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Milford Sound is known (unofficially) as the 8th wonder of the world! So, it’s no wonder that the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is considered one of the most popular road trips to undertake in New Zealand. In fact, the Te Anau to Milford Sound highway – also known as the Piopiotahi Highway has been named time and time again as one of the most scenic drives in the world and one of the best things to do in New Zealand.
Getting from Queenstown to Milford Sound is not as easy as it may look on a map. Both destinations are only about 65 km apart as the crow flies, but the actual driving route is just under 300 kilometers (186 miles) long. That’s a little under 4 hours of driving when you allow for the windy roads and single-lane highway. With that said, there are so many amazing viewpoints on the road that I recommend doubling your estimated driving time and spending at least one night along the way.
By spending a night in Te Anau or Milford Sound itself, you’ll be able to take your time on this route and actually see many of the best sights that include a few hikes. Of course, if you don’t have the time, then there’s still plenty to see in one day!
In this blog, I list a whopping 21 stops that you can visit when driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound. So check out of your hotel or Airbnb in Queenstown and hit the road!
Related read: Planning to spend a night in Te Anau? Check out my more in-depth guide on the road trip from Queenstown to Te Anau.
About the Drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound
The scenic drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is a 287.6-kilometer (179 miles) journey that without stopping takes a little over 3.5 hours. With that said, the journey will take you much longer if you plan to stop along the way and truly enjoy the drive. I tend to always spend at least one night in either Te Anau or Milford Sound itself. That way, you can take your time on the journey and see the sights along the way.
Te Anau is around the halfway point and if you choose to stay there you can take your time driving there and even enjoy a few of the best things to do in Te Anau that day. The next day you can rise and shine super early and beat all the tour buses on the road to Milford and enjoy the best sights before doing a late afternoon cruise. After, I recommend spending another night in Te Anau or making the long drive back to Queenstown.
If you choose to stay in Milford Sound (at the Milford Sound Lodge) then you can leave early from Queenstown and take your time stopping at the sights below along the way and then do one of the first cruises the next morning. After, you could drive back to Queenstown stopping at places you didn’t on the way there.
On the road trip between Queenstown and Milford Sound, it’s important to drive to the conditions. If you’re visiting Queenstown in winter be sure to carry snow chains and know how to use them. Fiordland National Park is also one of the wettest regions in NZ so be prepared to drive in the rain. Heavy rain can cause slips that block the road so be sure to check the road conditions online before!
Related Read: Want to experience #vanlife on this incredible road trip? Read my blog about renting a campervan in Queenstown for all the info you need.
Queenstown to Milford Sound FAQs
Best Places to Stop Between Queenstown and Milford Sound
1. Wye Creek Track
At just over a 7-kilometer round-trip (4.3 miles) the Wye Creek Track is one of the best hikes in Queenstown and a great place to stretch your legs on your road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound. Despite being a rather short trail, it is almost completely up on the way to the viewpoint. For this reason, the trail takes most people 3 to 4 hours to complete.
To hike the trail, park at the Wye Creek bridge parking lot to start this steep track. Climb for 45 minutes to the hydro dam and then follow the pipeline from the dam to a rock bluff. It then goes through beech forest and ends at a boardwalk and viewpoint over Lake Wakatipu. On your walk, you will also spot a gorgeous cascade waterfall that leads all the way down to Lake Wakatipu from the Remarkables Mountain Range.
2. Devil’s Staircase Lookout
For fantastic views across Lake Wakatipu and of the windy road along the lake, stop at the Devil’s Staircase Viewpoint. This a popular stop for me as I love the views and the windy road really provides great leading lines for photos.
There is only a tiny parking lot here and the road itself is full of bends so be careful when pulling over. It can be hard to spot the lookout point but it is about halfway between Queenstown and Kingston. The car park has space for about 15 cars and it will be on your right as you come from Queenstown.
This is just a short stop so jump out take a couple of photos, breathe in the views and then be back on your merry way to Milford Sound.
Related read: Want to drive another windy road? Head from Queenstown to Glenorchy for one epic road trip!
