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The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is one of the most breathtaking roads in New Zealand. Here’s everything you need to know before you hit the road including the 12 best places to stop!
Visiting Milford Sound is one of the best things to do in New Zealand! It’s both breathtaking and impressive!
Te Anau is the closest town to Milford Sound and often where people stay when visiting Milford. However, don’t assume that the 118km (73mi) drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau will only take around 1.5 hours as Google Maps suggests.
Much like the Queenstown to Glenorchy road trip, the beautiful scenery and cool stops along the way to Milford Sound, make the drive much longer!
Along the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound you will see some beautiful sights right from your car window, but there are also some places that you need to stop and get out of the car to properly explore.
In this blog, I’m going to tell you about all of the best stops to check out on the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound, how long the drive takes, as well as show you some of the beauty with our own photography!
Te Anau to Milford Sound Overview
How Long Does the Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound take?
The drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau takes around 1.5 hours in perfect road/weather conditions. This is without making any long stops along the way.
However, between the bad weather in the winter and the traffic in the summer, it is likely that you won’t be driving very quickly. Also, you will want to make some stops along the way as the scenery is just incredible!
If you want a decent amount of time then I would allow 3 hours for the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound including a few quick stops (no hikes) and driving at a reasonable pace. If you decided not to stop, you could cut this time in half.
Day Trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound
It is very easy to visit Milford Sound on a day trip from Te Anau. In fact, this is what many people do! It is much shorter than the drive from Queenstown to Milford, and makes for an ideal day trip!
My best advice would be to get up early and drive all the way to Milford Sound without stopping. This way you could get on a morning boat cruise in Milford Sound and beat the busiest time of the day.
Then after your cruise and exploring some of the other activities in Milford, head back towards Te Anau. But this time, enjoy all of the best stops along the way (more on them below!) You can take your time on the way back knowing you have the rest of the day to explore the stunning Milford Road!
We wrote an entire blog about going on a boat cruise in Milford Sound. Check it out for more information on the best cruises, what to expect, and how to have the overall best experience!
Getting to Te Anau
Te Anau is the closest town to Milford Sound and a great place to spend the night if you have a big day planned for visiting Milford Sound. There is only one road to get to Milford Sound, and it starts in Te Anau.
Te Anau is easily accessible from Queenstown with a 2-hour drive (with good road conditions). Te Anau is also about 2 hours from Invercargill.
On the Queenstown to Te Anau route, there aren’t really any stand-out attractions (except for the cheapest fuel on the South Island in the town of Mossburn, yes, fuel up here) so this journey can be completed without stopping.
Related Read: Read what we think to be the perfect trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
What is the road like on the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound?
The road from Te Anau to Milford is paved and accessible for two-wheel drive vehicles. During the winter, you should carry snow chains just in case it snows or icy conditions develop.
There are areas where the road is narrow, there are one-lane bridges, and it can get very steep. Drive carefully and cautiously especially next to the steep cliff edges!
In the winter, bad weather can force road closures. Make sure to check the latest road report before departing from Te Anau. Also, read our blog about visiting Milford in winter for more detailed info.
There is also a one-way tunnel called the Homer Tunnel which alternates what direction traffic can go through. Sometimes, you will wait up to 20 minutes here before being allowed to drive through.
In winter conditions, the lights are turned off so cars don’t sit in high avalanche risk areas. So be cautious of oncoming traffic at all times.
Related Read: Planning a road trip around NZ? Check out our blog for tips on scoring a cheap campervan in NZ!
12 BEST Stops Between Te Anau and Milford Sound
There are so many places to stop along the road from Te Anau to Milford that you likely won’t have time to stop at them all. So, here are the 12 best stops on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound to help you narrow it down!
Above is a map in order of the stops from Te Anau driving towards Milford Sound.
