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23 BEST Stops on the Drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound

23 BEST Stops on the Drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound

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Did you know that Milford Sound is known as the 8th wonder of the world? Well, that might be more of an unofficial title, but I’m sure no one can deny that the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful road trips 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.

However, Getting to Milford Sound from Queenstown is not as easy as it may look on a map. Both destinations are only about 65 km (40 miles) 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 winding roads and the 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, including a hike or two! Of course, if you don’t have the time, then there’s still plenty to see in one day.

In this blog, I’ve listed a whopping 23 stops (including Milford Sound!) that you can visit when driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound. So now’s the time to rent a car in Queenstown, 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.

Need wheels? For rental cars, I always book with Discover Cars since the website is so easy to use with great prices. For motorhomes and campervans, I really like JUCY/Star RV because of their huge selection and multiple depot locations that make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. Plus, if you use my exclusive discount code DTRAVEL24, you’ll save 5%! This discount is only valid for bookings made before June 30, 2024, with travel dates before Dec 21, 2204. You can browse JUCY and Star RV’s availability here and apply the discount code at check-out.

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 a fair bit 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 on your drive from Queenstown and even enjoy a few of the best things to do in Te Anau that day. The next day, you can rise nice and early and beat all the tour buses on the road to Milford, enjoying the best sights before doing a late afternoon cruise!

After that, I recommend spending another night in Te Anau, eating at one of the many fantastic restaurants in town, or simply setting off on the 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, and then do one of the first cruises the next morning. After, you could drive back to Queenstown, stopping at places you didn’t manage to 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 beforehand!

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

Bailey poses with her car in the Eglinton Valley on the way to Milford Sound
On my way to Milford Sound!

Best Places to Stop Between Queenstown and Milford Sound

1. Wye Creek Track

The viewpoint on the Wye Creek Track
The most underrated viewpoint in Queenstown!

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.

Parking at the Wye Creek bridge parking lot, you’ll climb 45 minutes to the Hydro Dam and then follow the pipeline from the dam to a rock bluff. It then goes through a gorgeous beech forest and ends at a platform with magnificent views of Lake Wakatipu.

On your walk, you will also spot a gorgeous cascade waterfall that leads all the way down to Lake Wakatipu. It’s easily one of the best hikes in Queenstown!

Worth noting is the Wye Creek track is only accessible during the summer months and does cross private property, so please be respectful.

2. Devil’s Staircase Lookout

Devils Staircase as Bailey drives back to Queenstown on a road trip
The windy road with Lake Wakatipu at its side is breathtaking!

For fantastic views across Lake Wakatipu and of the windy road along the lake, don’t forget to stop at the Devil’s Staircase Viewpoint. This is one of my favorite stops as I love the views and the winding 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 winding road? Head from Queenstown to Glenorchy for one epic road trip!

3. Kingston

A campervan is camped at Kingston Lake Camp outside of Queenstown, New Zealand
Kingston Lake Camp!

About a 40-minute drive from Queenstown, the next town you’ll visit will be the small, but undeniably picturesque settlement of Kingston. You’ll find it at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, and it’s the perfect place for a short stop, especially if you’re feeling tired after hiking the Wye Creek Track.

There are two restaurants to choose from here – Kingston Corner Cafe and Bar or Kingston Flyer, both excellent options!

Accommodation-wise, I highly recommend Kingston Lake Camp, a free spot to camp for self-contained vehicles. If you arrive early enough in the day, you might also be able to snag yourself a spot looking directly out onto the lake! There are also plenty of large rubbish bins on-site and toilets available too.

Or if you don’t have a self-contained unit, why not try the Kingston Top 10 Holiday Park. Here you can camp or stay in a motel-style unit or cabin. Their communal kitchen area is also super spacious, perfect for prepping your meals for the road trip ahead!

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 I’d say it lives up to that title! The trail follows old railway lines and passes Garston, Athol, Lumsden, and Mossburn. It then sweeps alongside the Mavora Lakes to end at the scenic Walter Peak.

