The drive from Te anau to Milford Sound has to be one of our favourite road trips anywhere in New Zealand, hidden deep within Fiordland national park.
On this stretch of road that passes through spectacular scenery, hidden alpine herb fields and snow covered peaks of the southern alps you could easily make this journey an entire day trip even before visiting milford sound.
One of the best things to do in New Zealand is to drive from te anau to milford sound and with so much to see and do in this south west corner, we’ve created this epic guide to helping you tick off the most scenic stops on your road trip.
READ NEXT: We created a guide on how best to Explore Fiordland National Park
Covering 12,607 km of lush, green rainforest, fiords and alpine lakes, Fiordlands is one of the last untouched wilderness of the world with the only major population living in Te Anau.
It forms a part of the southern alps mountain range of South island and the terminus into the Tasman Sea.
The road that leads into the park and up to Milford Sound is subject to both flooding and closures especially during the winter months after heavy snow and rainfall.
The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound
Time: 1 hour 23 minutes,
Distance: 117 km
Start/Finish: Te Anau – Milford Sound visitor terminal
The township of Te Anau is the most populous town after driving from Queenstown and an awesome place to gather yourself, grab a bite to eat and prepare for your journey onwards.
The Te Anau visitor information centre is your best place to get the most up to date information on road closures and weather up dates – as you will get to know, Milford Sound is the wettest place in New Zealand.
As a side note, it’s worth noting that the road is completely sealed and asphalted and a simple drive to and from.
During winter you must carry snow chains with you during heavy snowfall.
Winter storms are likely to cause road closures at any time of the year so make sure you check the weather report before leaving te anau.
How long does it take to drive from te Anau to milford sound
On a clear sunny day, the drive officially takes on average 1 hour and 30 minutes from Te Anau to Milford Sound covering 118 km without stopping.
Most people take their time getting here to photograph every mountain and lake they see so you could allow 2-5 hours realistically.
In this guide we have included 15 famous sites along Milford highway that are easily accessible whether you take one of the tour buses or self drive.
Can you drive Milford Sound in one day?
Sure you could; If you don’t plant on getting everywhere.
It’s a long road with plenty of beautiful viewpoints, so we recommend taking advantage of them by allowing a few days to explore.
Alternatively you could hop on a guided tour from Queenstown and ensure you see the most stunning spots.
What’s the best way to see Milford Sound from Queenstown?
By air or by road are the two most common transport options, both giving very different and unique perspectives to the landscape.
On one hand if you take a shuttle from te anau or Queenstown you get to see the hidden valleys and lakes in a more intimate fashion.
On the other hand, taking a scenic flight over the Fiords allows for the grandeur and sheer scale of this fascinating landscape.
Can I do this route on a public bus?
Yes you can. Intercity operates daily regular bus routes from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
Pick up in Queenstown is from the car park in Athol St and arriving at the Kiwi country Cafe, 2 Miro St, Te Anau and will take approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.
The journey from the cafe in Te Anau to the visitor centre at the Milford wharf takes app 3 hours.
Visit their website for ticket information
How we drove 2 weeks on the South Island
Laura and I visited New Zealand in May of this year for a two week road trip beginning and ending in Queenstown and had a crazy fun time together.
For New Zealand we chose to hire a Van and use this as our home on wheels for the entire time visiting everywhere from Milford Sound, Lake Tekapo and Wanaka.
Based on the two weeks of self drive we managed to just touch the surface of the places we saw but could have easily stayed an entire month and got more out of our experience.
Places like Milford Sound can be “completed” in a day, but if you wanted to do other activities like a Doubtful Sound wilderness cruise or stay longer at Milford Lodge then you could easily spend an entire week here.
Whilst NZ isnt a massive country, driving between towns takes time and unforeseen weather changes can either cancel your plans or add on hours to your journey. That’s where having more time helps a lot but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. We did!
To give an example, we spent only one night in Milford Sound before heading back out to Queenstown, a day trip to Wanaka and an overnight at Lake Pukaki and a day trip to Tekapo.
This was very rushed so it’s well worth spending more quality time here to explore more.
Read Next: Our Epic Guide to Exploring Queenstown
Best places to stop from Te Anau to Milford Sound
Lake Te Anau viewpoint
From Te Anau: From the roundabout in town in front of Visitor Centre, turn right at the Takahe statue and turn into the large car parks on your left to view Lake Te Anau
From Milford Sound: 118 km (1 hour 28 minutes)
It may seem obvious but the largest and longest lake within the Fiordland lakes system is Lake Te Anau.
In fact by sheer size and volume it is the second largest lake in New Zealand.
On the banks of the river is the Te Anau visitor centre in front of the roundabout and a paved walkway that spans much of the western side of the lake.
