Home » Blog » Destination Guides » Australasia » New Zealand » Milford Sound » The Scenic Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound

The Scenic Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound

Last updated : January 28th, 2020

Another common stop on the way to Milford Sound fro boat cruise


Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. But dont worry, this is at no extra cost to you and we only recommend products or services we know and love!

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 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 drive 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 along 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

A motorhome at the Homer Tunnel between Te Anau and Milford Sound
Waiting at the Homer Tunnel!
This blog may contain affiliate links. Please check our disclosure policy for more information.
How far is Milford Sound from Te Anau?

Milford Sound is 118 kilometers (or 73 miles) from Te Anau.

How long does it take to drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau

Without stopping it takes 1 hour and 40 minutes to drive to Milford Sound. With stops, you could spend all day visiting the must-see attractions and enjoying the best hikes.

Is there parking in Milford Sound?

Yes, there is parking in Milford Sound, however, it is no longer free and costs $10 per hour.

What is the road condition between Te Anau and Milford?

The road is paved the entire way and accessible to all vehicles. However, in bad weather check the road report before setting off.

What are the best stops between Te Anau and Milford Sound?

1. Te Anau Downs, 2. Eglinton Valley, 3. Mirror Lakes, 4. Lake Gunn, 5. Pop’s View, 6. Lake Marian, 7. Key Summit, 8. Homer Tunnel, 9. Chasm, 10. Milford Sound Forest Walk, 11. Milford Sound Swing and 12. Keas.


How Long Does the Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound take?

The Eglinton Valley on the way to Milford Sound from Te Anau
The Eglinton Valley on the way to Milford Sound from Te Anau

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 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.


Don’t forget to book your cruise in Milford Sound in advance!

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 which you can read about in the road trip guide below) so this journey can be completed without stopping.

Related Read:   ULTIMATE Guide for Traveling from Queenstown to Milford Sound

What is the road like along the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound?

Waiting at the Homer tunnel on a winters day in New Zealand
Another photo from the Homer Tunnel

The road 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.

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.

Planning a road trip around NZ? Check out our blog all about the best road trip itineraries as well as tips for scoring a cheap campervan in NZ!


12 BEST Stops Between Te Anau and Milford Sound

Map of the stops between Milford Sound and Te Anau
Map of the stops between Milford Sound and Te Anau

There are so many places to stop along the road from Te Anau to Milford, 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!

Above is a map in order of the stops from Te Anau driving towards Milford Sound.

1. Te Anau Downs

Bailey and I walk along the jetty in Te Anau Downs, New Zealand
The first stop in 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 Eglington Valley, New Zealand
The Eglington Valley, New Zealand

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!

3. Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lakes on the road to Milford Sound from Te Anau
Mirror Lakes on a foggy morning

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

Lake Gunn, New Zealand
Don’t fall Bailey!

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

Pop's View lookout, New Zealand
Pop’s View lookout, New Zealand

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

Bailey sitting on a rock at Lake Marian on the way to Miflord Sound
If you stay in Te Anau you can hike to Lake Marian on your way to Milford Sound

The 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

A man walks along the trail of the key Summit on the road to Milford Sound
Walking along the top of the Key Summit!

The Key Summit is another awesome hike on the road to Milford Sound. This 7-kilometer 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 carpark 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

Bailey and a Kea pose for a photo at the Homer Tunnel
Bailey and a Kea pose for a photo at the entrance to the Homer Tunnel

The Homer Tunnel isn’t somewhere you may choose to stop but you may be forced to stop anyways. 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:   The 8 Best Stops on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island West

9. The Chasm

The Chasm waterfall near Milford Sound
The Chasm waterfall near Milford Sound

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 formation 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

The views from the Milford Sound forrest walk
The views from the Milford Sound Forrest 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:   8 Must-Do Day Hikes in Queenstown

11. The Milford Swing

The Milford Sound Swing
The Milford Sound 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!

12. The Keas

kea bird in new zealand
Keas are beautiful and interesting birds that call Milford Sound home!

Ok, so this isn’t technically a “stop” but Keas 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 mischevious and won’t hesitate to pick at your car or motorhome! Some of the best places to find them are in the Milford Sound carpark, Lake Marian, and Pop’s View.

Related Read:   How to Hike the Kepler Track for Only $25

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, take some time to set up for the perfect photo. Also, going on a tour means that at every place you stop along the drive from Te Anau to Milford stop will be full of the people from the bus. This isn’t ideal for us.

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!

Check out a range of tours to Milford from Te Anau!


Where to Stay in Te Anau?

where to stay in te anu
Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments 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 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 is 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.1

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 accommodation available in Te Anau, click here! Image

Related Read:   Where to Stay in Milford Sound: Milford Sound Lodge Review

Before you go…

Daniel and I pose for a photo on our Milford Sound cruise
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.

If not then be sure to check out all our New Zealand blogs here or a few of our favorites below!