1. Te Anau Downs
Te Anau Downs is actually the start of the Milford Track hike. Here is where a boat picks up anxious hikers to take them to the start of the trail. But for those not hiking, it also is a really pretty lake with a fun jetty to walk out onto.
On a calm day, you get amazing reflections off the lake and can see the mountains in the background. The day we went it was a little cloudy but still beautiful!
2. Eglinton Valley
The Eglinton Valley was once a glacier. However, now it’s a stunning valley surrounded by mountains. This is always a stop for the tour buses and when we drove by it was quite busy so we drove up the road a little bit further and took an awesome picture on the road instead!
If it’s raining you’ll be in for a special treat as hundreds of waterfalls form on the cliffs around you. The Eglinton Valley is really beautiful rain or shine!
Fun fact, it’s one of the only accessible valleys by road in all of Fjordland National Park
3. Mirror Lakes
Mirror Lakes is an area of really calm water with viewing platforms for visitors. The mountains in the background reflect onto the calm lake water making a gorgeous, picture-perfect reflection (aside from our unfavorable weather!)
To be honest, Mirror Lakes is one of those places that looks more impressive in a photograph than it does in person. But, it only takes 5 minutes to stop here and check it out as it’s right on the side of the road.
4. Lake Gunn
As you drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau you’ll pass Lake Gunn on your left-hand side. There is no specific place I recommend pulling over, instead just stop and take a wander around.
We had quite a lot of fun at Lake Gunn walking out onto a fallen tree, trying not to slip into what would’ve been freezing lake water. If you get a calm day you’ll get amazing reflections from the mountains and the trees. This was a stop not many people talk about but is really beautiful!
5. Pop’s View Lookout
Right before the road starts weaving down the mountain to sea level, there is the Pop’s View lookout. It sits at one of the highest points on the road to Milford Sound. This area is often very foggy hindering the awesome view, but when it is clear it is nothing short of breathtaking!
The viewpoint is signposted and is around 10 minutes past Lake Gunn. It only takes 5 minutes to stop here so if you’re lucky enough to have a clear day, stop and enjoy the view!
6. Lake Marian
Lake Marian Track is one of my favorite hikes in New Zealand. If you have time on your road trip to Milford Sound then I highly recommend hiking to Lake Marian.
This stunning alpine lake is very picturesque and one of my favorite stops along the road to Milford. The hike takes 3 hours return and leads to the most breathtaking lake.
For more information check out our blog post on the Lake Marian Track.
7. The Key Summit
The Key Summit is another awesome hike on the road to Milford Sound. This 7-kilometer (4.3 miles) return trail hikes almost straight up to the Key Summit where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the Southern Alps. The trail is actually part of the Routeburn Track which is one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks.
The trail takes most visitors 3 hours to complete and is quite a hard climb to the top but the views are worth it! The trail starts from the Divide parking lot which you can find on any map.
The problem with the Key Summit is that most people only have time for either the Lake Marian Track or the Key Summit. In my opinion, the Lake Marian Track is better, but with that said, if you do get a clear day and love panoramic views, the Key Summit is amazing.
8. Homer Tunnel
The Homer Tunnel isn’t somewhere you may choose to stop, but you may be forced to anyway. The Homer Tunnel is the only reason you can drive to Milford Sound as it passes directly through solid mountain rock and through the Homer Pass.
This tunnel is only one-way and lights alternate the direction of traffic that flows through it. Sometimes you can wait here for up to 20 minutes but don’t worry, the place is so beautiful you’ll want to stop to say hi to the friendly Keas anyway!
Related Read: There are so many great stops on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island!
9. The Chasm
The Chasm is one of the last stops before arriving in Milford Sound. On your left-hand side, you’ll be able to park your car and enjoy a 20-minute return walk to check out this waterfall.
The Chasm isn’t famous for being tall and beautiful, but rather powerful. The crazy amount of water and force that comes down this river has created interesting rock formations due to erosion.
