The Scenic Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound
July 20, 2018
There is only one way to get to and from the famous Milford Sound, and that is via one very scenic drive from the town of Te Anau. The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is an experience all on its own, in fact, some people reckon that this drive is the highlight of any visit to Milford Sound!
The Scenic Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound
Te Anau is the closest town to Milford Sound and often where people stay when visiting Milford Sound. But don’t assume that the 90km drive will only take around 1.5 hours. With all the beautiful scenery and cool stops along the way, it can take a lot 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 great places to check out along the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound as well as show you some of the beauty with our own photography!
How Long Does the Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound take?
It could be done fairly quickly with perfect road/weather conditions and no stops. However, this isn’t likely. 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 – 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 and driving at a reasonable pace.
How do you get 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.
What is the road like along the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound?
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 which alternates what direction traffic can go through. Sometimes, you will wait up to 20 minutes here before being allowed to drive thru. In bad 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.
Places to Stop
There are so many places to stop, you likely won’t have time to stop at them all. So here I’ve listed them all so that you can decide which ones you think will be the best places to stop. I’ll tell you which were my favorites as well.
This list is in order of the stops from Te Anau driving towards Milford Sound.
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.
This valley was once a glacier. Now, it is a flat area to view the mountains from. 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!
The 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 is well worth the stop to get those awesome pics!
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. The views were pretty awesome too!
Pop’s View Lookout
Right before the road starts weaving down the mountain to sea level, there is the Pop’s View lookout. This area is often very foggy, hindering the awesome view, but when it is clear I would imagine it is breathtaking!
This tunnel isn’t somewhere you may choose to stop but you may be forced to stop anyways. This tunnel is only one-way and alternated the direction of traffic that flows through it.
When we were there we had to wait for 10 minutes, but I have heard the wait can be up to 20 minutes! While this is a problem if you are running late, it is actually a really beautiful place to stop and take in the scenery.
This is a 20-minute return walk to check out a waterfall. We have heard that it is quite nice and worth the effort, especially if you aren’t going on a Milford Sound Boat Cruise and won’t see all of the other waterfalls out on the water.
The Milford Sound Forrest Walk
Once you have arrived at Milford Sound, there is one more walk you must do – the Milford Sound Forrest Walk. It starts right across the road from the Visitor Centre and next to the car parking lot.
The walk takes you along the waters 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!
The Milford Swing
Also right at 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! We are writing a blog post on its exact location so you don’t miss out very soon! So keep an eye out!
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 please, don’t feed them!
Other Tips for Visiting Milford Sound and the Drive
- Give yourself plenty of time 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!
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 anyways. We recommend booking with Southern Discoveries, they are a highly reputable company.
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! We will definitely be back to do in again in the summer!
Do you love scenic drives? What is your favourite scenic drive in the world? Comment below as we are always looking to add places to our bucket lists!