Lake Te Anau lions lookout is the best place to view the lake from high above on Ramparts road near a small car park.
At the base of the lake there are large car parks where you can sit and enjoy the scenery of the mountains over a sunrise coffee.
From Te Anau: 28 km (20 minutes)
From Milford Sound: 90 km (1 hour, 9 minutes)
After leaving Te Anau you drive a bit further up the road towards Te Anau Downs where there is a short walk called the lake Mistletoe walking track, a 2km return easy hike that takes you to this small but stunning glacial lake.
The walking track trailhead crosses Milford highway opposite Fiordland national park lodge for a short 1.3 km return journey that should take no more than 45 minutes to complete.
Te Anau downs is the town you must drive to before beginning the multi day Milford Track hike as well as admiring the beautiful scenery of the Murchison mountain peaks.
Check the DOC website for information about the Milford Track
Te Anau Downs
From Te Anau: 33.3 km 24 minutes
From Milford Sound: 84.7 km (1 hour 4 minutes)
Most people use Te Anau downs as the beginning of their Milford track hike, a must visit spot along the milford sound road.
Whilst there isn’t a township here, Te Anau downs is a great spot for viewing the Murchison Mountains, taking a boat ride from the boat launch and the lake mistletoe track.
There’s a few places to stay here in Te Anau that often go overlooked, like the Fiordland national park lodge, the lone moose backpackers and a little further down south is the Henry Creek campsite for those wanting to pitch a tent.
Admire the glacial Eglinton Valley
From Te Anau: 60 km (42 minutes)
From Milford Sound: 58 km (47 minutes)
One of the most famous sites within the park is also one of the few places in New Zealand with a low lying Beech forest floor surrounded by yellow tussock grass.
The Eglinton Valley was once carved out by glaciers that have now left sheer rocky mountain faces with a single Eglinton river.
One of the best attractions on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound, the Eglinton valley is the largest single stretch of road where multiple locations within the mountains were used as filming spots for Lord of the Rings.
Stunning reflections at Mirror lakes
From Te Anau: 57 km (40 minutes)
From Milford Sound: 61.1 km (49 minutes)
On a clear calm day on the Milford road only a short walk from the gravel parking lot is a lake so still, that the peaks of the Earl mountains reflect below making a perfect mirror image.
From the last checkpoint, you’ll find the Mirror lakes car park at a well signed turn off to the left and a short 400m boardwalk leads to the base of Mirror lakes.
Mirror Lakes is one of the best short walks in the fiordlands and a must-see stop between Te Anau to milford sound.
From Te Anau: 63 km (45 minutes)
From Milford Sound: 55.3 km (45 minutes)
Another fantastic attraction on the road to Milford sound within the Eglinton valley, Knobs flat was used by the workers during the construction of the milford road and Homer tunnel as a camping site until the 1980’s.
Whilst there’s not a whole lot to do here there are interesting information boards about the wildlife within the park, avalanche information and an ideal spot to put chains on your tyres if the weather requires.
If you need to use the bathroom or a public telephone this is the last chance you’ll have to do so before reaching the Milford sound cruise centre.
Lake Gunn nature walk
From Te Anau: 75.2km (53 minutes)
From Milford Sound: 42.9km (37 minutes)
Touted as one of the best short walks in the Fiordlands national park, this short 45 minute walk through Red Beech forest, Lake gunn nature walk is a 1.4 km loop track.
Lake Gunn sits near a popular camping spot called Cascade Creek campsite so it’s prone to getting a little busy in the mornings before people depart for their Milford Sound cruise, like the one you can join here.
Sitting at 480m above sea level it’s not quite considered an alpine lake and low enough that you can get low sitting mist and fog surrounding the green moss trees.
One of the fun things to do driving between Te Anau and milford sound is to spot the variety of birdlife within the rainforest including Riflemen, Tomtits, the south island Robin (kakaruai) and Mohua (yellowhead).
Short and long tailed bats can also be seen in this part of the Eglinton valley
The Divide parking lot
From Te Anau: 83.7km (58 minutes)
From Milford Sound: 34.3 km (31 minutes)
Geographically the lowest pass within the Southern Alps at 531 metres above sea level and a pivotal location for exploring more of the national park, turning east or west at this point will lead you to plenty of fun attractions in fiordland national park.
The Divide car park opposite the divide shelter on Milford road is your starting point for many incredible hikes like the Routeburn track, Caples, Key Summit and Greenstone tracks.
It is 56 minutes from Te Anau (86.3km) and sits positioned just before Pops view lookout and Lake Marian.
Key Summit Hike
From Te Anau: 84.8km (59 minutes)
From Milford Sound: 33.3 km (33 minutes)
Some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery can be found here on the Key Summit hike just before the Homer tunnel entrance.
