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ULTIMATE Guide for Traveling from Queenstown to Milford Sound

Last updated : February 10th, 2020

The view of Milford Sound from the forshore


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Most visitors make the trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound during a vacation in New Zealand. Here’s everything you need to know about going from Queenstown to Milford Sound including a road trip itinerary with all of the best places to stop, as well as great tours or day trips to choose from!


One of the most visited places from Queenstown is Milford Sound. In fact, some might even say it is more popular than Queenstown itself. Regardless of this, it’s safe to say that a trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound is high on everyone’s list of things to do in New Zealand.

I have been lucky enough to visit Milford Sound three times from Queenstown and during these visits have explored many of the different places along the way – some that took my breath away and others not so much.

Most visitors, however, only get one chance. So I decided to write this guide to the perfect trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound.

This blog will help you plan your own trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound by outlining what I consider to be an ideal Milford Sound itinerary on a self-driven road trip, as well as some great tours to choose from if you don’t have your own wheels!


How to get from Queenstown to Milford Sound

When it comes to getting to Milford Sound from Queenstown you have two options: drive yourself, or go on an organized tour. Here are some pros and cons to both options as well as points to consider before you make your choice!

Drive Yourself from Queenstown to Milford Sound

the trip from queenstown to milford sound in beautiful
The road to Milford is gorgeous!

If you already have your own wheels then this is a no brainer, drive yourself to Milford Sound! But if you don’t, then you’ll need to get a rental car for this trip.

Driving yourself gives you a ton more freedom to explore. It also allows you to spend a night in Milford Sound or Te Anau (which I personally recommend and you can read more about below.)

The only downside to driving yourself from Queenstown to Milford Sound is that you need to plan your own route. However, if you follow my road trip itinerary below, then you’ll see all of the best places and enjoy your trip for sure!

*Note: The road from Queenstown to Milford Sound sometimes closes due to weather. If you’re driving yourself during the winter be sure to carry snow chains and know how to use them. All times of year check road reports before departing Queenstown just to be sure!

Related Read:   Ultimate Guide to Renting a Campervan in New Zealand

Organized Day Trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound

A viewpoint on the road to Milford Sound
Pop’s Viewpoint on the road from Queenstown to Milford Sound. This is a stop on most bus tours from Queenstown.

Taking an organized tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound is the easiest way to make this journey. You don’t need to plan anything and you’ll visit Milford Sound in just one day!

This option is perfect for people who don’t drive or are very limited on time.

With that said, visiting Milford Sound from Queenstown in just one day can feel very rushed and you’ll spend a lot of time just on the bus. At the bottom of this blog, I’ve outlined the best tours from Queenstown to Milford Sound including options that reduce driving time!

Related Read:   13 BEST Tours in Queenstown

Staying in Milford Sound Overnight

the milford sound lodge is one of the best options of where to stay in milford
The Milford Sound Lodge!

In my opinion, the only way to truly explore the spectacular stops in Fiordland National Park on your way from Queenstown to Milford Sound is to spend a night in Milford Sound.

Without stopping, the journey to Milford Sound from Queenstown is 4 hours.

That makes a round trip 8 hours (maybe more depending on weather and road conditions)! Staying the night will give you plenty of time to stop and check out the places mentioned in this blog and properly explore Milford Sound.

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

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. Rooms here are not cheap, so instead, I recommend taking your car or campervan and getting a powered site. 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 on 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 prices here on Booking.com or on Viator here!


Queenstown to Milford Sound Itinerary for an Epic Road Trip

The times mentioned below are just guides and you can fit in lunch or snack breaks anywhere you choose. This Queenstown to Milford Sound itinerary still gives you plenty of time to make it to Milford Sound before sunset.

You can book a rental car or a campervan online in advance using this very simple and reputable website!

1. 6:30 am – Leave Queenstown

For this journey, it is important to leave before 7 am. Not only does this give you more time to explore but it will ensure you beat the 20+ buses that leave Queenstown every morning. Getting stuck behind them could slow your journey down a lot. If you can, leave even earlier!

2. 8 am – Stop in Mossburn for fuel

This is a rather funny place to see spectacular things, but Mossburn may surprise you! This place is always around 20-30 cents per liter of fuel cheaper than Te Anau and Queenstown.

If you live in Queenstown (like I do), cheap fuel is a pretty spectacular sight to see! This is the best place to fuel up before heading to Milford Sound. On a full tank, you should be able to make it from Mossburn to Milford Sound and back again (fuel up again on your way out!)

3. 10 am – Visit Mirror Lakes

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

After another 2 hours of driving through Te Anau and into Fiordland National Park, you will drive by (on your left) Mirror Lakes.

