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The top 6 waterfalls to see in Milford Sound

A Southern Discoveries boat churns water, taking tourists around the picturesque Milford Sounds.

Waterfalls in Milford Sound

During winter, the waterfalls in and around Milford Sound Lodge put on an impressive show. Increased rainfall means greater, more impressive water volume. And it can also mean the appearance of Milford’s ‘mystical’ waterfalls – those that only appear during rainy days.

We’ve put together a list of our top six waterfalls in Milford Sound. Have a read, get inspired and feel free to ask the team at Milford Sound Lodge how to find them when you’re here.

1. Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls

Can be seen from land, boat cruise or kayak.

The permanent Lady Bowen Falls is Milford’s highest waterfall (162m). Not only is Bowen Falls breathtakingly beautiful, it also provides the township of Milford Sound with its sole source of power and water. Without this particular waterfall, Milford Sound couldn’t operate!

Occasionally, in heavy rain or dry spells she has overflow or underflow problems, leaving us without electricity. But her beauty makes up for her occasional flow issues. The falls quadruples in volume during Milford’s epic storms and one of the best ways to enjoy the falls is to stand on the foreshore and feel the spray.

In Māori, the falls are known as Hine Te Awa meaning ‘girl on the river’ after the lower third of the falls that resemble the plumage of the Kereru (NZ Wood Pigeon).

2. Stirling Falls

Can be seen in the distance from the Milford foreshore, but best viewed by cruise or kayak.

Milford’s second-highest waterfall is Stirling Falls. At a staggering 151m in height, Stirling is three times the height of Niagara Falls, but the 1,300m mountain behind it disguises this incredible height. 

Stirling Falls is the famous waterfall Hugh Jackman ‘jumped off’ in the movie Wolverine. The sheer drop of the cliff face allows boats and brave kayakers to get right beneath the cascading water. It’s an incredible feeling to have the power of 151 metres’ worth of glacial water falling on top of you. Captain Stirling named the falls after himself, a less gentlemanly action than that of Captain Bowen who named the Lady Bowen Falls after his wife.

In Māori, the falls are called Wai Manu meaning, ‘cloud on the water’. Local tip – venture to the falls in a kayak, then paddle with all your might to get as far under as possible. Letting go and feeling the power pushing you back out is an awesome feeling!

3. The Chasm

Can be seen via a short walking track off the Milford Road

A roaring body of water that drops into a vast abyss, The Chasm is located just before Milford Sound on the Milford Road. For thousands of years the surrounding rocks have been shaped and sculptured by the powerful water, creating incredibly smooth rocks.  

Five brave, but unwise, tourists have crossed over the barriers over the years and ended up tumbling into the roaring hole. Luckily all of them survived by being caught in one of the rockpools. However, major evacuation operations were required for all of them, including helicopters and search and rescue teams from Queenstown. So please, enjoy the view from the platform!

A cheeky Kea once stole a passport from the front seat of a bus, flew over the chasm and dropped it in, cackling the whole time. The Chasm is best during or after heavy rain. Follow the 20-minute trail, stand on top of the bridge and enjoy the incredible view below.

Be sure to check for the latest track updates before setting off.

4. Giant Gates

Only accessible an hours’ hike from the end of the Milford Track

This charismatic 30-metre waterfall seems to appear from nowhere and is framed by a simple and subtle bushline. It’s accessible by a one-hour hike along the famous Milford Track. 

Giant Gates Falls drops into a stunning swimming pool; often Milford Track walkers brave the icy temperature on warm days (by this point they are on day 3 without showers, so it’s understandable!) Two sets of Milford locals in 2013 and 2015 pioneered the waterfall in kayaks, bush bashing to the top and hopping in kayaks to fly off the start of the falls.

Giant Gates is known for being a great spot to sit and have a bite to eat and a hot cup of tea – her gentle breeze keeps the sandflies away.

Residents of Giant Gates include a healthy population of wekas. At the right time of year, the weka chicks will try to share your lunch with you!

5. Four Sisters

Only seen during Milford’s rainy days from a boat cruise

The Four Sisters are mystical waterfalls that only appear during Milford’s rainy days. This unique falls is four identically sized waterfalls lined up along a mountainside; appearing seemingly out of thin air. Often, the Four Sisters have mysterious rainbows filtering through them.

Take a Milford Sound boat cruise and on the right day, your on-board nature guide will get right underneath with a tray of empty glasses allowing you to have a drink straight from the source. Water taken directly from a Fiordland waterfall is just about the purest and best water in the world! And we love the myth that drinking water from the Four Sisters will make you look ten years younger.

6. Humboldt Falls

Accessible via a 40-minute walking track from the Hollyford Road

Located in the Serpentine Range, in the greater Fiordland region lies the Humboldt Falls. These beautiful falls are located a 20-minute walk from the end of the Hollyford Road. Humboldt Falls tumbles down the mountainside in three huge leaps and is 275 metres tall. Included in New Zealand’s official ‘Must See Waterfalls’ list, the waterfall is only viewable from a viewing platform.

There is parking at the end of the Hollyford Road, where the well-maintained 40-minute Humboldt Falls Track begins. If you are visiting in the middle of a rainy period, one or more waterfalls will show up on either side of the Humboldt Falls giving you more bang for your buck!

Be sure to check for the latest track updates before setting off.