It is only a short walk to see the Chasm and the path is flat and well-maintained. In my opinion, it is worth the quick 20-minute stop!
10. The Milford Sound Forest Walk
Once you have arrived at Milford Sound, there is one more walk you must do – the Milford Sound Forest Walk. It starts right across the road from the visitor center and next to the car parking lot.
The walk takes you along the water’s edge with platforms to get a great view of Mitre Peak as well as the Bowen Waterfall at the very end.
This walk takes about 20 minutes return, and if you keep an eye out, you may be lucky enough to spot the places mentioned below!
Related Read: Save some of these day hikes in Queenstown for your next visit!
11. The Milford Swing
Also in Milford Sound is the Milford Swing. This makeshift swing has become somewhat famous because of Instagram and is a great place to enjoy the amazing views of Milford Sound!
Finding it can be hard and many miss it! However, we wrote a blog post on the Milford Swing’s exact location so our readers can enjoy it as much as we did! It has such a cute story behind it.
12. The Keas
Ok, so this isn’t technically a “stop” but Keas [key-uh] are my favorites! Keas are everywhere along the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound. These cute birds waddle when they walk and don’t seem to be frightened of people at all.
They are cute to look at and take pictures with, but do be careful because they are very mischievous and won’t hesitate to pick at your car or motorhome! Some of the best places to find them are in the Milford Sound parking lot, Lake Marian, and Pop’s View.
Other Tips for Visiting Milford Sound and the Drive
- Give yourself plenty of time especially if you have a Milford Sound boat cruise booked. It can take a while to get through Homer Tunnel and then to find parking once in Milford.
- Bring bug repellent. The bugs are around all of the time and leave itchy and annoying bites!
- Obey all road signs and don’t speed. There are avalanche areas in which you cannot stop as well as sharp corners in which you need to significantly reduce your speed.
- Consider staying the night in Te Anau. This way you can spend more time along the drive and even stay at Milford Sound until sunset! Keep reading below for our recommended places to stay in Te Anau.
Is it best to self-drive or join a tour?
We always opt for the self-drive option as we like to take our time and if needed, set up for the perfect photo. Also, going on a tour means that every place you stop along the drive from Te Anau to Milford stop will be full of people from your bus. This isn’t ideal for us.
If you don’t already have wheels, you can rent a car in Queenstown for really reasonable prices.
However, if you don’t drive and taking a tour is your only option for visiting Milford Sound, then definitely go on a tour anyway!
BEST Tours from Te Anau to Milford Sound
These are just a few of the most highly rated tours that you can take in Te Anau that can take you to Milford Sound if you don’t have a car or would prefer not to drive. You can also search for more 5-star tours in Te Anau here!
Most of the Milford Sound cruises depart from Queenstown or straight from Milford but this is the best Milford Sound Cruise from Te Anau you can book. You’re on a smaller boat so you will be able to see any waterfalls and wildlife up close inside the fjord. It lasts for 9 hours and includes stops at MANY of the sights I mentioned earlier in this guide such as Mirror Lakes and the Homer Tunnel.
This is the most affordable tour to Milford Sound from Te Anau but it will not include as many scenic stops as the Full-Day Milford Sound Cruise does and there could be double the number of people on board. But if you are primarily coming to Milford Sound for the cruise this is still a great highly rated choice to save some money! Will fewer stops this tour lasts 7.5 hours 1.5 of which are spent cruising. In comparison, other tours go between 9-12 hours so you won’t have to wake up as early!
What to Book before heading to Milford Sound
If you’re heading off to Milford Sound after hiking Lake Marian Track then be sure to have your Milford cruise booked in advance before you arrive. A cruise or kayak adventure is one of those must-do activities in Milford that you shouldn’t miss.
Below are some of the top-rated cruises you can do in Milford Sound! Be sure the check the times of the cruises and make sure you have enough time to stop at the places you want to stop at and of course hike the Lake Marian track. (If you’re unsure, leave a comment below and I’ll be more than happy to help you plan this epic road trip!)