While cycling the entire route might not be on the cards for now, the section from Kingston to Athol takes around 2.5 to 3 hours each way, which for the cyclists out there is totally possible! If you haven’t brought your bike with you, you can also rent one at Kingston Top 10 Holiday Park, which costs $25 NZD for half a day and $40 NZD for a full day.

4. Garston Hunny Shop

Bailey at Garston Honey Shop, New Zealand
Come get some local honey!

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 newfound love for bees and all they bring to the environment. At the Garston Hunny Shop, they produce delicious clover, manuka, and thyme honey as well as a natural cosmetics range called Abelha.

If you have time, definitely take a look at the art next door at Garston Stables – run by Bene’s husband, Tony.

Traveling with the family? There’s a working farm next door where you can catch a glimpse of a day in the life of a working farm dog! You’ll see it all, from learning about the history of the farm, seeing the inside of the wool shed, and even meeting and watching the dogs herd the sheep.

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

Bailey enjoys a coffee at Five Rivers Café and Art Gallery in New Zealand
My go-to coffee stop!
A llama at Five Rivers Café and Art Gallery, New Zealand
Don’t forget to go see the animals!

Haven’t had enough of art galleries and cafés? Well, I’ve got some good news for you!

The Five Rivers Café and Art Gallery is my favorite place to stop for a coffee on this road trip. There’s also lots of local art on display, which is also available for purchase. From paintings to prints, and crafts as well as jewelry for sale, one of these might look great on the wall back home!

One of my favorite things to do here is to grab a seat outside (as long as the weather is nice and warm!) and enjoy the sprawling views. They’re open daily from 8 am to 3 pm, so why not get out here and stretch your legs? Plus, who can say no to great coffee!?

You’ll often find local food trucks parked here, too – so it’s your chance to try out some yummy local fare.

6. Mossburn

Bailey fills up her rental car in Mossburn in New Zealand
Mossburn is a great spot to fuel up!

Once you’re all fueled up with coffee, it’s time to head on to our next step, the super small town of Mossburn, with the gorgeous mountains of Fiordland standing tall in the distance. Mossburn really is very small, with a population of approximately 300 people.

That said, for a small town, it certainly packs in a lot of epic scenery! You can even spot the West Dome and Mount Hamilton mountain ranges from town.

Now, Mossburn’s claim to fame is that it’s actually the deer capital of New Zealand, with the first deer farm in New Zealand started here in back in 1972.

However, the main reason I put Mossburn on this list is for the cheap petrol/gas! It’s no secret that gas in New Zealand has become 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, definitely stop here and fuel up to save a few bucks.

7. Te Anau

Bailey poses for a photo along the shores of Lake Te Anau, New Zealand
Te Anau!

Now we’ve arrived at one of the heavy hitters on this blog! Te Anau is a bustling spot and is the last main town before you hit Milford Sound. It’s here that I recommend stocking up on groceries or fuel (if you didn’t get it in Mossburn) if needed. It’s also a great idea to spend the night here so that you can enjoy the many activities on offer in and around Te Anau.

If you’re looking for fun things to do, I’ve got you covered! First up is the glow-worm caves, a must-do in Te Anau. This magical cave tour lasts about 2.5 hours total and is the perfect way to learn all about these tiny but incredible little creatures! It also includes a scenic boat cruise across Lake Te Anau, all while you’re joined by a local expert who will fill you up with facts, fun stories, and more.

Te Anau has to be one of my favorite places to see glow-worms in New Zealand, followed by the Hokitika Glow Worm Dell (a 30-minute drive from Greymouth) and Minnehaha Walk (just 30 minutes from Franz Josef).

Another fun and quick activity you can enjoy here in Te Anau is cruising along the lake. Lake Te Anau is actually the second-largest lake in New Zealand, just behind Lake Taupō. This afternoon Te Anau cruise is one of my top favorite activities I’ve been on here in town, combining a scenic cruise with a bit of local history, as you’ll board a historic motor yacht from the 1930s.

If you want to truly spoil yourself, you can also upgrade this cruise to this champagne cruise on the lake. Simply sit back, listen to your friendly guides, and sip away at some bubbly as the evening rolls on in. Honestly, this makes me want to be there now!

Bailey stands on a rock overlooking Lake Te Anau on the Kepler Track
Just one of the epic viewpoints on my favorite Great Walk near Te Anau!

For the keen hikers and walkers out there, the Kepler Track is an ideal route to explore. As one of the best hikes in New Zealand, the Kepler Track is a 60-kilometer (37 miles) track that takes around 3 to 4 days to complete fully. As you can imagine, this Great Walk is also very popular, especially in the summer months.

Of course, you don’t have to hike the entire trail, instead, you can hike up to the Luxmore Hut and back down in a day. Although long, it can be done by reasonably fit hikers, and the views simply speak for themselves.

If you aren’t so comfortable with longer hikes, or simply want to add a little more adventure to the experience, you can opt for a guided moderate-difficulty heli-hike that lasts around 8 hours and begins with a mind-blowing helicopter ride straight to Luxmore Hut!

Once you land, you’ll hike around the area and enjoy a picnic lunch before heading down part of the mountain to the shoreline, where you’ll catch the ferry back to Te Anau. Although activities that include flights usually aren’t cheap, I don’t think anyone can deny that the memories you’ll make on this are nothing short of next-level. So if it’s within your budget, why not go for it and book your spot here!

There’s also another option that is more budget-friendly, and that’s this Kepler Track Boat and Hike Tour. This half-day experience spends a lot of the time out on the water, visiting many different Lord of the Rings filming locations on the way to Lake Manapouri, so it’s a must if you’re a fan of the original trilogy, or simply love some scenic views!

After this, you’ll go on a relatively easy guided walk on part of the Kepler Track, learning all kinds of fun info about the local flora and fauna. With plenty of photo ops along the way, you’ll then be picked up and taken back to town – super efficient! You can check out available dates and book this tour online here.

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

Our campervan at a holiday park in Te Anau
Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels

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. 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 to stay at the Aden Motel. They have studio, 1-bedroom, and 2-bedroom apartments that are absolutely beautiful. For the price, I think it’s the best value place in town.

Of course, if you have a larger budget, then it’s worth checking out the Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments. They also specialize in apartments, but some of their rooms have magnificent views of the lake. The staff here also can’t do enough to help you, they really go out of their way to ensure you have a first-class experience!

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

Lake Te Anau Viewpoint in Te Anau, New Zealand
Lake Te Anau Viewpoint in Te Anau, New Zealand

I know, tearing yourself away from Te Anau is super hard, but just think of all the epic views that are waiting down the road! If you’ve stayed the night in Te Anau, you’ll now be super refreshed and ready to enjoy the day ahead.

Our first stop after Te Anau is a 5-minute detour from the main road, Te Anau Lion Lookout Point. On a clear day, this viewpoint offers a fantastic 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 where you can sit down and enjoy a picnic with a view. If you’re traveling with little ones, it’s also a great spot to let them have a little run around before continuing back on your drive!

9. Lake Mistletoe Walking Track

Bailey on the Lake Mistletoe Walking Track near Te Anau
I had really bad weather, so you can expect better views!

As one of the best things to do in Fiordland National Park, the Lake Mistletoe Walking Track is an easy 45-minute walk from the car park that leads you through the native forest to the gorgeous Lake Mistletoe. Home to native ducks, frogs, and other lake life, there are also picnic tables here too, with brilliant views of the lake.

When I say this is an easy trail, I mean it! At just over 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles) in total, it’s suitable for the whole family. That said, I personally would only do this hike if you think the Key Summit or Lake Marian Track (mentioned below) is a little too hard for your group.

Lake Mistletoe is just a 27-kilometer-long drive (16.8 miles) from Te Anau, about a 20-minute drive.

10. Te Anau Downs

Stunning reflections at Te Anau Downs
Te Anau Downs on a calm day!

The 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. It’s also incredibly popular, and rightly so, as it features glacial valleys, rainforest, and gorgeous cascading waterfalls!