At the South end of Lake Wakatipu, the small lakeside settlement of Kingston is the perfect place to stop especially if you’re feeling tired after hiking the Wye Creek Track. There are two restaurants to choose from here – Kingston Corner Cafe & Bar or The Kingston Flyer, both excellent options.
Accommodation-wise I highly recommend Kingston Lake Camp for self-contained vehicles. Or if you don’t have a self-contained unit why not try Kingston Top 10 Holiday Park – where you can camp or stay in a motel-style unit or cabin.
Kingston is also the starting point for the new Around the Mountain Cycle Way, a 4-5 day route. It’s been called “New Zealand’s most gorgeous cycle route” and it’s definitely one of the best bike trails near Queenstown. The trail utilizes old railway lines and passes Garston, Athol, Lumsden, and Mossburn. It then travels past the Mavora Lakes to end at Walter Peak.
4. Garston Hunny Shop
About 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Queenstown is the very cute Garston Hunny Shop.
The owner started this honey shop after traveling the world and discovering a passion love for bees and all they bring to the environment. At the Garston Hunny Shop, they produce clover, manuka, and thyme honey as well as a natural cosmetics range called Abelha.
You can book a hive tour with beekeeper Bene to learn all about the cycle of the honey bee as well as the all-important Queen Bee. The cost of this interesting tour is $22 USD per person. If you have more time, definitely take a look at the art next door at Garston Stables. This cute gallery/store is run by Bene’s husband Tony.
Related read: The Garston Hunny Shop is also one of the best stops on the drive from Queenstown to Invercargill.
5. Five Rivers Café and Art Gallery
Grab a coffee or a snack here at the Five Rivers Cafe and Art Gallery and marvel at the local art on display which is also available for purchase. There are paintings, prints, crafts as well as jewelry for sale. Afterward, take a seat outside and enjoy the views of this stunning region. You can see the mountains and also miniature horses and other farm animals.
Often local food trucks are parked here too – it’s your chance to try out some yummy local fare!
The mountains of Fiordland create a stunning backdrop to this little town. Mossburn is indeed very small with a population of approximately 300 people. Spot the West Dome and Mount Hamilton mountain ranges from the town.
Mossburn’s claim to fame is that it’s the deer capital of New Zealand, the first deer farm in New Zealand was started here in 1972.
However, the reason I put Mossburn on this list is for the cheap petrol/gas. It’s no secret that gas in New Zealand has some of the most expensive fuel in the world. But when compared to neighboring towns, Mossburn is one of the cheapest places in the region to fuel up. To be honest, I’m not sure why, but I find it 15 to 20 cents a liter cheaper! So, stop here and fuel up to save a few bucks!
7. Te Anau
Te Anau is a bustling town and is the last main town before you hit Milford Sound. It’s here you will need to stock up on groceries or fuel (if you didn’t get it in Mossburn) if needed. I highly recommend spending the night here so that you can enjoy the many activities on offer in and around Te Anau.
First up is the glow worm caves, a must-do in Te Anau. This tour takes about 2.5 hours total and includes a boat cruise across Lake Te Anau. This guided cave tour allows you to get up close with thousands of glow worms.
You may also choose to do a cruise on Lake Te Anau, which is the second-largest lake in New Zealand. Choose from one or three-hour cruise options and explore hidden coves and corners of the lake. The three-hour cruise also includes a short nature walk through remote bushland.
If you’re a keen hiker or are just after a unique experience, the Kepler Track is just around the corner and one of the best hikes on the South Island. It is a 60 kilometer-long track (37 mies) but you need to allow 3-4 days to complete. This is an extremely popular track, especially in the summer months. Don’t stress if you can’t do the whole thing either. It’s actually popular to hike up to Luxmore Hut and back down in a day. Although a long trail, fit hikers can manage.
The restaurant options in Te Anau are fantastic. I loved Paradiso Pizzeria an authentic Italian and Bao Now a food-truck serving delicious Vietnamese fare.
A perfect end to your day in Te Anau is to watch the sunset from the main jetty.
Although only a small town, Te Anau boasts lots of amazing places to stay. I almost always stay here when exploring Milford Sound. The reason? Well, I like to take my time on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound stopping along to way to enjoy hikes and viewpoints. The only way to do this is to stay in Te Anau or Milford Sound itself (which is much more expensive!)
