The Queenstown to Milford Sound road trip is one of the most scenic and iconic journeys in New Zealand. This adventure takes you through breathtaking landscapes, including majestic mountains, lush forests, serene lakes, and cascading waterfalls. The saying ‘it’s not all about the destination, but about enjoying the journey’ really lives up to its name when driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound. There are so many incredible stops along the way which is why you should plan a full day in my opinion for the journey. And even better, if you can stay in Milford Sound or Te Anau for one, or even a few nights, it would be even better! This will give you the opportunity to explore the best hikes in Fiordland National Park and experience some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world!
The Queenstown to Milford Sound road
Get ready for lots of ‘ohh and ahh’ along the way! The Queenstown to Milford Sound road is considered one of the most scenic drives in the world. There is a spectacular view around every corner and so many places where you HAVE to stop! Prepare your lunch, stock enough water, charge your camera batteries and get ready for an epic road trip!
How far is Queenstown to Milford Sound?
The total distance from Queenstown to Milford Sound is 287 km (179 miles). It will take you 4 hours if you drive without stops. But that shouldn’t be the purpose of this road trip.
Calculate enough time for this journey. Preferably about 6 hours if you stop at most of the quick viewpoints. There are also some amazing hikes along the way which would highly, highly recommend to do. The most beautiful tracks in Fiordland National Park are Key Summit hike, Lake Marian hike and Gertrude Saddle track. However, you will need 4 – 5 hours at least for these hikes. Therefore it is better to stay in either Te Anau or Milford Sound and plan the hikes on another day.
Is it an easy drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound?
Yes, the drive to Milford Sound is all on a wide, tarmac road. The drive is pretty straightforward and only when you drive deeper into Milford Sound, the roads get more winding and bit more narrow between the sheer cliffs. Here you have to be aware of busses coming around the corner which you can’t see.
At the designated viewpoint there is always enough parking space. Take into account that other people and busses need to park as well, so be smart where you park your car to leave enough space for others.
Can you do Milford Sound in a day from Queenstown?
Technically yes. There are enough day tours going from Queenstown to Milford Sound. They depart early to go on a Milford Sound Cruise and then return the same day. You could do this as well by driving yourself, but it would be such a pity if you don’t allow yourself to rest and enjoy this extraordinary landscape one, or a few more days.
The best stops along the Queenstown to Milford Sound road
Let’s get you well prepared for the Queenstown to Milford Sound road trip so you know exactly at which spots you have to stop!
Kingston Freedom Camping
Instead of stopping at Devil’s Staircase Lookout, I personally recommend to pull over at Kingston Freedom Camping located along the Southern Scenic Route near Kingston. This beautiful bay has much more to offer than Devil’s Staircase Lookout as it has a beach and picnic area with amazing views across Lake Wakatipu. Make sure to check out the stunning blue water and beautiful rocks with their interesting patterns and textures at the pebble beach.
Although it’s only 40 minute from Queenstown, it could be a great little stop for a picnic, if you have the time.
Garston Hunny Shop
The Garston Hunny Shop is a nice stop if you want to learn more about the making of honey, taste some honey and eventually bring home some New Zealand Manuka honey! There is also a delicious coffee truck outside and public toilets. Next to the honey shop is a cute store with lots of unique art work and other products which you can buy as souvenir. Worth a stop!
Red Tussock Conservation Area
The Red Tussock Conservation Area is 38 kms southeast of Te Anau located. This Wilderness Scientific Reserve is a beautiful area to stop for a little while to admire the protected native red tussock grasses. With the right light you can see the vibrant red colour tussocks that flow gently up the hills. It’s a nice place for a short stop before you enter Te Anau.
Lake Te Anau
Once you’ve arrived in Te Anau you are half way the journey to Milford Sound. It is highly recommended to fill up your tank here as there is no gas station after Te Anau.