A 3 hour return (7km) hike that traverses the southern end of the Routeburn track combining a mix of rainforest and panoramic mountain landscapes.
The elevation gain on the key summit hike is a mere 400m so nothing too stressful, but a must see attraction in fiordlands.
Hollyford valley lookout/Pops view lookout
From Te Anau: 86 km (1 hour)
From Milford Sound: 32 km (30 minutes)
If you aren’t interested in hiking much before you get to Milford Sound then a roadside stop at Pop’s view gives you the chance to admire the Hollyford Valley from the comfort of barely leaving your car.
The lookout is on a bend in the road after the Routeburn track trail head but before lower Hollyford road.
Stunning views looking out towards the valley with mount christina to the left towering over the stunning alpine lake, Lake Marian.
Lake Marian track via lower Hollyford road
From Te Anau: 88.4 km (1 hour, 6 minutes)
From Milford Sound: 32 km, (34 minutes)
For one of the more stunning alpine lake hikes in the entire region, Lake marian track is said to be a favourite amongst hikers and a must-do stop on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound.
Whilst we didn’t get a chance to visit lake marian lake due to the recent wet weather making the path super muddy, our friendly waitress at the Milford Sound Lodge told us this was her favourite hike in all of Milford Sound.
Depending on which publication you read regarding the track length, the answers vary between 6 km and 10 km. At least from the DOC website it’s 6.2 km return, with some quoting as long as 10 km return- none the less the average time to complete this trail without stopping is around 2.5 hours.
To access the Lake Marian trail, take the turn off at Marion corner onto Lower Hollyford road and travel 1 km until you reach the carpack on your left.
When you see the swing bridge that crosses over the river, you have begun your journey on the Lake Marian track.
Pass a number of beautiful waterfalls along the way, and it’s at these points where you can take photos and decide to turn around or continue onwards towards Lake Marian.
The track can be completed as a morning or afternoon hike, and if you’re feeling adventurous you can take a dip in the lake itself that feeds off the glacial melt of the Darran mountains.
From Te Anau: 93.8 km (1hour, 4 minutes)
From Milford Sound: 24.3 km (24 minutes)
If you thought Homer tunnel was a great spot to see Keas then you need to visit monkey creek.
The glacial fed spring is a great spot to fill up your water bottle and take in the views of the upper hollyford valley lookout.
The surrounding towering mountains of Mount Christina are on display and a great photo opportunity from the car park amongst the native forest.
Monkey creek got its name from the same gentleman whom the Homer tunnel was named after, William Henry Homer.
His dog Monkey, was the inspiration for this creek bed that ran through the snow capped mountains.
From Te Anau: 99.9 km (1 hour, 8 minutes)
From Milford Sound: 18.1 km (20 minutes)
Prior to beginning the descent through the Cleddau valley on the Milford road, you will have to drive through this 1.2km tunnel that bores through the Darran mountains, wide enough to enable one vehicle each way.
Homer tunnel sits at an elevation of 945 metres, with a gradient of 1 to 10 (meaning for every 10 metres you move forward, your height increases by 1 foot)
Construction began in the late 1930s’s just after the Great Depression, where workers were sent with pick-axes to bore through the mountains.
Some 5 years later, the workers had made it to the other side, but further widening of the Homer Tunnel was delayed by World War 2, and an avalanche that halted work.
At the moment there are a set of permanent traffic lights that direct traffic, (and can cause delays of up to 10 minutes so factor this in) and whilst you wait you may be lucky enough to be greeted by a Kea bird sitting on your side mirror.
From Te Anau: 108 km (1 hour 16 minutes)
From Milford Sound: 10.3 km (13 minutes)
The perfect little stop over before or after your Milford sound day trip, The Chasm is a series of waterfalls formed by the rushing waters of the Cleddau River through a narrow rocky valley.
This roaring waterfall is even more impressive on a rainy day as the immense force of the waterfall reaches peak intensity.
From the Chasm car park hike a relatively easy and flat 400m (20 minute return hike) along a series of footbridges past the Cleddau river to the chasm viewing bridge through the native forest.
Visit Milford Sound
Of course we couldn’t leave the best till last, and you’re final destination if travelling from Te Anau to Milford Sound.
From the visitor terminal you’ll begin your Milford Sound cruise along the shores of the fiords for a 2 hour return cruise of the Tasman Sea.
Passing incredible sights such as Bowen Falls, Harrison Cove, Stirling falls, Seal Rock and Mitre Peak.
Another way to see this amazing landscape is by joining one of their scenic flights that depart from the Milford Sound airport behind the cafe and info centre.
READ NEXT: There are so many things to do in Milford Sound with this guide
When it really starts to rain (Fiordlands has the highest rainfall of all of New Zealand) the four sisters waterfall on the southern side of the fiords will be a sight to behold, before making your way out to Anita Bay and Dale Point.