Where to stay in Te Anau
For budget travelers, you can’t beat staying at the Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels. It’s perfect for those on a road trip in a campervan or motorhome and they also have budget rooms available also. If you’re a social traveler the YHA Te Anau is another good budget option and they have dorm beds and private rooms.
If you can spend a little more I love staying at the Aden Motel. They have studio,1 bedroom, and 2 bedroom apartments that are absolutely beautiful. For the price, it’s the best value place in town. Of course, if you have a larger budget then check out the Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments. They also specialize in apartments but some of their rooms have magnificent views of the lake.
If you’re traveling in a larger group or just want a more local experience consider booking a holiday home rental in Te Anau. There are lots to choose from all the way from large houses to private rooms. The best part is that they work out cheaper for the luxuries you get!
8. Lake Te Anau Lion Lookout Point
A 5-minute detour from the main road, on a clear day this viewpoint offers a great 360-degree vantage point over the town of Te Anau, Lake Te Anau, as well as the Southern Alps.
Located on Ramparts Road, there’s a small parking lot and a grassy area to have a picnic. Or let the kids have a little run around before continuing back on your drive.
9. Lake Mistletoe Walking Track
As one of the best things to do in Fiordland National Park, this easy 45-minute walk leads you through native forest to gorgeous Lake Mistletoe which is home to native ducks, frogs, and other lake life. It’s a very easy walk, and at just over 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles) total it’s suitable for the whole family. I personally would only do this hike if you think the Key Summit or Lake Marian Track (mentioned below) are a little too hard for your group.
Lake Mistletoe is just a 27 kilometer-long drive (16.8 miles) from Te Anau.
10. Te Anau Downs
Te Anau Downs is just 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from Te Anau and is the starting point of the Milford Track – one of the 10 Great Walks in New Zealand. This track requires you to get a water taxi from the jetty next to the Fiordland National Park Lodge. This track is incredibly popular and rightly so as it features glacial valleys, rainforest, and cascading waterfalls. It’s best to do this hike in the summer.
I recommend staying at the Fiordland National Park Lodge for a peaceful stay close to the park and the start of the trail if you plan on hiking it. Otherwise, just stop here for a quick walk out onto the jetty to check out the views of the mountains. On a calm day, the reflections are breathtaking.
11. Eglinton Valley
This will be your first stop upon entering Fiordland National Park, you will notice the scenery change to steep rocky mountains covered in native beech forest. The valley here is covered in a golden yellow tussock which makes for a very dramatic photo.
This is one of the few valleys that you can drive through in Fiordland National Park. You may even spot a short-tailed bat here – a weird and wonderful creature that crawls along the forest floor in search of food.
There are a couple of places in the Eglinton Valley that were filming locations in the Lord of the Rings movies. Namely the Eglinton Mountains, also known as the Misty Mountains in the Fellowship of the Ring.
Fancy a hike while you’re in the area? Why not test out the East Eglinton Track. Be warned though, this is a challenging track and I only recommend it for experienced hikers. A high level of fitness and experience in the backcountry is also advised as you will need to cross a river on this track. I’ve never done the trail and instead stop in the Eglinton Valley simply to stretch my legs and enjoy the views. I always stop on the side of the road to take cool pictures like the one above.
12. Mirror Lakes
A very short 400-meter return track leads you to the dreamlike Mirror Lakes. On a clear day, you will get outstanding reflections of the Earl Mountains on the still lake – a perfect photo opportunity.
Seeing as the walk is so flat and quick it’s a perfect walk for the whole family. The pull-off bay is well signposted on Milford Road and it’s located about 56 kilometers (34.8 miles) north of Te Anau. Just park up and take a short stroll, oh, and don’t forget to bring your camera!
13. Lake Gunn
One of the best short walks on the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is the stroll on Lake Gunn Nature Walk. For such a short (45 minutes total) walk, it truly gives you a taste of the wilderness of Fiordland National Park. Spot mossy trees, stony beaches, and unique birdlife.
At 480 meters (1574 feet) above sea level, Lake Gunn is stunning. The surrounding mountains seemingly disappear into the flat surface of the lake. You can also spot paradise ducks here.
