The South Island drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is considered one of the most popular New Zealand road trips. In fact, the highway from Te Anau to Milford Sound highway has been labelled one of the most scenic drives in the world, time and time again. When you reach your destination, you’ll be surrounded by dense rainforest, glacier-carved valleys, spectacular waterfalls, and magnificent mountain peaks. Discover our guide to the ultimate itinerary.
Exactly how far is Milford Sound from Queenstown? Flying from Queenstown to Milford Sound in a straight line is only about 70 km, but the drive takes just over four hours. The driving distance from Queenstown to Milford Sound is 288km, so many people choose to stay the night in Te Anau to break up the trip. Then, it’s just over two hours to Milford Sound.
The 7km Wye Creek Loop Track is an excellent place to stretch your legs on your journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound. The trail begins at the Wye Creek bridge car park. Climb to the hydro dam, then follow the pipeline to a rock bluff, where you’ll enter a beech forest before ending up at a viewpoint over Lake Wakatipu.
The Devil’s Staircase Viewpoint is about halfway between Queenstown and Kingston, offering jaw-dropping views of the windy road and across Lake Wakatipu.
Te Anau is a bustling town where you can take a guided tour of the glow worm caves or a boat cruise across Lake Te Anau. Choose from a one or three-hour cruise and explore hidden coves. The 60km Kepler Track is a favourite among hikers, taking up to four days to complete.
The dreamlike Mirror Lakes offer incredible reflections of the Earl Mountains on a calm day. Located about 56km from Te Anau, the pull-off bay is well signposted on Milford Road.
One of the best short walks on the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is the Lake Gunn Nature Walk. Along this 45-minute walk, you’ll spot mossy trees, stony beaches, and unique birdlife such as paradise ducks. You’ll also catch a glimpse of the Eglinton Mountains, also known as the Misty Mountains from the Lord Of The Rings film trilogy.
At Lake Marian, you can choose one of two walking tracks – one that takes 20 minutes to reach the waterfalls, or the 3-hour Lake Marian Hike loop track featuring incredible landscapes.
The Key Summit hike takes around 2.5 to 3 hours and is at the southern end of the Routeburn Track, about 20 minutes from Mirror Lakes. The walk combines the scenic beauty of the rainforest and Southern Alps. At the peak, you will be rewarded with vistas of spectacular scenery.
Monkey Creek is a crystal-clear glacier-fed spring with water so pure you can drink it! The creek got its name from a 19th-century European settler who lived in the area with his dog – Monkey.
One of the most famous sites from Queenstown to Milford Sound is the Homer Tunnel. The 1.2km road is drilled into solid rock and descends through native forest into Milford Sound.
10km from Milford Sound, the Chasm is a roaring body of water that plummets into a vast abyss. Following a short 20-minute trail, you will be greeted by its mighty waterfall. Head to the footbridges over the Cleddau River for the best viewing points.
You can explore Milford Sound by booking a sightseeing day tour departing Queenstown. First, you’ll travel by bus into the Fiordland National Park, making some scenic stops along the way. Then you’ll cruise Milford Sound, experiencing breathtaking views of New Zealand’s iconic Mitre Peak. At the end of your nature cruise, you can choose to return to Queenstown via bus or take a scenic flight.
Only one accommodation option is available in Milford Sound. We recommend you spend the night after your road trip, enjoy the sunset at the Milford Sound foreshore, and head off on your Milford Cruise the following morning.
Milford Sound Lodge is nestled beneath the towering peaks of the Darran Mountains and is a fantastic base to experience Milford Sound. Choose from the award-winning riverside and mountain-view chalets and garden suites, or spend a night in the well-equipped rainforest campervan park.
Stay up-to-date with the seasonal changes so you’ll know what to pack and be better prepared.
The cold weather starts to fade, but you’ll still experience some heavy rainfall. When daylight savings starts at the end of September, you’ll have more daylight hours to explore.
Average daily temperatures hover just below 20°C, although the air will feel humid. You’ll still get plenty of rain, but not as much as in the cooler seasons.
Enjoy mild, pleasant weather where the sun starts to set earlier. Then, the temperature drops further towards the end of the season.
Naturally, winter is cold, and expect torrential downpours. However, with moody skies, it’s a great time to visit Milford Sound as the scenery looks extra dramatic.
Researching the weather and road conditions before you head off on your trip is essential. Carry snow chains during winter and know how to use them. Always drive to the conditions and be aware of New Zealand driving rules.
Before leaving on your epic road trip, take the Skyline Gondola to Bob’s Peak for spectacular views of Queenstown. Then, jump on the gravity-fuelled Skyline Luge and race your friends around corners, through tunnels, and over dippers. If you’re visiting in winter and looking to get your ski on, explore our guide for the best skiing action in Queenstown. Check out the Skyline blog for more exciting activities on the South Island of New Zealand. We look forward to your visit!