Te Anau is the last main town with a grocery store, gas station and different options of restaurants. So if you need a coffee, groceries or sandwich, Te Anau is the last place to get it. One you arrive to Milford Sound, there is only Pio Pio restaurant which is part of Milford Sound Lodge and often need reservations if you want to dine in.
So, now that you’re halfway in Te Anau I would highly recommend to explore the lake. With its stunning backdrop of the mountains of Fiordland, Lake Te Anau truly is a beautiful serene place.
There is a jetty which is a famous place for photographers to capture the sunset. But it is also a very chill place with plenty of parking space to take a rest.
If you have enough time then I can’t stress enough to stay at least one, but even better two nights in Te Anau. It is such a lovely little town and there are so many great things to do in Te Anau. With plenty of amazing restaurants, grocery stores and great accommodation options, Te Anau is a great base to explore Fiordland National Park. We spend 5 nights in Te Anau at Radfords on the Lake and did all the hikes from here such as Gertrude Saddle, Lake Marian, Key Summit and Kepler Track.
Further along the Milford Road are only very few accommodations with Milford Sound Lodge and Eglinton Valley Camp as best options. There are some camp spots in case you are traveling by camper van. But Te Anau is the only town before Milford Sound.
Lake Mistletoe is a peaceful lake with a short 1.3 km return track through regenerating beech forest. It take about 45 minutes to complete the track and is a great option to stretch the legs. There is no incline and is suitable for all ages which makes it a great family walk. At Lake Mistletoe you can picnic, so bring your lunch!
Te Anau Downs Station – Boat Harbour
Although it is not a well known stop along the Queenstown to Milford Sound road, this quiet little cove is a great place to stretch the legs and see the stunning backdrop of the Fiordland mountains. Especially on a calm day the mountains will reflect in this bay, making it a perfect photography opportunity.
The Eglinton riverside is a lesser known spot to pull over than Eglinton Valley, but it is definitely worth a quick stop! Here you can get close to the river, which is not the point at the valley viewpoint.
Eglinton valley is one of the most famous stops along the Queenstown Milford Sound road trip. It is the first stop in Fiordland National Park and covers a large area of lowland beech forest with a stunning backdrop of snow capped mountains. Here you will notice how the landscape changes to towering rocky peaks adorned with lush native beech forests and eventually some snowcapped crowns. It is a great photo opportunity and must stop over. We think it is some of the 35 best photo spots on the South Island of New Zealand, but make sure to check out our other photo spot suggestions!
There is enough parking space along the road. But be careful with stepping out of the car as you are parked along the Highway where people drive pretty fast!
The Mirror Lakes are the next famous stop along the Queenstown to Milford Sound road. This collection of beautiful reflection ponds and lakes is a perfect stopover to stretch the legs and enjoy the fresh air of Fiordland National Park. On a calm day the lakes are truly like a mirror, reflecting the Earl mountains and showing the sunken tree branches. Via a short walk on a wooden platform you get to the lakes and take in the beautiful scenery. The best time to visit the Mirror lakes is on a calm day with no to little wind. Only then you will be able to see the reflection of the Earl mountains in the water. Generally the water and wind is most calm in the early morning or around sunset.
Lake Gunn viewpoint
Lake Gunn is a picturesque glacial lake located along the Milford Road. On calm days you can see a stunning reflection in the lake.
There are actually two viewpoints from where you can see Lake Gunn. The first one is easy to spot along the road and has a small parking lot. The view from this road side viewpoint can be seen on the pictures below. We were blessed with an absolute breathtaking morning with low hanging clouds and soft golden light. The early bird definitely catches the worm! The second Lake Gunn viewpoint is a bit hidden and can be accessed by a short road that branches off the Highway. I will explain more about this second viewpoint below.
Lake Gunn North viewpoint
From the parking of Lake Gunn North viewpoint a 45 minute walk starts along Lake Gunn. This is the perfect opportunity to stretch the legs and take in these stunning Fiordland National Park views. However, if you’re short in time and don’t want to do the hike, I still recommend to take the turn off from the highway to Lake Gunn North viewpoint. This serene place gives a beautiful overview of the Lake and is surrounded by towering mountains. On a calm morning you will be treated with stunning reflections in the lake. And if you’re lucky you will be the only one around! This is actually one of our favorite photo spots on the South Island New Zealand. And because it’s not that well known, it’s even better and more original!
