Te Anau to Milford Sound Road Trip

After many years on the travel bucket list, we finally made it to Milford Sound. We love road trips, so we chose to travel by road from Te Anau to Milford Sound. We found the breathtaking scenery some of the best in New Zealand. Further, the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is one of the best road trips in the country. Therefore, we highly recommend a self-drive tour.

This post is about what you can see on the road trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound and the recommended stops on the way.

Want to read more about Milford Sound, about other options for getting there, and what to see there? Check out our Milford Sound guide and review “A Long-Awaited Milford Sound Trip” for what we thought of it, and whether it is worth a visit! 

Where to Stay

View of mountains on Milford Road
Hollyford Valley Lookout

While you can visit Milford Sound from Queenstown, it is a 4-hour one-way drive on a windy road. With stops for breaks, lunch and to see the many natural wonders on the way, it is a long tiring day. Therefore, we recommend you break up the driving time by doing the 2-hour Queenstown to Te Anau drive and then stay in Te Anau a night or two. 

There are some unique experiences in Te Anau, and you can wake up refreshed, and with more time to do the 2-hour Te Anau to Milford Sound drive. Further, you will have more opportunities to stop for photos, view waterfalls and take a few walks.

There are many places to stay in Te Anau and a range of accommodation from budget to luxury. Additionally, there are many basic DOC campsites within kilometres from Te Anau. 

We use to book all our accommodation because of the diversity offered. Check out options here and start planning your Milford Sound trip.

Te Anau Highlights

Kea birdl at Milford Sound New Zealand

Te Anau, known as the gateway to Milford Sound, is a charming suburban town nestled around Lake Te Anau. It is a dramatically smaller and quieter town than Queenstown, with less nightlife and activities, but more nature and peacefulness.

Additionally, at Te Anau, you can visit Te Anau Glowworm Caves. One of the most unique activities in New Zealand, the underground adventure tour starts with a boat trip across the lake. The magical cave network includes underground waterfalls, limestone passageways, unique formations and hundreds of glowworms glowing in the grotto.

Book your “Te Anau: Glowworm Caves Guided Tour” here!

Another one of a kind experience is the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary. A scenic lakeside walk takes you to a breeding centre for rare birds. It gives you a chance to see many New Zealand birds up close. Entry is free with donations appreciated.

Further, Te Anau is the starting point for the Great Walks, the Milford Track and the Kepler Track. These overnight tramps, considered among the best in New Zealand, showcase some of the most epic wilderness in the country.

Recommended Stops from Te Anau to Milford Sound 

View of the road and surrounds at Eglinton River
Eglinton River

The 2-hour drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is an otherworldly spectacle of natural wonders. It is one of the most scenic road trips we have ever been on, with photo opportunities and adventures everywhere you look.

Besides the magical lakes and waterfalls, lush valleys and epic mountain vistas, there are opportunities for hiking ranging from short hikes to 3-4 day hiking trips. There are many rest areas to stop at, so take your time and make your own day trip itinerary. Here are some of our favourite recommendations we think you should not miss.

Falls Creek Falls
Falls Creek Falls
  • Eglinton Valley is a gorgeous stop with opportunities to take photos of the Eglinton River, the valley, forests, the steep rocky mountains and local birds. Additionally, there are several DOC campsites on the road to Milford Sound. Mackay Creek campsite has scenic views of Eglinton Valley, and Deer Flat Campsite is next to the Eglinton River. 
  • A few minutes down the road from Eglinton Valley is Mirror Lakes. This popular stop is a few minutes walk to the most serene lake with gorgeous reflections of the mountains in the water.
  • An hour from Te Anau is Lake Gunn. A pleasant 40-minute nature walk passes through the rainforest to the lake. The popular DOC campsite, Cascade Creek is at the start of the walk.
  • We have to mention Key Summit, even though unfortunately it was closed when we were there due to flooding. However, it has now reopened. This steep uphill trek through native forest and emerging at the summit with magnificent lake and valley views is possibly the best 3-hour walk in the country. It follows some of the Routeburn Track, one of the Great Walks.
  • One of our favourite stops, Hollyford Valley Lookout, has epic views over the valley, and friendly keas(native New Zealand birds). When we were there, they jumped on our car. These friendly alpine parrots are gorgeous, and we found them amusing. But please don’t feed them or encourage them.
  • Falls Creek Falls is a grand cascade waterfall. This roadside waterfall is easy to view, as it’s only a minute walk. Alternatively, you can see it as you drive across the bridge on Milford Road.
  • One of the most unusual tunnels we have ever travelled through, Homer Tunnel is a tunnel through the mountains. The steep tunnel through solid rock is 1.2km long and over 900 metres above sea level. The landscape on either end is out of this world.
  • Another track that was regrettably closed when we were there is The Chasm. A short walk into the rainforest leads to thunderous falls carved by water from the Cleddau River forced through narrow rocks. We would have loved to have seen it!
  • Make a note of the only toilet amenities. They are at Knobs Flat 63km from Te Anau, The Divide 83km from Te Anau, & Monkey Creek 96km from Te Anau. Further, Monkey Creek’s pristine glacier-fed spring water is reputedly safe to drink.

Tips for Your Drive to Milford Sound

View of Homer Tunnel and mountains
Homer Tunnel
  • Milford Sound has no petrol stations, fill up in Te Anau.
  • There are no supermarkets and only one cafe, plus one restaurant in Milford Sound, so get your snacks and drinks from Te Anau.
  • After Te Anau and in Milford Sound there is no phone coverage.
  • There are many biting sandflies. Bring insect repellant.
  • It can get cold and windy, even in summer. Bring warm clothes.
  • Pack wet weather gear. Milford Sound has one of the highest rainfalls in the world.
  • You can still get sunburnt even if it’s cold. Bring a hat and sunscreen.
  • The road is windy and steep. Many drivers do not have experience driving in these conditions, so drive relatively slow. Expect delays, particularly at Homer Tunnel which is a one-way tunnel. 
  • Many day-trip bus tours depart from Queenstown at 7 to 8 am and from Te Anau at 9 to 10 am. Therefore, if you leave Te Anau before 8 am or after 11 am, you will avoid the traffic and the crowds at the more popular stops along the way.
  • Note that dogs are not allowed in Fiordland National Park.

These are the highlights along Milford Road on the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound. We recommend you leave for your road trip early, to have lots of time to explore. We are sure you will agree, this will be one of the best road trips you have ever been on!

Don’t forget to book your Milford Sound cruise beforehand to avoid missing out.

Views of bay and mountains at Freshwater Basin
Freshwater Basin

Do you love road trips with spectacular views? Read Next “Wild West Coast of New Zealand. It’s the soul!”

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