My favorite cruises in Milford Sound are the Nature Cruise and Sightseeing Nature Cruise. However, the Encounter Nature Cruise does start at 9:45 am which is a little early if you plan on hiking the Lake Marian Track before (you could hike it after though!)
If you’re visiting Milford Sound in winter you won’t have to stress as much about booking super far in advance because there will be way fewer tourists but I would still recommend you do so for peace of mind!
Where to Stay in Te Anau?
Of course, you will need somewhere to spend a night or two in Te Anau if you want to maximize the amount of time you have in Milford Sound. Here are some great choices for accommodation in Te Anau:
Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers (budget hostel) – This hostel is affordable and offers dorm rooms ($30) as well as private rooms ($75) with lake views. There is a communal kitchen for those who want to cook and the hostel is within walking distance to large shops and restaurants. Onsite parking is available.
Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park (mid-range budget) – This holiday park offers powered and unpowered camping sites which are perfect if you have rented a campervan, as well as private rooms and cabins. It is located just on the outskirts of town on the lake promising a tranquil getaway with great communal facilities.
Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments (high budget) – This beautiful hotel offers fully equipped apartments with gorgeous views. It is located only a ten-minute walk from the town center and offers free WiFi, free onsite parking, as well as BBQ facilities. Expect to pay around $200 for a one-bedroom apartment.
Didn’t find what you were looking for? To check out all the accommodations available in Te Anau, click here! Image
Staying in Milford Sound Overnight
If you want to stay closer to Milford Sound then you need to check out the Milford Lodge – it’s literally a 2-minute drive away from Milford’s foreshore!
One of only two accommodation options in Milford Sound is the Milford Sound Lodge. The Milford Sound Lodge is located only 2 minutes from Milford Sound.
In my opinion, it’s the best place to spend a night in Milford Sound but rooms here are not cheap, so instead, I recommend taking your car or campervan and getting a powered site if you can. On my last trip to Milford, this is what Bailey and I did and found it to be the most affordable, but still comfortable, option.
The second accommodation option is an overnight cruise. I can’t recommend this enough, however, I understand it may be out of some visitors’ price range as they certainly aren’t cheap. You can check overnight Milford cruise prices and availability here!
Other things to do in Te Anau
- See the glowworm caves: These caves are illuminated naturally by the glowworms that live inside. There are a few different places in New Zealand you can find them but Te Anau is one of the best places for a tour because of how plenteous they are here which created a more impressive glow.
- Boat cruise on Lake Te Anau: This afternoon boat cruise is on a historic ship that will cruise around the South Fiord of Lake Te Anau and stops for a 15-minute walk on the Hidden Lakes before having tea on the trip back to the dock.
- Kepler Track: One of the incredible Great Walks of New Zealand that offers multi-day and one-day hikes!
- Jet Boat Journey: Travel down the Upper Waiau River at high speeds in a jet boat! Your guide will slow down to teach you about the area and 3 of the Lord of the Rings filming locations! The tour will end on land with a short nature walk.
- Luxmore Kepler Heli Hike – Do both iconic New Zealand experiences at once! At $670 NZD it’s actually a good value as scenic flights without the hiking range between $400-$1,000 NDZ without the hike included. Enjoy the flight over Lake Te Anau, and the two landings, one of them at the Kepler Hut where you can hike down to the water’s edge for a short boat ride.
Thanks for reading!
The scenic drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound was incredible! We saw so many amazing sights, and going in winter was extra special as the snow-capped mountains really added to the views.
Between taking photos, going on nature walks, hanging out with the Keas, and playing in the snow, we had a really great drive! Be sure to book your Milford Sound day cruise here or your overnight cruise in advance online to avoid disappointment!
Thanks so much for reading we really hope this blog has helped you plan your adventure from Te Anau to Milford Sound. If you have any questions please leave them below in the comments section.