Lake Fergus is another small lake along the Milford Road. It’s definitely not as spectacular as Lake Gunn, but is worth a stop. Especially on a calm day you can see beautiful reflections in the lake. Surrounded by native bush, you can see the the exact reflection of the mountain in the calm water of Lake Fergus. Fun fact is that the west branch of the Eglinton River flows through the lake, and flows into the southern-located Lake Gunn.
Key Summit Track
Key Summit is part of the Routeburn Track and is a stunning day walk which takes about 3 hours to complete. If you have the time, or plan on staying a few days around Fiordland NP, then I would highly recommend adding Key Summit Track to your itinerary! This 8 kilometres return track has about 450 meters of elevation gain. At the summit you can explore several tarns along the boardwalk with stunning mountain views all around. Again for this hike and view it has to be clear to see the most of it!
Pops View Lookout – Hollyford Valley Lookout
Pops View, also known as Hollyford Valley Lookout, provides stunning views over the Hollyford Valley and river. You have to be a bit lucky with the weather though! Only on a really sunny day with clear skies, you can see all the way to the snow capped mountain peaks. The view of the lush green vegetation in the valley will be visible more often. But the background of majestic mountains will make this viewpoint even more spectacular.
Lake Marian Falls
The Lake Marian Falls are part of the Lake Marian hike and can be spotted early on the trail. Therefore, if you don’t have the time to hike all the way to Lake Marian which takes 4 hour return, only going to the Lake Marian falls and back is worth it as well.
On this short 15 min walk you will cross a suspension bridge and hike through the stunning mossy forest of Fiordland. From the wooden boardwalk you can admire the Lake Marian Falls which are a series of waterfalls that flow from Lake Marian down towards the Hollyford Valley. The falls are a spectacular sight, especially after heavy rainfall or during the snowmelt season when the water volume is higher.
Lake Marian hike
If you do plan on staying a few days in either Te Anau or Milford Sound, you can plan to add some of the best hikes in Fiordland National Park to your Milford Sound itinerary. Lake Marian Track is one of them and absolutely a stunning hike. The 2 hour hike through ancient mossy rainforest brings you to a magical reflection lake. Make sure to plan this hike on a clear day, because only then you will be able to fully enjoy the views at Lake Marian. Surrounded by towering snow capped mountains it is a mesmerising view.
Christie Falls can be seen from the road, but to truly admire this waterfall you will have to park after the bridge. The narrow single-lane bridge doesn’t allow to stop and admire the waterfall, so it’s a good reason to stretch the legs again for a few minutes! The river that leads along the road on the other side is also stunning with the mountains in the backdrop. Here you will more and more get the real Fiordland vibes!
This glacier-fed spring has some of the purest water you can drink in Fiordland! It’s straight from the source so if you need to fill up a bottle of water, do it here. Besides that, Monkey Creek is also a stunning photography location. There is a beautiful backdrop of mountains and the river can be used as leading line.
Cleddau Valley Vistas Waterfalls
Cleddau valley lookout point is located near the Homer Tunnel entrance. Here you can see the Cleddau valley waterfalls which are fed by rain and meltwater from the glacier on the 1931 meters high Mount McPherson and form part of the headwaters of the Cleddau River. The height of the waterfall is about 100 meters. Especially during and after heavy rainfall you can see several waterfalls gushing down the sheer cliffs. These glacier waterfalls are a true spectacle to see, but again, you have to be lucky to witness them depending on the weather circumstances. For this reason some people say that Milford Sound comes to life during rain. And although you may not want too much rain during your New Zealand road trips, rain in Milford Sound is definitely not a bad thing!