On a calm day, the lakes here reflect the mountains that surround them almost flawlessly. Even if it’s cloudy this is still a great stop and it only takes 15 minutes!

Mirror Lakes is very clearly signposted and you can’t miss it!

4. 11 am – Lake Marian

Bailey sitting on a rock at Lake Marian on the way to Miflord Sound

There are two options for the 11 am slot so read below for the other hike you can do on the road to Milford Sound.

Only a short 30 km drive from Mirror Lakes is the Lake Marian Track carpark. The carpark is actually located off Hollyford Road so you will need to turn off here to get to the carpark. The turnoff is really well signposted so you won’t miss it. Once you have turned off the car park is 2 minutes up the road and again is signposted.

Lake Marian is one of the most beautiful alpine lakes I have seen in New Zealand. For this reason, I find this to be a must-see place during your trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound.

The trail is not short and if you’re reasonably fit I would allow 3 hours to walk there, relax, and then walk back. This may sound like a lot of effort, but trust me, it’s so worth it!

You can read our detailed guide on the Lake Marian Track!

Or…

11 am – Key Summit

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

The Key Summit track starts from the Divide carpark around a 20-minute drive from Mirror Lakes. There is a small carpark on the side of the main road where the track begins and it is well signposted.

The Key Summit is actually part of the Routeburn Track and takes you high above the Southern Alps for a 360-degree view of Fiordland National Park.

The hike is also around 3 hours return but this activity is only good on a clear or semi-clear day. If Fiordland National Park is covered in clouds you won’t see much from the top, but if it is clear you will be rewarded with incredible views!

I would still say Lake Marian is my preferred option, but this is also another choice. If you really love hiking and have the time and energy, do both!

Related Read:   The Routeburn Track, New Zealand - Day Hiking Guide

5. 3 pm  – The Chasm

the chasm on the way to milford sound from queenstown
The Chasm! A really easy quick stopover on the way to Milford Sound!

The Chasm is located only 10km from Milford Sound and is the closest attraction. The Chasm is a waterfall that has carved its way through thick rock and left a rather neat rock formation behind. At the waterfall, there is a bridge that allows you to walk right over the top of the falls and get an amazing view from above.

The walk to the waterfall is only 5 minutes and there is plenty of parking. The car park is well signposted too.

6. 4 pm – Arrive at the Milford Sound Lodge

the sunset in milford sound
Enjoying the sunset in Milford Sound!

If you want to make your experience even better then book a Milford Sound overnight cruise to finish off this epic day the best way we know how!

Any time after 4 pm you will arrive at Milford Sound. You may arrive much later if you stopped for lunch or at additional places, but don’t worry, in the summer it doesn’t get dark until after 8 pm! Now you can check into the Milford Sound Lodge, have a bite to eat, and head to the foreshore for sunset.

Sunset is one of the most peaceful times at Milford Sound as all the tourists have left you will almost have the place to yourself!

7. Explore Milford Sound

The Milford Sound Swing, New Zealand
The Milford Sound Swing, New Zealand

The next day you will have the whole day the explore Milford Sound! Some of the best ways are on a Milford Sound boat cruise as well as a kayaking trip. I personally recommend this nature cruise and kayak combo – it is great value and the best way to really explore Milford Sound!

Related Read:   Kayaking in Milford Sound

There are also a few hikes around Milford Sound as well as a water taxi that takes you to Lady Bowen Falls.

Since you have already stopped at many of the best stops on the way to Milford, today you can spend most of the day at Milford Sound!

If you leave for Queenstown in the afternoon you will be back before dark. Allow 4 hours to drive from Milford Sound to Queenstown without any stops.


Tours from Queenstown to Milford Sound

If you prefer to take a tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound you have lots of options! The main things you’ll want to take into consideration when choosing the right tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound is your budget and the amount of time you’re happy to spend on a bus.

Here are the 3 best tour options going from Queenstown to Milford Sound:

1. Bus & Cruise

exploring milford sound on a boat
Look at that rainbow!

This is the most traditional tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound. It is also the cheapest option but with the most driving time.

On a bus and cruise tour you’ll get picked up from your hotel in Queenstown in the morning and make several scenic stops along the road to Milford. Once in Milford Sound, you’ll jump on a boat cruise before heading back to Queenstown.

It is a full-day tour lasting about 12 hours where the majority of time is spent on the bus. With that said, it is a very relaxing and scenic bus ride where your guide offers tons of commentary.

While there are tons of bus and cruise tour options available from Queenstown to Milford, we personally recommend this specific tour as it is on a very comfortable bus with a glass roof so you don’t miss a thing! The cruise included is also on a smaller boat and has an experienced nature guide on board!