The Ultimate 2 Week New Zealand South Island Itinerary

13 Best Things to do in Mount Cook National Park

33 Free and Cheap Things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand

-Bailey

Like it? Pin it! Click here!

About the Author - destinationlesstravel

We are Dan and Bailey, just your typical thrill-seeking travelers! You will likely find us hiking, scuba diving, catching public transport, or just drinking beer at a hostel.

6 Replies to “The Scenic Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound”

  • Thanks for the detail information on this blog. We are wandering what time during the day in the summer will be best for Milford Sound. Wanting to do 10:30 am cruise but I am afraid we have to leave too early from Te Anau (harder to do with an infant in the trip). If we take the lunch cruise, do you think it will be good lighting to take pictures?

    • Hey Agnes,

      In summer its light at around 4 am so the light will be harsh by 10:30 am too! In my opinion, its best to try to make the earlier cruise called the “Encounter Nature Cruise”. It leaves at 9:30 am but its the best cruise. If you can’t make that one then do a lunchtime nature cruise.

      Even in the sunshine, Milford sound is beautiful so you’ll get great photos anyway!

      Of course, the lighting is best in the early morning and late afternoon but with an infant, it will be hard!

      Let me know if you need any more info!

      Thanks
      Daniel

  • Hi,
    I would like to do an early AM cruise and visit the sights like Lake Marian, Chasm on the way back this summer Dec 29th. But am worried about pulling into those parking areas as I am not sure if the attraction is on the left (going to the cruise) or right (going back to Te Anau). If it’s on the right I’m worried it might be too difficult to turn through traffic. Do you have any advice? Also I know you said there are steep drop offs on the road are there gaurdrails? I have a fear of heights, and I know if there are gaurdrails I don’t freak out as much as when there aren’t. By the way I loved your post on Cormandel with pics of how to find the hot water on the beach, and walk pics to Cathedral Cove.

    • Hey Amelia!

      Thanks so much for your comment, I can completely understand your concerns.

      For reference (heading towards Milford Sound from Te Anau) the Lake Marian Track is on the right as well, Pop’s Viewpoint. The Chasm, mirror lakes and Eglington Valley (pullover bays) are on the left.

      You are also correct in the fact that at some locations it can be hard to turn off the road, however, in the morning if you leave early from Te Anua the traffic on the road to Milford Sound will be very quiet and almost no one will be heading the opposite direction (Milford to Te Anau). In the middle of the day, the traffic will be greater so try to visit the attractions on the left-hand side of the road (as you head back to Te Anau).

      For you, your day would look like this – Leave Te Anau, visit Mirror Lakes, Eglington Valley, and the Chasm. Do your cruise then leave Milford Sound and stop at Pop’s Viewpoint and then Hike Lake Marian.

      In my opinion, most of the pullover bays and carparks of the attractions are safe but two I remember being tricky were Pop’s Viewpoint (literally two blind corners each way) and The Chasm. So if you are worried only visit these when they are on your side fo the road so you do not have to cross traffic.

      As for the cliffs there are rails and to be honest, in December there will be no ice or snow so don’t stress just take your time it’s honestly more beautiful than scary!

      I am being over cautious as I know you are worried so please take this as a briefing to make your journey safer and not a massive worry on your holiday. You should visit all the attractions and you can do safely!

      So glad you liked the post! We have so many NZ blogs you should read them all hahah!

      I hope this helps and isn’t too confusing for you! If it is just let me know and I’ll try to explain better!

      Let us know if you need anything else!

      Thanks
      Daniel

  • Hey guys! Great article 😄 My partner and I are thinking of visiting Milford Sound next September with a small campervan. How were the road conditions when you where there in winter? As you say, we’d love to get there from The Anau in our own vehicle but we a bit afraid of road conditions being dangerous, even though September is the beginning of Spring… Thank you!!

    • Hey Asier!

      You’re totally correct in being worried as the road conditions to Milford Sound as around late winter and early spring can be dangerous. Unfortunately though, there will be no way to tell until a day or two before your visit what the road conditions will be like. However, you would have to be very unlucky for it to be too dangerous to drive yourself. In fact, you would need heavy snow a night or two before to cause the road to close.

      The reason it opens and is safe to drive so quickly in September is the warmer temperatures quickly melt the snow that will be plowed by the council when it falls. As you can imagine Milford Sound is a very popular place to visit so it pays (literally) to maintain and look after the road to Milford Sound. I personally have driven the road many times in winter without an issue.

      Just for your knowledge the road to Milford is paved and in good condition the entire way to Milford Sound. Your main dangers involve tight corners and steep descents and ascents. These dangers are easily managed with cautious driving which your concerns tell me you have. I am confident you won’t have an issue at all, just take it slow and enjoy the ride, there’s plenty to see along the way!

      If you have any other concerns just shoot us another message and I’ll be more than happy to help.

      Thanks
      Daniel

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *