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How to Get from Wanaka to Milford Sound + Best Stops

How to Get from Wanaka to Milford Sound + Best Stops

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Do you want to visit Milford Sound from Wanaka? You’ve come to the right place!

There’s a lot to consider with how far apart the two are when planning your trip. You might be wondering what to see along the drive, if it’s possible to visit on a day tour from Wanaka, and the best option to save money. Well, not only is this a trip I’ve made many times since moving here, but it’s one I’ve done in many different ways, and today I’ll go over all of your options!

So buckle up and keep reading as I go over how you can visit Milford Sound from Wanaka.

Best Ways to Get from Wanaka to Milford Sound 

Drive 

Bailey stands on the road into Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park  
The road through Fiordland National Park on the way to Milford Sound
windy road with mountain views through the eglinton Valley, New Zealand
The windy and beautiful road to Milford Sound!

Driving is my preferred way to get to and from Milford Sound. I am such a sucker for the freedom and flexibility! 

Seriously though, when it comes to traveling the South Island, I honestly think you should consider renting a car for the best experience. You can see more, do more, and not have to deal with the hassle of alternative transportation. If you don’t have a rental set up already I suggest checking out Discover Cars since they have great deals, a wide range of vehicles, and tons of pick-up and drop-off points.    

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

The 343-kilometer (213-mile) drive to Milford Sound usually takes me about 5 hours. This includes normal stops to get fuel, use the bathroom, or just stretch my legs. I can easily take longer than that when throwing in additional stops along the way. So since it’s almost impossible not to stop and take in the views I would plan for at least a 6-hour drive. 

However, I’m going to come right out and say that you shouldn’t try and drive there and back in a day. I’ve actually never done it because over 10 hours in a car isn’t my idea of a good time! On top of that, it’s also not very safe. The roads are winding at some points and driving them when tired isn’t a good idea.

Instead, if I’m driving I will always stay a night in Milford Sound or Te Anau. Not only is each a fun place to stay, but it also breaks the trip up and gives you more time to explore! 

Tour 

Scenic flight into Milford Sound, New Zealand
What a view of Milford Sound from above!
Bailey looks out on a Milford Sound cruise at the scenery
Just as pretty from the water!

If you aren’t interested in driving yourself there and back or the only option you have time for is a day trip, taking a tour is the way to go. I admit, as much as I love the drive, taking a tour is a fun and relaxing way to make the journey. 

From Wanaka, because of the distance, your only tour option to Milford Sound is to fly. Of all of the tours available this Glacier Flight and Milford Sound Cruise package is the best of the best. I’ve actually done this experience before and it was fantastic! For everything you get, it’s also surprisingly cheap. Not to mention the views are mindblowing and could easily be the highlight of your trip. If it sounds like something you’d be interested in, I’ll have more detailed information on it further down!

Bus 

A bus drives out of the Homer Tunnel on its way to Milford Sound
Taking a bus in New Zealand is another good way to get around

Taking a bus to Milford Sound from Wanaka is doable, but not direct by any means. InterCity offers buses from Wanaka to Queenstown and then from Queenstown to Milford Sound, but there is a serious catch. The catch is that each route only runs once a day and they both leave around the same time so taking both in a day isn’t possible. You’ll have to stay the night in Queenstown before continuing to Milford Sound the next day.  

This option is best if you’re only going one way and not planning on returning the way you came. If you do plan on returning, I recommend something else. 

My suggestion is to take the bus from Wanaka to Queenstown and then set up a bus tour to Milford Sound from there. This award-winning tour not only includes the famous Milford Sound cruise but also transportation to and from Queenstown. 

Considering a one-way ticket to Milford Sound from Queenstown is $88 NZD you won’t be spending extra for transportation on this tour. That and it includes lunch, bonus stops, and the cruise? It’s definitely my suggestion for a convenient and cost-effective way to get there and back!

Related Read: Wondering when to plan this trip? Check out my guide on the best time to visit Milford Sound!

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Driving from Wanaka to Milford Sound 

A road traveling to Milford Sound from Te Anau
Pretty drive, isn’t it?

The drive to Milford Sound has lots of incredible stops and the scenery is some of my favorite on the South Island. Make sure to have a good road trip playlist ready to go! They say it’s about the journey, not the destination, and while the destination will blow your socks off, the journey there is just as epic. 

What I love about this drive is the variety of nature you get to see. Massive mountains, lush forests, plains dotted with wildlife, and even glacial lakes! Sound like fun? It is! Keep reading because below I’ve detailed all the best stops along the way.

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%! You can browse JUCY and Star RV’s availability here and apply the discount code at check-out.

9 Best Stops Between Wanaka and Milford Sound

Cardrona 

Bailey goes mountain carting at Cardrona, NZ
Mountain carting is so much fun!
Bailey enjoys a glass of wine at the Cardrona Hotel
The beer garden at the Cardrona Hotel!

Kick off the drive with a different kind of driving – downhill in a go-cart! Cardrona Mountain Carting is such a fun experience that I tried for the first time last year. Head up to Cardrona for some of the most amazing views and then ride in a gravity-fed go-cart down the mountain! You’ll get going super fast (if you want), or take it easy riding the brakes.

This Cardrona Mountain carting session lasts for 2 hours and you can race down the mountain as many times as you want during that time. It’s only available in the summer – typically between mid-December and early March. During the winter, Cardrona Mountain is a ski resort, and the snow wouldn’t be ideal for mountain carting! 

If you are here at a different time of year, don’t miss seeing the Cardrona Hotel. It’s rumored to be New Zealand’s most photographed building and this hotel has kept its original 1800’s charm. But don’t just take a picture here, go inside and have a bite to eat or even a beer. Their beer garden is perfect for a pint, with tons of locally brewed craft beer (if you’re not the driver on this road trip!). They also serve lots of tasty food, so it’s a great pitstop for lunch.

Queenstown 

bailey stands at the front of the TSS Earnslaw in Queenstown
Take the chance to get onto Lake Wakatipu!
Bailey walks the Queenstown Gardens
Queenstown Gardens is the place I come to clear my head and relax!

Stop off in one of my favorite places (and my hometown!), Queenstown. I fell in love with this mountain town the minute I arrived, and every day I fall a little more.

Queenstown sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by huge mountain peaks, including The Remarkables Mountain Range. Within a short drive or walk, you can head out onto amazing hiking trails and explore remote lakes to do some epic sightseeing.

What I love so much about Queenstown is the variety of attractions – from riding the gondola to the top of Bob’s Peak for incredible views to eating at the famous Fergburger or whitewater rafting. Even if you only have a few minutes to stretch your legs, it’s worth wandering around the Queenstown Gardens since it only takes about 20 minutes to walk the loop trail here.

If you have a bit more time before hitting the road to Milford Sound, I highly recommend the Lake Wakatipu scenic cruise aboard the TSS Earnslaw. It’s a vintage steamship that takes you to a local farm for a meal and farm demos like sheep herding. I’ve done it three times so far and always take family and friends when they come to visit!

Devil’s Staircase Lookout Point

Devils Staircase as Bailey drives back to Queenstown on a road trip
The scenic Devil’s Staircase lookout

For fantastic views across Lake Wakatipu and of the windy road along the lake, make a quick stop at the Devil’s Staircase Lookout Point. This is one of my favorite stops and the winding road gives great leading lines for photos.

Be careful when you pull off the road here as the parking lot is small and the road itself is full of bends. There’s only room for about 15 cars here and it can be hard to spot, but it should be on your right if you’re coming from Queenstown – about halfway between Queenstown and Kingston.

Five Rivers Cafe

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!

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

I like grabbing a seat outside here to enjoy the views for a few minutes before getting back on the road. There are usually food trucks parked here, so it’s great if all that driving has made you hungry! The cafe is open daily from 8 am to 4 pm, so why not get out here and stretch your legs? Plus, who can say no to great coffee? Not me!

Te Anau 

Bailey at Bao Now in Te Anau, New Zealand
You have to eat at Ditto!
Bailey overlooks Lake Te Anau
Lake Te Anau

Te Anau is a bustling spot and the last main town before you hit Milford Sound. I recommend filling up the car with gas here and spending the night to help break up the drive if you can.

If you’re looking for fun things to do, I’ve got you covered! I have an entire list of activities in Te Anau, but for me, the glow worm caves are a must-do. This magical cave tour 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.

For food, I highly recommend Ditto. It was once a super popular food truck but now has a permanent restaurant. It’s consistently rated as the best place to eat in Te Anau and it’s so popular that they have been known to make a bao a minute on busy days!

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 drive from Wanaka 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

Budget – Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels (great for campervans and motorhomes)

Mid-range – Aden Motel (this is my go-to place as the apartments are beautiful!)

Luxury – Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments

Eglinton Valley 

Highway travels through the Eglinton Valley between Te Anau and Milford Sound
The stunning Eglinton Valley

As the gorgeous mountains of Fiordland National Park draw 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 and you might even recognize it from the big screen! Yup, there are Lord of the Rings filming locations in the Eglinton Valley and you might even recognize the Eglinton Mountains as the Misty Mountains!

I always stop on the side of the road to take cool pictures like the one above (can you spot the rainbow in my photo?!).

Mirror Lakes 

Bailey stands on the viewpoint of Mirror Lakes in Fiordland National Park
Mirror Lakes is a beautiful spot to stop and take in nature

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. Although every single time I’ve been here it’s been cloudy and rainy … so maybe you’ll have more luck!

Seeing as the walk is flat and won’t take too long, it’s a perfect adventure for the whole family, and it’s also accessible for wheelchair users. The pull-off bay is well-marked on Milford Road. Just park, take a short stroll, and bring your camera along for some great photos.

Pop’s View 

Pop's View on Milford Road
Pop’s View!

Next up is one of my favorite viewpoints on the road trip to Milford Sound – Pop’s View Lookout. Take it slow on the road here as it’s very winding and the lookout is located on a blind corner. Once you’re safely parked, it’s a super quick walk to take in stunning views.

The photo you see above is just one angle I 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!

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?

You’ve arrived! If you’ve decided to follow this blog and drive yourself to Milford Sound, then 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 Wanaka, then you’ll need to plan to leave really early in the morning and 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 Wanaka afterward unless you decide to stay in Te Anau at one of the places I mentioned earlier or 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 this 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 Wanaka afterward. I don’t think you can wake up to better views than this!

If you plan to stay overnight nearby, then I’d recommend booking your cruise for first thing the next morning. Milford Sound is quieter before lunchtime when the majority of tour buses arrive. For this option, I recommend booking this boutique nature cruise that leaves at 10:45 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.

Related Read: For step-by-step itineraries for your trip, my 1-week or 2-week South Island itinerary might be helpful!

Best Tour to Milford Sound from Wanaka

View as a helicopter flies into Milford Sound, New Zealand
Flying through Milford Sound!
A view of a waterfall up close with blue sky above on the milford sound nature cruise new zealand
The cruise is just as amazing!

Easily one of the coolest ways to experience Milford Sound, this Glacier Flight and Milford Sound Cruise is an epic and unforgettable experience. 

You’ll meet at the Wanaka airport at your chosen check-in time for the 25-minute flight to Milford Sound. The flights to and from Milford Sound are breathtaking and the views from the small plane had me grinning from ear to ear! I loved peering down at snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes.

The Milford Sound cruise included in this package has you spotting local wildlife like fur seals and sailing up close to massive waterfalls all along the fjord. A cruise is easily the best thing to do in Milford Sound for good reason – it’s spectacular to see on the water!

Considering the convenience of this tour and the one-of-a-kind views you get I found the $645 NZD price tag quite the deal. Other people do too apparently since it tends to sell out!

Taking the Bus from Wanaka to Milford Sound

If for any reason you only want to take a one-way trip to Milford Sound, InterCity buses are the way to go. After you’re finished at Milford Sound, you can find buses that continue onward to cities all over the South Island. Most destinations only have one route per day so plan ahead so there are no surprises!

If you intend on coming back in the direction of Wanaka or Queenstown this Milford Sound Small Group Tour from Queenstown is your best option by far. Catch the bus to Queenstown from Wanaka and then book this for a budget-friendly way to see the 8th wonder of the world. Yes, that’s what we call Milford Sound here!

What I appreciate about this option is that hotel pickup and dropoff are included so you don’t have to try and get anywhere for the 6:30 am pickup time. Well, that and they offer beer on the cruise (at an additional cost). Not only do you get to take the Milford Sound cruise, but you also stop and see some other amazing stuff on the way like Lake Te Anau and the Darran Mountains.

It’s by far the best, most convenient, and easily one of the cheapest ways to see Milford Sound. That’s probably why over 1,100 people from all over the world have also given it a 5-star review. And I mean it only costs $289 NZD so how could you not? It does book up fast though!

Where to Stay near Milford Sound

A room at the Milford Sound Lodge
The Milford Sound Lodge is the closest you can get!

If you’re wondering if you can stay in Milford Sound, the answer is yes! Staying in Milford Sound is the most convenient choice if you pick a tour that doesn’t include transportation. However, there’s only one hotel here: the Milford Sound Lodge. It’s lovely, but since it’s the only option, it also books up far in advance (you can check availability here) and can be pricey. You can’t beat the location though!

However, there are also several campsites on the road between Te Anau to Milford Sound, which can also be a great option for those wanting to stay close to the fiord. 

Cascade Creek Campsite is around 40 minutes south of Milford Sound and has 120 tent sites, which do not have power. The facilities are clean and it’s the closest Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite to Milford Sound, so it’s a popular choice. For this reason, you’ll need to book in advance. It costs $15 NZD for adults and $7.50 NZD for children per night. There’s also a $10 NZD booking fee per party. 

Deer Flat Campsite is a 50-minute drive from Milford Sound. It’s a small, primitive camp, with only 15 tent sites, although caravan and RV access is also permitted. It’s absolutely beautiful, located next to the Eglinton River and surrounded by beech forest. You can’t book here, so it’s first-come, first-served. The prices for Deer Flat are the same as Cascade Creek, minus the booking fee. 

Alternatively, there are plenty of hotels in Te Anau to choose from, and from there, you’re only a 2-hour drive to Milford Sound.

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 campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! 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!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey smiles at the camera on a Milford Sound cruise on the outdoor deck with amazing views of the Fiord
Thanks for reading!

Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand and the world if you ask me! While it takes a bit of planning to get here from Wanaka, it’s totally doable and well worth it. Whether you’re driving, taking a tour, or the bus, the journey to get here can be just as wonderful as exploring Milford Sound itself.

If you found this blog useful, have a look through my other blogs about Milford Sound or the South Island. While I call Queenstown home, I’ve traveled across New Zealand and have lots of helpful travel guides for your trip!

15 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Milford Sound, New Zealand

10 BEST Tours in Wanaka that You Don’t Want to Miss

10-Day New Zealand South Island Itinerary – 5 BEST Road Trip Options!