Related Read:   33 Free and Cheap Things to do in Queenstown

2. Bus, Cruise & Fly

stiriling falls in milford sound
You’ll see so many waterfalls in Milford Sound!

To me, this is absolutely the perfect tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound. You’ll take the bus from Queenstown to Milford making tons of stops at attractions along the way.

Once in Milford Sound, you’ll go on a boat cruise before taking a scenic flight back to Queenstown!

On this tour, you’ll get to see the amazing scenery and stops along the road to Milford, but also get to see Milford from a boat out on the water, and then finally from up in the air! It is the most thorough way to enjoy Milford Sound.

Not to mention, the flight back to Queenstown takes less than 40 minutes so you’ll be back well before dinner and significantly reduces the amount of time you need to spend on the bus.

3. Fly & Cruise

boarding the milford sound boat cruise
One of the many Milford Sound cruises!

This tour is best suited for someone who does not like road trips and is very short on time. You’ll fly to Milford Sound, then go on a boat cruise before flying back to Queenstown (taking a different scenic route of course.)

This entire trip can be done in a half of a day because the flights from Queenstown to Milford Sound are very quick.

The only downside to this tour is that you miss out on the attractions on Milford Sound. But with that said, the views from above are some of the best ever!

We personally recommend this specific tour as it includes a nature cruise in Milford Sound as well as promises taking two different routes on the flights.

Related Read:   The Scenic Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound

Before you go…

Daniel and I pose for a photo on our Milford Sound cruise
Thanks for reading!

I hope this blog has helped you plan your trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound! If you have any questions please leave them below.

You might also find all of our other Milford Sound blogs helpful! We also have hundreds of blogs about New Zealand and tons specifically related to the South Island. Some articles you might like are:

-Daniel

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.

7 Replies to “ULTIMATE Guide for Traveling from Queenstown to Milford Sound”

  • Thank you very much Daniel for sharing so much useful info!

    From different sources, a few photos of a few places look attractive. But I am not sure if they are accessible by foot / car (in the other words, those good photos were not taken from helicopter).

    Here is the list:
    1. GERTRUDE SADDLE (4-6 hours return) at https://www.backpackerguide.nz/10-milford-sound-walks-you-cant-miss/

    2. NORTH MAVORA LAKE at https://www.backpackerguide.nz/guide-to-the-lord-of-the-rings-in-te-anau/
    the GPS coordinates do not match with the photo shown.
    Co-ordinates:
    • Lakeside scenes – 45° 15.993’S 168° 10.410’E
    • Forest hiding scene – 45° 16.024’S 168° 10.500’E

    MARAROA RIVER on the same page

    • Hey Natural Wonder,

      You can definitely get to the Gertrude Saddle and that photo is taken from the trail.

      For the North Mavora Lake, I believe that is a drone photo but could be from a chopper.

      Thanks
      Daniel

  • Thank you Daniel for sharing!

    From other sources, I found a few pretty photos not exactly on the Queenstown to Milford Sound road, but nearby. I’d like to confirm if these photos were taken from accessible spots, not from helicopter.

    1. “6. GERTRUDE SADDLE (4-6 HOURS RETURN)” on https://www.backpackerguide.nz/10-milford-sound-walks-you-cant-miss/

    2. “NORTH MAVORA LAKE” on https://www.backpackerguide.nz/guide-to-the-lord-of-the-rings-in-te-anau/
    but the Co-ordinates:
    • Lakeside scenes – 45° 15.993’S 168° 10.410’E
    • Forest hiding scene – 45° 16.024’S 168° 10.500’E
    Do not match with the photo. So, I am wondering…

    3. “MARAROA RIVER” on the same website above

    Thank you very much!

    • Hey Natural wonder,

      I can see the last two comments you posted. You won’t see them until they are approved (we get lots of inappropriate and spammy comments so we approve the manually)

      If I haven’t answered all your questions feel free to email us unless its directly related to the blog your reading from our website. This just helps us keep that page with questions about the article, not other general questions.

      You can find our email on our contact us page.

      Thanks
      Daniel

  • I do NOT recommend Lake Marian hike if the weather is not good. I went today and was super disappointed with the view. The hike itself was ok and not particularly challenging taking about 3 hours return, but totally not worth it if it’s raining or cloudy. Much better to spend your time elsewhere in my opinion. We waited for an hour hoping the weather would change but gave up. Most people took a quick photo and then turned around to head back with similarly disappointed faces.
    The advice about the gas station and general itinerary was spot on though, thanks!

    • Hey Molly!

      Yes, the weather can be a pain around Milford Sound! So sorry you didn’t get better weather I really hope you do on other parts of your New Zealand trip.

      Glad you found the information helpful and yes the gas station is much cheaper!

      Please let me know if you have any questions about your trip.

      Thanks.
      Daniel

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