In my opinion, it’s best to do this hike in the summer, as the good weather really lets you take in and enjoy all those epic views. It also makes for a nice photo (or three!).

If you do plan on hiking the Milford Track, I recommend staying in Te Anau the night before. After this, you’ll need to grab a water taxi to get to the starting point of the track, and the rest is history!

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 nothing short of breathtaking.

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11. Eglinton Valley

A road traveling to Milford Sound from Te Anau
The views you can expect!

As the gorgeous mountains of Fiordland National Park draw ever closer, you’ll notice the native beech forests taking over as the scenery becomes more and more mountainous! 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, so it’s definitely an occasion to remember. The valley is also home to all kinds of animals, including short-tailed bats – a weird and wonderful creature that crawls along the forest floor in search of food!

There are also a couple of places in the Eglinton Valley that were filming locations in the Lord of the Rings movies. If you’re a fan of the original trilogy, you’ll likely recognize the Eglinton Mountains as the Misty Mountains in the Fellowship of the Ring!

If you’re an experienced hiker looking to test out a new trail, why not give the East Eglinton Track a go? Be warned, though, that this is a challenging track that requires a high level of fitness and experience in the backcountry. Case in point, you’ll need to cross a river on this track!

Truth be told, I’ve never done the trail, and instead normally 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, and encourage you to give it a try too.

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.

12. Mirror Lakes

Bailey stands on the viewpoint of Mirror Lakes in Fiordland National Park
Mirror Lakes! Funny story, I’ve never been here on a clear and calm day!

Up next, we have a very short 400-meter (1,312 feet) return track that leads you to the dreamlike Mirror Lakes. On a clear day, you’ll enjoy outstanding reflections of the Earl Mountains on the still lake – a perfect photo opportunity if I do say so!

Seeing as the walk is so flat and quick, it’s a perfect adventure for the whole family, and it’s also accessible for wheelchair users. The pull-off bay is well signposted on Milford Road, and it’s located about 56 kilometers (34.8 miles) north of Te Anau. Simply park up and take a short stroll, oh, and definitely don’t forget to bring your camera.

13. Lake Gunn

Reflections at Lake Gunn, New Zealand
Reflections at Lake Gunn, New Zealand

One of the best short walks on the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is a stroll along the Lake Gunn Nature Walk. For such a short (45 minutes total) walk, this to me is what exploring the wilderness of Fiordland National Park is all about! Keep your eyes peeled for all kinds of rare birds, including the critically endangered takahē and the cute but cheeky keas.

At 480 meters (1574 feet) above sea level, Lake Gunn is nothing short of stunning. The surrounding mountains seemingly disappear into the flat surface of the lake. If you’ve got a sharp eye, you might even spot paradise ducks here too!

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 keep the lake water still, letting the mountains reflect off the surface of the lake uninterrupted. It’s one of my favorite sights on this road trip!

If you’re interested in giving camping a go, the Cascade Creek campsite is a great choice. As it does get pretty popular, they do require bookings here, and it costs $15 NZD per adult per night, and $7.50 NZD for kids (5-17). You can learn more and book your site over on the DOC website.

14. The Divide and Key Summit hike

A tarn on the Key Summit reflects the surrounding mountains
The small tarn on the Key Summit creates amazing mirror-like reflections!

The Divide, as it’s known among the locals, is an east-west pass that runs through the Southern Alps. Stretching from Greymouth all the way to Invercargill, it’s a dramatic spot that warrants a photo or two!

It’s from here that you’ll find the Key Summit hike, which is right at the end of the very famous Routeburn Track. This hike is easily one of the most popular hikes in Milford Sound, offering breathtaking panoramic views from the top that more than make up for the climb.

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

Pop's View on Milford Road

We’re not far now from our final destination, but there are still some epic stops left to go!

One of my favorite viewpoints on the road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound is Pops View Lookout. The road to the lookout is windy and located on a blind corner, so please take it slow so that you can turn off the highway safely. Once parked, 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 road to Milford Sound
Lake Marian!