On your way back make sure you take a photo at the Milford sound swing along the Milford foreshore walk.
Milford Sound cafe is open from 8am to 43pm in the summer and 9am to 4 pm in the winter.
The large car park here will also cost around $10 per hour (slightly pricey) and space is limited so make sure you get here at least an hour before your scheduled cruise time.
What to bring on your hike
Fiordland national parks weather is profoundly unpredictable so it will pay off to be prepared for any weather event.
We personally pack as light as possible but never forget the essentials.
Getting wet sucks, so we personally pack our small Zorali Anorak jackets to keep the rain off us; they also pack down super small and don’t take up much room in your bag.
For those extra cold days, our Cozy camp fleeces keep us warm all day and come in earthy, natural colours. Laura and I both have a camp fleece, and even got engaged in matching fleeces!
Hemp and organic cotton are the way to go when travelling as they keep you both cool and mostly dry.
For longer hiking days we pack 1-2 pairs of Zorali hemp/organic cotton t-shirts and swap out if we need.
By far the most important piece of equipment is your hiking pants (or shorts if you prefer) and we love our recycled Venture hiking pants by Zorali.
Made from 100% recycled Nylon to keep you dry, comfy and stylish.
Best places to stay on the road from Te Anau and Milford Sound
Whilst your options are limited that doesn’t mean your choices aren’t fantastic and there’s a budget to suit everybody who makes the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound.
For all accommodation along the road prices range from a $20 tent site all the way through to $600+ in a mountain view lodge; but fret not we’ve compiled all the best accommodation to suit your budget.
Te Anau backpackers – Best budget accommodation
Located on the lake foreshore less than 5 minutes from the town centre, the backpackers offer a range of tent sites, 6 bed dorm rooms, double share private rooms as well as lakeshore rooms.
Expect to pay $135/night for a lakeshore room for unlimited free wifi and a private bathroom.
If you don’t mind sharing your space, a 6 bed dorm will cost $36/night and a 4 bed for $39/night
Tasman Holiday park – Best mid-range budget accommodation
We chose to stay with these guys for 1 night because we had our van and they offered really great amenities like clean showers and bathrooms, laundry facilities like washer and dryer as well as spacious powered sites.
The holiday park is directly opposite the lake and less than 5 minutes to the town centre where you can pick yourself up a coffee at Sandfly cafe.
For a powered site for the night in off season will cost you $48/night or a non-powered site for $39/night. It’s super easy to jump onto the main highway from here to continue towards Milford Sound.
Milford Lodge (at Milford Sound) – Mid-range luxury accommodation
The only accommodation you’ll find within a stone’s throw from Milford Sound, the beautiful, natural scenery of the fiords, flowing Cleddau river valley and easy access to milford cruises make this one heck of a place to stay in.
Less than 5 minutes from the entrance to the Fiords, Milford Lodge sits on the road from Te Anau to Milford sound and boasts a mix of powered/non-powered sites, as well as both garden view and mountain view rooms.
A shared common area and kitchen as well as delicious restaurant are also available for guests, with garden view rooms priced from $465/night to $975/night.
Fiordland lodge – best luxury accommodation in Te Anau
For the most scenic views of lake Te Anau anywhere, coupled with luxurious self-contained lodge style cabins with a king sized bed, private bathroom and the Fiordlands national parks lead dining destination, a standard log cabin will set you back $964/night.
For complete luxury in their executive suite at $1476/night, the high ceilings, riverstone fireplace and sweeping panoramic views over Lake Te Anau will have you staying in ultime comfort.
Te Anau to Milford Sound quick guide
In a hurry? No worries because we have you covered with this simple to follow guide on how to best plan your road trip along the Milford road.
Asides from stopping on the side of the road and using the bush, there are officially 4 public bathrooms to use in total; Te Anau, Knobs Flat, the Divide car park and Milford Sound.
The longest you would have to wait is 44 minutes between bathrooms and that’s between Te Anau and Knobs flat.
Where to camp on the Milford road
If you feel like pitching a tent anywhere along the road from Te anau to milford sound then you have 5 options and they’re all before Lake Gunn.
The first is in Te Anau downs at the Henry Creek campsite 3.8km before the Fiordland lodge.
The next campsite will be Mackay creek run by the DOC, not far from the picturesque Eglinton flats photo spot.
Next will be the Deer flat campsite north of Mirror lakes where you’ll also find the public bathrooms.
The next three capsite are between Mirror lakes and Lake Gunn, and in order of Kiosk Creek, Upper Eglinton and Cascade Creek all run by DOC.
Where to purchase fuel
The only two places to purchase fuel is from Te Anau or Milford Sound so ensure you have a full tank before departing.
Photo credits to Shutterstock images and Chris and Laura Travels