Gertrude Saddle Track
Another incredible Fiordland hike is Gertrude Saddle Track. This 7km (4.3 miles) return track doesn’t sound too heavy at first. But please don’t underestimate this hike and only attend it with good weather (clear skies and no rain). I explain in this complete Gertrude Saddle track guide why this is so important. Mainly because there is a long rocky part which will be super slippery during and right after rainfall. Also, the navigation along Gertrude Saddle track is a matter of life and death because of the slippery terrain. The whole trail involves steep ascents and exposed sections. So with that being sad, Gertrude Saddle track is only for experienced hikers.
Bu the views overlooking Milford Sound valley are incredible, and with the golden sunset light you will be in for an extra treat. It was so breathtaking to see the golden light kissing the mountains peaks and light beams dancing through the valley. Plan at least 5 hours for this hike, so you don’t have to hurry as this isn’t the hike to take risks.
The Hundred Falls are located right after you’ve passed the Homer Tunnel. There are a few parking spots where you can take in this spectacle. However, only during and after rainfall you will be able to see these, quite literally, hundreds of vein falls seeping down the sheer cliffs.
Milford Sound Cleddau River Viewpoint
In between Donne River Bridge and Tutoko River Bridge you will see a little notch in the foliage which provides a stunning see through for the river with the mountains in the backdrop. This is a great photo spot, especially when waterfalls are seeping down the mountain. The true Milford Sound feeling!
Milford Sound foreshore
Now that you have arrived it is time to explore Milford Sound! The first thing to do is go to Milford Sound foreshore to see the stunning landscape of Mitre Peak and the surrounding fiords. But of course the best way to experience the fiords is to cruise Milford Sound. Make sure to secure your seats on the boat in advance as this is the reason why everyone comes to Milford Sound! So don’t wait to book until you get there. You can also go on an overnight cruise in Milford Sound to enjoy this otherworldly landscape even longer!
Other options to explore Milford Sound is by some of the Milford Sound flights. This is a once in a lifetime experience and some of the most scenic flights in New Zealand you can do!
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots. But for some of them, you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental in New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for this kind of road. We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car!
The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies, and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pickup date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a road trip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen, and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will give you a true feeling of freedom and connect you with nature.
We recommend booking your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Station wagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 roadside assistance & long-term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream road trip!
About Milford Sound, the 8th wonder of the world
Milford Sound is a geological wonder that was once under the sea. Due to tectonic activity 400 million years ago the ground started to rise from the ocean to form the mountains that now tower over New Zealand’s Fiordlands. The valley of Milford Sound was then carved out by erosion of ancient glacial ice to become the 1,200 metres high rocks that soar from the water as it is today.
British writer Rudyard Kipling described Milford Sound as the 8th Wonder of the World. Once you see it with your own eyes you will totally understand why. Milford Sound is widely considered to be one of the World’s top travel destinations and is a World Heritage site. It’s a destination in New Zealand that you can’t miss!
A fun thing to know about Milford Sound is that it’s actually not a sound! Because the word ‘sound’ is being used to describe when a river valley is flooded with the sea and forms a gorge or valley. Whereas Milford Sound is actually a glacier-carved valley and therefore a fiord, hence it’s location in Fiordland National Park.
Must do tours in Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is some of the most beautiful National Parks in New Zealand. Known for the glacier-carved fiords of Doubtful and Milford sound and home to beautiful alpine lakes, ancient rainforests and huge waterfalls. With plenty of hikes and a huge variety of other activities to do, it is highly recommended to spend at least three to four days in Fiordland National Park. Three of New Zealand’s Great Walks are found in Fiordland, known as Kepler, Milford track and Routeburn Track. But if you’re not prepared for multi day hikes, then there are also plenty of day walks options and other fun activities to do. Here are some tours we highly recommend to do in Fiordland National Park.
The lesser known and quieter version of Milford Sound is Doubtful Sound. During this full-day tour you will journey across the clear waters of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound. Make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while taking in the scenery. If you’re lucky you might see fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and crested and little blue penguins. You naturalist guide will tell you everything and point out interesting sights.
See the magical natural phenomenon of glowworms in the caves of Te Anau. An informative guide takes you on this underground adventure starting with a cruise across Lake Te Anau. Once arrived at the caves you can marvel at the shimmering illumination of thousands of glowworms as you glide through the quiet darkness of this magical underground world.
Marvel at the majestic views of Fiordland wilderness on this luxury sunset cruise. Including champagne and canapés, this tour on the impeccably-preserved 1930s sailing yacht is a unique experience. You can watch the sun set over the Southern Alps and customize your cruise on this small-group cruise.
Book this full day Milford Sound hiking tour including cruise to explore the best of Fiordland National Park. Travel along the Milford Road from Te Anau and enjoy panoramic views over the beautiful countryside. Enjoy a relaxing boat cruise through the fjord and out to the Tasman Sea, and gaze over soaring clifftops and plummeting waterfalls. Afterwards, enjoy short guided walks and explore Fiordland’s spectacular natural scenery with a local nature guide.
Step into a powerful Fiordland Jet boat and cruise down the mighty Waiau River on this roughly two-hour adventure into the heart of Fiordland National Park. You will pass some famous landmarks and Lord of the Rings filming locations along the way. Departure is from Lake Te Anau with morning, afternoon and evening trips.
Depart from Milford Airport and track west along Milford Sound, climb alongside Bowen Falls and Mitre Peak for some great views of the fiords and its towering peaks before returning to our Milford base during this 20 minute flight.
Where to stay near Milford Sound
The best way to explore the most of Fiordland National Park is to stay in either Milford Sound or Te Anau. Milford Sound only has one accommodation and restaurant option as the Milford Sound Lodge. If you have a self contained campervan then you have the option to stay at some camping sites. There is one other accommodation option near Eglinton valley which is a great central base as well to explore Milford Sound and surroundings.
Te Anau on the other hand has more options for accommodations and facilities such as restaurants and supermarkets. However, from Te Anau it is 80 kilometre drive to Lake Marian trailhead. If you’re planning to explore Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound for a few days, then having your base in Te Anau is a great idea. With the ever changing weather circumstances in Fiordland National Park, it is always a surprise to see how the landscape changes. And with so many places you can explore along Milford road it is a great day trip into Fiordland National Park.
Milford Sound Lodge
Milford Sound Lodge is some of the most unique accommodations in New Zealand. Being the only accommodation close to Milford Sound, you will be immersed by nature. The mountain and river view chalets look out over the towering peaks of the Darran Mountains with waterfalls pouring down along the cliffs. Truly some of the most mesmerising views you can have from an accommodation. We personally stayed here two nights and highly recommend booking a stay at Milford Sound Lodge. You are not only close to the action of Milford Sound cruise and the hikes you can do. But you can also fully recharged in your cosy cabin and order delicious food at Pio Pio restaurant.
Eglinton Valley Camp
Set in Te Anau Downs, Eglinton Valley Camp offers cosy bungalow accommodation with stunning views on the mountains. The self contained bungalows have a private kitchenette and bathroom, seating and a dining area, barbecue, terrace and private parking.
After a day of hiking or exploring the many things to do in Milford Sound, you can ultimately relax in the garden or shared lounge area of Eglinton Valley Camp. Rooms start around $120 USD.
Radfords on the Lake Te Anau
Radfords on the Lake is located across the road from Lake Te Anau with stunning lake and mountain views. The fully self-contained suites offer everything you need during your stay. From cooking utensils to a desk and comfortable bed, Radfords on the Lake in Te Anau is your home away from home. With lovely staff, daily cleaning and it’s central location, we couldn’t recommend Radfords on the Lake enough. We have stayed here ourselves and fully enjoyed it!
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the best Queenstown to Milford Sound road trip stops. We have many more New Zealand travel guides, so make sure to check them out for more tips and to plan your ultimate New Zealand road trip!