The Lake Marian Track is my favorite hike on the road to Milford – there, I said it! 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 a 3-hour return hike to Lake Marian (one of my personal favorite places to visit on the South Island).

From the parking lot, you’ll 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 (which I highly recommend!), then 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 that well maintained, so my tip would be to wear appropriate footwear.

As for the lake itself, Lake Marian is situated in a hanging valley that was formed by glacial action. Like the 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!

To get to the start of the trail, you can drive to the car park here via Hollyford Road, which is just off the main Milford Road.

17. Monkey Creek

Monkey Creek near Milford Sound
The freshest water in NZ!

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

Gertrude Saddle Route views
The stunning Gertrude Saddle view – a dangerous hike worth every step!

Just before the Homer Tunnel, you’ll be greeted by the Gertrude Valley Lookout Point. From here, you can spot the snow-covered peaks of the Darran Mountains, including Marian Peak. This is a short stop suitable for the entire family, and your camera!

If you want a crazier adventure, you can walk from this 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 definitely shouldn’t attempt this scramble! That said, if you have the experience, this is easily one of the most incredible tracks near Milford Sound.

19. Homer Tunnel

A bus drives out of the Homer Tunnel on its way to Milford Sound
A bus drives out of the Homer Tunnel on its way to Milford Sound

Possibly one of the most famous sites on the road from Queenstown to Milford Sound, the Homer Tunnel was completed back 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 (.75 mi) 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. Definitely a moody atmosphere! If you get a red light, you can wait up to 20 minutes.

So feel free to get out and walk around for a little bit, the views are amazing. Of course, there’s also a friendly kea who hangs around the tunnel just waiting to steal your keys!

20. Hundred Falls

Part of Thousand Falls on the way to Milford Sound
Part of Hundred Falls on the way to Milford Sound

As the name suggests, The Hundred Falls are quite literally hundreds of vein waterfalls gushing down the side of a high rock face. These falls are especially majestic after a clearing storm, with the mist slightly obscuring the mountains above – pretty magical!

The falls are located just past the Homer Tunnel and if it’s not raining or hasn’t been 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 – so take some photos and continue on your way to Milford Sound!

21. The Chasm

The rock formations are beautiful!

Our last stop before Milford Sound is the Chasm, a roaring body of water that drops into a vast abyss. It’s quite the sight!

Following a short trail for about 20 minutes from the car park, you’ll be greeted with the mighty Chasm waterfall. In fact, it only gets more powerful with heavy rainfall. The two footbridges over the Cleddau River give you the best viewing points for the waterfall. If you look closely enough, you’ll see that 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, it’s super impressive!

22. Deepwater Basin (FREE Parking Area!)

parking meter to pay fro parking milford sound (1)
If you don’t want to pay for parking, stop at Deepwater Basin and walk from there!
paid parking sign at Milford Sound
Paid parking is at the closes parking lot.

This stop is not so much an attraction but more of a practical stop that you should know about if you’re driving to Milford Sound.

When it comes to parking near Milford Sound, you have two options. The first is the Milford Sound Public Carpark which is located a 10-minute walk from the Visitor Center and jetty where all of the cruises depart from. This is paid parking and it will cost you $10 NZD per hour, $25 NZD for 5 hours, and $50 NZD overnight.

If you’re not keen on paying those prices (I don’t blame you, $10/hr is pretty steep if you ask me!) then you can instead stop here and park for free at the Deepwater Basin parking lot.

From here, you can easily walk to the Visitor Center in about 30 minutes. On the way, you can also stop at the Milford Sound Swing (next on this list) if you want.

23. Milford Sound

Milford Sound in the Fall
Woohoo, we’ve reached Milford Sound!

Congratulations, you’ve made it to Milford Sound! Give yourself a pat on the back, now it’s time to explore this gorgeous corner of New Zealand. And of course, no trip to Milford Sound would be complete without going on a scenic cruise – more on this below.

Of course, there are tons of other things to do in Milford Sound, with one of my favorite free activities being stargazing. There’s barely any light pollution here, which means the stars really pop come nighttime. And speaking of nighttime, you can expect it to get dark as early as 5:30 pm in the winter months, although it is quite a bit later in the summer!