This track is right next to the popular Cascade Creek campsite, meaning it can get quite busy in the morning before campers depart for Milford Sound. However, early in the morning, the calm winds let the mountains reflect off the surface of the lake.
14. The Divide and Key Summit hike
The Divide as it’s known amongst locals is an east-west pass through the Southern Alps. It runs from Greymouth all the way to Invercargill.
Did you know – Fiordland has more earthquakes than anywhere else in New Zealand. That’s because it sits on not one, not two, but three fault lines.
The Key Summit hike is at the Southern end of the very famous Routeburn Track. It is easily one of the most popular hikes in Milford Sound offering breathtaking panoramic views from the top.
This track starts from The Divide Shelter Parking lot and combines rainforest with panoramic mountain scenery making it a firm favorite with tourists heading to Milford Sound. The track gains a steady elevation of 400 meters (1312 feet) but you will be rewarded with stunning views when you emerge from the forest after the climb. It’s short and only takes around 2.5 to 3 hours but it’ll get the legs burning.
If you only have time for one long hike on the road from Queenstown to Milford Sound you’re likely going to have to choose between the Key Summit and the Lake Marian Track below. To me, it’s an easy choice depending on the weather conditions. If the weather is bad the Key Summit is a pointless hike as the views are obstructed.
Related read: The Routeburn Track also starts at The Divide. You can park here and tackle one of the day hikes on the Routeburn Track if you want!
15. Pops View Lookout/Hollyford Lookout
One of my favorite viewpoints on the road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound is Pops View Lookout. The road to the lookout is very windy and located on a blind corner so please take it slow so that you can turn off the highway safely. Once parked though, you can walk mere meters and enjoy the magnificent view above. But it gets better…
The view you see above is just one angle my camera captured. There’s actually plenty more to see! You may also spot the cheeky Kea in the parking lot. He tends to hang around to greet tourists, but be careful, if he gets your keys you won’t get them back!
16. Lake Marian Track
Lake Marian Track is my favorite hike on the road to Milford. There are two walking tracks you can take here depending on how much time you have. It’s just a 20-minute walk to the waterfalls and 3 hours return to Lake Marian (one of my personal favorite places to visit on the South Island.)
From the parking lot, you will walk across a swing bridge before coming to the stunning series of waterfalls – even more majestic after some rainfall. If you’re short on time you can stop here and then turn around, however, if you want to see a stunning alpine lake continue on. After the falls you’ll continue uphill for about 1.5 hours to Lake Marian. This track can get pretty muddy and isn’t well maintained so wear appropriate footwear.
Lake Marian is an alpine lake in a hanging valley formed by glacial action. Like Mirror Lakes, it has stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains on a clear day. I actually went for a swim here but it was freezing. My first polar dip in NZ actually!
Get to the carpark here via Holyford Road, off of the main Milford Road.
17. Monkey Creek
Within the Hollyford Valley and a little further down the Milford Road from Lake Marian Track is the beautiful Monkey Creek. This glacier-fed spring has water so pure you can drink it straight from the source! It’s probably the nicest, most refreshing cup of water you’ll have. In fact, be sure to fill your bottle here!
Despite its name, there are definitely no monkeys here. In fact, this creek got its name from a European settler’ who lived in the area in the 1800s with his dog. The dog’s name was – you guessed it – Monkey!
The rare Whio (blue duck) lives in the creek and the parking lot is a good place to see another kea. It’s a popular place to stop for tour groups so if you arrive later in the day you may not get the place to yourself.
18. Gertrude Valley Lookout
Just before the Homer Tunnel, you will be greeted with the Gertrude Valley lookout point. From here spot the snow-covered peaks of the Darran Mountains, including Marian Peak. This is a short stop suited to the entire family.
If you want a crazier adventure you can walk from the viewpoint to the Gertrude Saddle which will take around 6 hours. The Gertrude Saddle Route is only 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) in length but due to the rocky terrain on the hike, I recommend only attempting this in good weather or if you’re an experienced hiker. Seriously, parts of the hike are dangerous and people have lost their lives on the trail. Kids should not attempt this scramble!
