Planning for a New Zealand Cruise?  In this installment of our New Zealand Travel Guide Series, we share our cruising experience in Fiordland National Park on board the Golden Princess.

Fiordland National Park Milford Sound Cruising

Fiordland is the largest National Park in New Zealand, and one of the largest in the world.

Its inclusion in the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Site that stretches along the South Island’s southwest corner signifies its importance as one of the world’s foremost natural landscapes. 14 fiords reaching up to 40km inland extend from Milford Sound in the north, to Preservation Inlet in the south, with 200km of rugged coastline in between them.

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Why do we cruise to New Zealand

One of the main reasons why we chose to cruise to New Zealand was to experience the scenic cruising at Fiordland National Park, and what we had in mind was especially Milford Sound.  It may not be as exotic or spectacular as Alaska, but it was still a tick off the bucket list for us.

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Entrance into Milford Sound

This morning, we woke up to the splendor of Fiordland National Park.   The Golden Princess had started sailing into Milford Sound at 7am, and this was where we were going to spend the next 2 hours at a slow cruising speed.

The Fiordland rangers have already hopped on board our ship, as they prepare to give a running commentary over from the command post, and also for a presentation at 10 am after we have sailed out of Milford Sound.  Another pilot ship guides the Golden Princess into Milford Sound.

The ethereal calm of Milford Sound was what made it so beautiful and breathtaking.  I would have loved to stay here for a meditation retreat.

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Cruising is the best way to experience Milford Sound

Milford Sound is acclaimed as New Zealand’s most famous tourist destination, even with its remote location and long journey times from the nearest population centre.  In fact, cruising seems to be the simplest and most convenient way to experience Milford Sound.

Being at the front of the ship allows us a good view of what’s ahead right from the comfort of our cabin.

The luxury of having a balcony…We had hot breakfast delivered to our cabin while watching the breathtaking scenery go by without missing even a bit of it.  This was pure bliss.


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Stiring Falls and Lady Bowen Falls

There are 2 permanent waterfalls in Milford Sounds that we can view from the cruise, although some temporary waterfalls may be seen running down the sides of the steep slope especially after a heavy rainfall.  The 2 permanent waterfalls are Stirling Falls and Lady Bowen Falls, both visible on the port side from the direction of entry into the fiord.

Stirling Falls, with a height of more than 150 metres is 3 times the height of Niagara Falls. Though not very majestic in terms of water volume, it still cuts an imposing figure by its sheer height.

Every angle of Milford Sound was just so breathtakingly beautiful, that even the famous writer Rudyard Kipling once called Milford Sound the ‘8th Wonder of the World’.

Approaching Lady Bowen Falls.  Lady Bowen Falls is Milford Sound’s tallest waterfall at 162 metres.

Cruising was definitely nice and convenient, but looking at this, I wished that the cruise had allowed passengers to do some kayaking in Milford Sound.  It would have been a most memorable experience.

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Cruising New Zealand – Port or Starboard side?

If you are thinking which side of the ship has a better view, the answer is that it makes no difference, for the ship makes a U-turn at this particular point, allowing passengers on each side of the ship to view the other side that they did not see on entry into the fiord.  But if you ask me, I would still prefer my side of the ship (which is the port side) more, because we got to see the waterfalls first.

Now we are getting to see the other side of the fiord that we did not get to see earlier.  Milford Sound is home to many wildlife including Penguins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Seals and the Southern Right Whale.  But we didn’t see any of them at all!

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Doubtful and Thompson Sounds

Out of Milford Sound and into the open seas again as we sail towards the next Fiord – Doubtful and Thompson Sounds.

During the scenic cruising, Princess Cruises had most thoughtfully minimized on-board activities so that passengers can focus on viewing this beautiful part of New Zealand.  Now that we have left Milford Sound, and were not expected to reach Doubtful and Thompson Sound until 12 noon, there was plenty of time in between to go for the Fiordland Park Ranger’s presentation, where he shares with us the natural wonders and cultural history of the remote wild fiordland.

We explored the top deck of the ship a bit, grabbed some lunch and were back to our cabin just in time for the scenic cruising of Doubtful and Thompson Sounds.

Thompson Sound and Doubtful Sound are actually separate sounds located adjacent to each other and separated by Secretary Island.

It was great watching another cruise ship approaching from the distance and appearing larger by the minute.  At least it gives us an idea of the magnitude of these cruise ships against the backdrop of nature.

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Celebrity Solstice in Fiordland National Park

It was the Celebrity Solstice, a ship that can carry up to 2850 passengers, slightly bigger than the capacity of the Golden Princess.

Waving good day and good bye to each other as the Celebrity Solstice passed us by.

Thompson Sound and Doubtful Sound may not be as famous or as beautiful as Milford Sound, but they do have their own unique brand of charm.  A one and a half hour of slow cruising within these Sounds still counted as one of the most unforgettable experiences of this cruise.

These 2 solitary rocks signified the entry into the open waters again, as we left the beautiful Thompson Sound and Doubtful Sound behind.  Goodbye Thompson Sound and Doubtful Sound.  Hello Dusky Sound.

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Dusky Sound

Sailing for about an hour along the south-western coastline of New Zealand brought us to Dusky Sound where we would again do a slow cruising for an hour and a half.

There would have been waterfalls had it been raining, but it was a gloriously sunny day and all the waterfalls had dried up, leaving behind their footprints on the steep slopes.

The charming Dusky Sound.

Looks like the smaller waterfalls are still operating…though there’s only a trickle of water left..

The beautiful Dusky Sound, which felt a lot broader and spacious than the previous Sounds.

The scenic cruising of Dusky Sound completed the day of scenic cruising for our New Zealand cruise.  This was the only scenic cruising day of the entire itinerary, and sometimes, we wished there were more of such days, because they were just so relaxing.  We actually enjoyed everything without needing to leave the comfort of our cabin.

With the completion of the scenic cruising of Fiordland National Park, this left us yet with the most looked-forward-to event of the day – Dinner!

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Dinner on Board Golden Princess New Zealand Cruise

Our starters of Mild Chicken Wings, Watermelon and Iced Citrus Mascarpone and BBQ Chicken Broth.

Our mains of Calamari, Scallops and Shrimp Risotto, and Veal Cordon Bleu with Thyme Jus.

Desserts of chocolate ice-cream with strawberry toppings, peppermint sorbet, and seasonal fresh fruits.

And then of course there’s Showtime at the Princess Theatre featuring Steve Larkins in Mercury Rising.  This guy’s incredibly funny and he did a good job with those vocal as well.

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Join us next as we finally reach the shores of New Zealand and where we finally set foot on land at Dunedin (Port Chalmers).

First published 22 June 2018
Last updated 6 Jan 2019

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