Milford Sound is one of New Zealand's most visited natural experiences, but the beautiful fjord is far from the nearest town of Queenstown. Too many people push the plate into the carpet to be able to visit the fjord in one day. But why then? The road to the fjord is at least as worth the visit as the destination itself. We made the trip to Milford Sound in 2 days from Queenstown, but had I planned today I would have put in double the time!
From Queenstown it's 28 miles one way to Milford Sound, a single lane and winding road with heavy traffic and lots of long distance buses. It is best to take the route in three stages – from Queenstown to Te Anau, from Te Anau to Milford Sound and back to Te Anau, and finally Te Anau to Queenstown. This way you have time to stop at all the incredibly beautiful views and avoid the stress of having a boat trip to fit in Milford Sound.
The most circumscribed stretch along the road is usually between Te Anau and Milford Sound, but in my eyes that is unfair. The whole way is a soiree of snow-capped mountains, green hills with grazing sheep, turquoise lakes and rainforest. The places you will want to stop at are more than you have time for, no matter how well you planned your trip.
We managed to stop at about 15 places along the route (except at Milford Sound and Te Anau where we stayed) and although we didn't have time for any longer hikes or stops, many of the most beautiful places are right next to the road. It is often quite difficult to know the names of the places you stop at (as you usually just stop at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere), but with the help of a GPS tracker and Google maps, I have made an attempt to tag my favorite stops!
Do you want to read about our boat trip in Milford Sound? You can find that on my page Milford Sound – The fjord where it always rains.
Just over 4 kilometers from Milford Sound is the rocky Tutoko River. An easy stop on the side of the road that offers views of turquoise water and misty mountains.
An easy hike (0,5 km round trip) takes you to The Chasm – a waterfall with luscious cliffs formed by a swirling rapids. Difficult to photograph but all the more wonderful to experience. The Chasm is located near the Homer Tunnel, 1 mile south of Milford Sound.
The views at the Homer Tunnel
The red lights at the Homer Tunnel usually offer an involuntary stop on the way to Milford Sound. However, the views south of the tunnel usually make people stay longer than the red lights. The mountains are completely drenched by waterfalls and often snow remains here very close to the road. Homer tunnel is 1,8 miles from Milford Sound.
Hollyford Valley Lookout
A quick stop just off the road offers views of the Hollyford Valley and snow-capped mountains (even in summer). Definitely worth the extra five minutes. The viewpoint is 3 miles south of Milford Sound.
A place just off the road that (basically) always delivers Instagram-friendly photos. Mirror lake's still water and the mountains in the background offer nature at its best. The site is 6 miles south of Milford Sound.
When the forest opens up, you are met here in the valley by an unexpectedly flat meadow with a perfect mountain ridge in the background. Eglinton Valley is 6,5 miles south of Milford Sound.
A campsite that is incredibly beautiful with lupines, water and mountains. You need to drive off the road, but it's only a few hundred meters down to the water. Walker Creek is 7 miles south of Milford Sound.
Te Anau to Lake Wakatipu
The landscape south of Te Anau is rapidly changing from mountains and wilderness to agricultural landscape and fertile hills. Green, lush and with lots of sheep. Classic New Zealand scenery and very charming. Te Anau is 12 miles south of Milford Sound.
The last stretch towards Queenstown runs along the edge of Lake Wakatipu. Curvy, beautiful and incredibly fun to drive. Now you are 25 miles from Milford Sound and almost back in Queenstown again.
Was that all there was to see after the road?
Really not! The entire route is pure pleasure to drive. This stretch quickly qualified as one of my "top 10 driving routes" ever. I hope the pictures below can give you a hint of what you might see along the way.
Keep in mind that the road is heavily exposed to weather, wind and avalanches. If you intend to ride in the colder months, check beforehand that the road is open and follow all safety advice along the way. Read more about safety and important preparations at Department of Conservation.
You will find a really good PDF with information about the route and a map with the sights here, also with the Department of Conservation. Download it before you go!
Do you want to read even more about New Zealand? Look into my New Zealand page!
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Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.