19. Homer Tunnel
Possibly one of the most famous sites on the road from Queenstown to Milford Sound is the Homer Tunnel which was completed in 1953. Construction of the tunnel took almost 20 years due to the dangerous nature of its location and 3 workers sadly lost their lives during the construction of the tunnel.
The road through the Homer Tunnel is sealed but very narrow. During the summer months when there is no avalanche risk, traffic lights operate so you won’t need to pass oncoming traffic inside the tunnel. The tunnel itself is 1.2 km long. In the winter, this area is prone to avalanches, and stopping is not allowed.
Coming up to the tunnel is quite eerie especially on a rainy day when the valley surrounding it has lots of little veins of waterfalls running down. A moody atmosphere. If you get a red light you can wait up to 20 minutes. Don’t stay in your car, get out and walk around the views are amazing. Of course, there’s a friendly kea who hangs around the tunnel just waiting to steal your keys!
20. Hundred Falls
The Hundred Falls are quite literally hundreds of veins waterfalls gushing down the side of a high rock face. These falls are especially majestic after a clearing storm. The falls are located just past the Homer Tunnel and if it’s not raining or hasn’t recently there’s not much to see. Luckily, Milford Sound is in the wettest region in New Zealand so chances are you will see something.
This is just a quick 5 minute stop – take some photos and continue on your way to Milford Sound.
21. The Chasm
The chasm is a roaring body of water that drops into a vast abyss.
Follow a short trail for about 20 minutes, and you will be greeted with the mighty Chasm waterfall. It only gets more powerful with heavy rainfall. The two footbridges over the Cleddau River give you the best viewing points for the waterfall. The stone is so smooth it looks like marble!
The huge amount of water that falls here gives you an idea of just how much rainfall this area gets.
Essential Information to Know Before You Go
- Pack sensibly – my suggestion is to bring with you a good pair of hiking boots, rain gear, bug spray (for those pesky sandflies), sunscreen, and snacks (restaurants and stores are limited).
- It’s a long drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound (over 4 hours) and with a lot to see along the way I highly recommend spending the night in Te Anau or at Fiordland National Park Lodge.
- Milford is one of the wettest places in the world as well as that it’s jokingly been referred to as getting all four seasons in one day. So, confidence in driving in all weather conditions is a must.
Book Your Cruise in Milford Sound
If you’ve decided to follow this blog and drive yourself to Milford Sound then you’ve made the right choice, however, it means you need to book your cruise before you go. This is where it gets tricky and booking the right cruise departure time is important.
For example, if you plan on doing your cruise the same day you leave Queenstown (or even Te Anau) then you need to pick a late afternoon cruise so you have time to enjoy the drive. Remember, if you do this, you will have to drive back to Queenstown or Te Anau afterward unless you decide to stay in Milford Sound. However, if you decide to stay in Milford Sound, I suggest doing your cruise the next morning and taking your time with the drive.
For the first option, I recommend booking this small-group tour with Cruise Milford at 2:45 pm. If you need more time there is this 3:15 pm scenic cruise but it is on a larger vessel. Those are the two latest cruises without doing an overnight cruise which leaves at 4:30 pm. This is ideal if you plan to enjoy the road trip and then head back to Te Anau or Queenstown afterward. It’s a long day though so I don’t recommend driving all the way back to Queenstown (stay in Te Anau instead!)
If you plan on staying at the Milford Sound Lodge then you should instead spend the entire day on the road, enjoy the sunset at the Milford Sound foreshore, and then do your cruise first thing the next morning. The best part about this is Milford Sound is quiet before lunchtime when the tour buses arrive.
For this option, I recommend booking this nature cruise that leaves at 10:30 am. That way you can wake up, have breakfast and do one of the first cruises in the morning. It’s also the best time to see wildlife.
Prepare for Milford Sound: Check out all the best things to do in Milford Sound before you go!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to book a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Thanks for reading!
On the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound, there truly is no shortage of amazing stops. Those were 21 of the most scenic stops and I’m sure you’ll agree there’s something for everyone on the road from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
Thanks so much for reading! I sincerely hope you found this guide helpful If you did find this blog helpful, then be sure to browse around I have so many more blogs about Nz including a guide to the absolute best road trips on the South Island!