There are also lots of epic scenic flights that you can try in Milford Sound, and if you thought the views were epic from the ground, just wait until you see them from the air. This 25-minute scenic helicopter flight is a great choice if you’re a little shorter on time but still want an unforgettable experience, and the camera shots you’ll get will be nothing short of legendary.

No matter how you choose to spend your time here, I’m sure this will be a road trip you’ll remember – I find myself coming back to Milford Sound pretty often, and every time I do, I fall in love with it all over again.

Book Your Cruise in Milford Sound

A boat travels right up to Stirling Falls in Milford Sound
Oh, the waterfalls!
Bailey smiles at the Camera on a Milford Sound cruise with a waterfall in the background
Did somebody say wine o’clock?

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 those planning on doing your Milford Sound cruise the same day that you leave Te Anau, then you’ll 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 Te Anau afterward unless you decide to stay in Milford Sound (the Milford Sound Lodge is your only option unless you camp).

I recommend booking this small-group tour with Cruise Milford at 2:45 pm. It’s a great cruise on a small vessel, which means you can get as close as possible to the action. 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 at a bit of a slower pace and then head back to Te Anau afterward. I don’t think you can wake up to better views than this!

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 that Milford Sound is quiet before lunchtime when the tour buses arrive.

For this option, I recommend booking this nature cruise that leaves at 10 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 visit Milford Sound to see wildlife.

Prepare for Milford Sound: Check out all the best things to do in Milford Sound and all the top tours before you go!

Things to do in Queenstown Before You Go

View from a clearing of Queenstown along the Tiki Trail, New Zealand
With so much to do here, I’m so glad I can call Queenstown home!

If you’ve got time before you leave Queenstown to head to Milford Sound, there are plenty of other activities that will keep you busy. Honestly, there are so many, it’ll be hard to choose which ones to do! Below are some of my favorites.

  • Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting – This is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best values for money, for $215 NZD your tour bus will stop at 4 different boutique wineries in the Otago region that include a wide range of wine samples and a provided gourmet lunch platter. As you hop between wineries, you’ll gaze out the window at spectacular views.
  • Queenstown Canyoning Adventure – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek your way down a part of a Queenstown canyon with a qualified guide. This thrilling full-day activity is perfect for those who love adventure and exploration! As long as you aren’t afraid of heights and have a basic swimming ability, you won’t need any other skills.
  • Extreme Jet Boating – Looking for a surefire thrill? Jet Boating is one of New Zealand’s most unique activities. On the tour out of Queenstown, you’ll be able to zoom up the Shotover River through narrow canyons at high speeds and make 360-degree spins. Trust me, it’s epic!

Essential Information to Know Before You Go

Bailey on the Milford Sound swing in New Zealand
The famous Milford Sound swing!
  • 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.
  • 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.

Related Read: Staying in Queenstown and want to get to Milford quickly? There are some awesome flights from Queenstown to Milford Sound to choose from!

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

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 rent 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’s what most budget travelers use 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…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey from My Queenstown Diary before going kayaking in Milford Sound
Thanks for reading! Now, I’m going kayaking in Milford Sound!

On the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound, there truly is no shortage of amazing stops. Those were 23 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. Milford Sound is worth visiting, and an epic road trip is one of my favorite ways to do so!

Thanks so much for reading! I sincerely hope you found this guide helpful, and if you did, 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! Or browse from the posts I’ve listed down below:

17 Completely FREE Things to do in Queenstown

15 Absolute BEST Hikes in Wanaka

25 BEST Things to do in Dunedin, New Zealand

Dean & Belinda G

Sunday 29th of May 2022

Excellent info! Planning a trip Q,town to Milford in the New Year. Thanks Bailey!

Gail Mullon

Monday 29th of March 2021

Thank you for this blog. I have driven to Milford from Queenstown before but needed a good refresher on what to expect. Driving there again in April. Thank you for the information and tips. Gail Mullon