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The Scenic Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound

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

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 best places to stop!

The Scenic Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound

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 90km drive will only take around 1.5 hours as Google Maps suggests.

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, how long the drive takes as well as show you some of the beauty with our own photography!

Related Read:   Milford Sound Cruise - The best way to explore Milford Sound!
Milford sound at sunset during our road trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound
The end goal is Milford Sound but keep reading below for the other amazing stops along the way!

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 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. 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!


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. On the Queenstown to Te Anau route, there aren’t really any stand out attractions so this journey can be completed without stopping.

Related Read:   The BEST road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound

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 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 thru. In bad 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:   101 Things to do in Queenstown, New Zealand
Drive from Ten Anau to Milford Sound
The road conditions on a beautiful day like we had can still be icy!

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


11 Awesome Places to Check Out on Milford Road (between Te Anau and Milford Sound)

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 I’ve listed them all so that you can decide which ones you think will be the best places to check out for yourself. I’ll tell you which were my favorites as well!

places to stop along the drive from te anau to milford sound
Map of Milford Road – the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound

This list is in order of the stops from Te Anau driving towards Milford Sound.

1. Te Anau Downs

Scenic drive to Milford
Walking the jetty where the Milford Track hike begins!

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 was still beautiful!

2. Eglinton Valley

Drive to Milford Sound
Just up the road from the main valley stop is an even better place to stop and enjoy this view!

This 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. It’s really beautiful rain or shine!

3. The Mirror Lakes

Milford Road
Even on a cloudy day it’s pretty impressive

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!

4. Lake Gunn

Scenic stops between Milford and Te Anau
Where I almost fell!

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. There are a few places you can see Lake Gunn from and we just found this spot by pulling over on the side of the ride as we passed the lake.

5. Pop’s View Lookout

pops viewpoint on the road from Ten Anau to Milford Sound
Pop’s View lookout on a clear day!

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 Gun.

6. Lake Marian

the view of lake marian
The view of Lake Marian is incredible!

If you have time on your road trip to Milford Sound consider 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 but it so worth it!

For more information check out our blog post on the Lake Marian Track.

7. Homer Tunnel

Scenic drives in New Zealand
Bailey making friends with a Kea (NZ alpine parrot) while we wait to be let through the Homer Tunnel.

This tunnel isn’t somewhere you may choose to stop but you may be forced to stop at anyways. This tunnel is only one-way and lights alternate 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.

8. The Chasm

the chasm on your way to Milford Sound from Ten Anau!
Looking down into the Chasm!

This is 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!

9. 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 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!

Related Read:   8 Must-Do Day Hikes in Queenstown

10. The Milford Swing

Milford Swing
Did we mention it’s a swing for two!

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! However, we wrote a blog post on the Milford Swing’s exact location so our readers can enjoy it as much as we did!

11. The Keas

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

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 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!

To browse all accomodation available in Te Anau, click here!

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!

This particular tour stops at many of the best places along Milford Road. It departs from Te Anau and even inlcudes lunch! Be sure to book online in advance to avoid missng out!

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


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 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

where to stay in te anu
Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments
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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!

-Bailey

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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

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