Otago/Southland, New Zealand
300km, 4hrs driving
Rent a car and complete one of the most stunning drives in the world.
Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s premier tourist destinations, and for good reason. It is the drive from Queenstown though that in my opinion is just as incredible, with mountain ranges, fjord lands, lakes and rainforest almost the entire trip. Having a car will let you pull off the road at one of the many lookout points along the way.
▐ Queenstown to Milford Sound
Click on thumbnails for enlarged image:
Navigational Google Map:
Queenstown to Milford Sound
State Highway 6 – (Kingston Road, Kingston-Garston Highway)
State Highway 97 – (Mossburn Five Rivers Rd)
State Highway 94 – (Te Anau-Milford Highway, Milford Sound Highway)
▐ Queenstown to Milford Sound (~300km, ~4hrs)
The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is an absolute must if you are lucky enough to be spending time in Queenstown or the surrounding area. Many tour busses frequent this route, often tied in with a cruise of the spectacular fjords of Milford Sound. The true beauty of this drive however, especially the Te Anau-Milford Highway, cannot be experienced unless you are behind the wheel. Driving will give you a better view for one, but it will give you the best perspective of the steep gradients, twists and turns that run through the jaw dropping mountains and valleys. There are also plenty of lookouts along the way, which you can take full advantage of with the car.
There are quite a few car rental places in Queenstown, but do your best to reserve early. We found Omega car rentals to have the cheapest rates in general.
Now, onto the itinerary! Depending on your plans, the starting time from Queenstown is quite flexible. A cruise/kayak tour of Milford Sound is highly recommended, so this may determine your departure time. If you need to be in Milford Sound at a certain time, make sure you allow AT LEAST an additional hour plus the four driving hours required, just to ensure you aren’t rushed, and can spend a few minutes at various lookouts along the way. There are also lots of tourists in hire cars whom do like to take it quite slow (understandably so), and there are limited overtaking opportunities.
Head out of Queenstown onto , where you will drive along the eastern shores of Lake Wakatipu. There are beautiful views of Lake Wakatipu and the Bayonet Range as you drive up to Kingston. A lookout point worth stopping off at is Devil’s Staircase . Continue along , there is some great driving roads out here that pass through vineyards and farms with plenty of sheep! Turn onto and then on . Proceed all the way to the small town of Te Anau, which lies on the southern shores of Lake Te Anau. An important stop worth pointing out is the Caltex petrol/gas station . This is the last petrol/gas station before Milford Sound (almost a 250km return journey), so I would strongly advise having a full tank before continuing.
Once you have filled up with petrol/gas, proceed on . This section of is the Te Anau-Milford Highway, the most stunning part of the drive. The first section in between Te Anau and Te Anau Downs runs along Lake Te Anau, and offers some great views of the eastern ranges of Fiordland National Park. As you pass Te Anau Downs, you enter the Eglinton Valley. The valley floor itself where the highway runs is very flat and provides a great contrast with the surrounding jagged edged mountain ranges on either side of you. Be sure to stop off at the Eglinton Valley and Eglinton Flats Lookout . It is not a conventional lookout, no signs are present, it is just a pullout on the side of the road. The next stop along the road is Mirror Lakes . It is worth stopping off and enjoying the great reflections of the Eglinton Valley peaks in these beautiful still bodies of water.
As you continue, you will run into seemingly random patches of dense rainforest in amongst vast open flats. As you pass Lake Gunn and Lake Fergus, the road starts rapidly undulating, with many ascents and descents mixed in with tight turns. Take it as fast as you feel comfortable. The drive is stunning, and is well worth taking the opportunity to stop at lookouts along the way. As you pass Pop’s View Lookout, the road turns into the Milford Sound Highway. You will be in awe of the terrain as you head through the Gertrude Valley into the Homer Tunnel. This is a one way tunnel that is under literally thousands of feet of rock. It is quite an experience as you descend even further down into the mountain. Take it extremely slow and in a low gear. Upon exiting the tunnel, there are a series of hairpin turns to be negotiated, but it is a fairly gradual descent into Milford Sound . There are parking lots at Milford Sound that I believe are free of charge, so get out for a few hours, do a cruise or kayak, and soak in the magic of this incredible place!