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The BEST road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound

Last updated : November 4th, 2019

One of the best stops on New Zealand road trip is Milford Sound

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Most visitors make the trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound during a vacation in New Zealand. This blog will outline an ideal Milford Sound itinerary on a trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound, including where to stop and what to do!

The Perfect Trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound

One of the most visited places from Queenstown is Milford Sound. In fact, some might even say it is more popular than Queenstown itself. However, 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!

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

Staying in Milford Sound

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. Without stopping, the journey to Milford Sound 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 cheep. You can check prices here on Booking.com or on Viator here!

To book the Milford Sound Lodge or check current prices, click here!

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

Road Trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound Ideal Itinerary

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

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 some 20 buses that leave Queenstown every morning. Getting stuck behind them could slow your journey down a lot.

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

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 site to see! This is the best place to fuel up before heading to Milford Sound. On a full tank, you will 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 is a perfect stop on any trip from queenstown to milford sound
Mirror Lakes!

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

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.

lake marian is part of an ideal milford sound itinerary
Me, jumping into Lake Marian! It was FREEZING!

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 walk here!


11 am – Key Summit

The Key Summit track starts from the Routeburn Trail carpark around a 20 minutes’ 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!

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.

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

6. 4 pm – Arrive at the Milford Sound Lodge

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!

the sunset in milford sound
Enjoying sunset in Milford Sound!

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!

The next day you will have the whole day the explore Milford Sound. Some of the best ways are on a scenic or nature boat cruise as well as a kayaking trip. 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, on this day you can spend most of the day at Milford Soun! 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.

We have many more blogs written about Milford Sound, check them all out 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.

7 Replies to “The BEST road trip 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.
    • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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