's beauty is year-round and you can visit it any time you want.

Can I visit Milford Sound waterfalls with Milford Cruise or Milford Track tickets?

Both Milford Cruise and Milford Track offer access to the waterfalls. Cruise tours provide a close encounter, while the track's multi-day hike unveils stunning vistas along the way. You can also choose a scenic flight to get sweeping views of the area or go on a guided day walk along the Milford Track.

How old are Milford Sound waterfalls?

Milford Sound's waterfalls have evolved over millennia, shaped by glacial activity during the last Ice Age, attesting to their ancient geological origins.

What’s the tallest waterfall in Milford Sound?

Sutherland Falls reigns as the tallest waterfall in Milford Sound, standing at an impressive 581 meters, making it one of the world's highest and most spectacular waterfalls.

Are Milford Sound waterfalls tours wheelchair accessible?

Yes, Milford Sound Cruises and Scenic Flight tours are accessibility-friendly. However, Milford Track is not suitable for people with reduced mobility.

Can I photograph Milford Sound waterfalls?

Yes, you can click photos of the Milford Sound waterfalls, and we encourage you to do so. Whether on a boat cruise or from designated viewpoints, Milford Sound's waterfalls offer fantastic photographic opportunities amid its breathtaking scenery.