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 to Milford Sound from Te Anau 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.
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Want to read more about Milford Sound, what to see when you get there, and other options for getting 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!
Te Anau to Milford Sound Road Trip
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Where to Stay on the Te Anau to Milford Sound Road Trip
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, the Queenstown to Te Anau to Milford Sound 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 by staying in Te Anau for 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 drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau. 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 accommodations from budget to luxury. Additionally, there are many basic DOC campsites within kilometers of Te Anau.
We use booking.com to book all our accommodation because of the diversity offered. Check out Milford Sound accommodation options here and start planning your Milford Sound trip as soon as possible.
Te Anau Attractions
Te Anau, known as the gateway to Milford Sound and the starting point for many bush walks, 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.
If you’re wondering what to do in Te Anau, there are numerous unique Te Anau tourist attractions. Besides the Te Anau walks, there are the Te Anau Glowworm Caves. One of the most unique activities in New Zealand and our favorite of the Te Anau attractions, 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. Out of all the Te Anau things to do and places to visit in Te Anau, make sure to make time for this unique experience.
You can book your “Te Anau: Glowworm Caves Guided Tour” here!
Another one-of-a-kind experience and one of the coolest things to do in Te Anau is the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary. A scenic lakeside walk takes you to a breeding center for rare birds. It gives you a chance to see many New Zealand birds up close. Entry is free, with donations appreciated.
There are many scenic Te Anau walks, and 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
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 favorite recommendations we think you should not miss. If you are in a rush to get to Milford Sound for a booked cruise, you can also make these stops on the return trip from Milford Sound to Te Anau.
- 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 must 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 reputed to be the best 3-hour walk in the country. It follows some of the Routeburn Track, one of the Great Walks.
- One of our favorite 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 food that is not natural to 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’s walk. Alternatively, you can see it as you drive across the bridge on Milford Road.
- One of the most unusual tunnels we have ever traveled through, Homer Tunnel is a tunnel through the mountains. The steep tunnel through solid rock is 1.2km long and over 900 meters 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; however, even if you find any of these Milford Sound to Te Anau walks closed due to weather, there are so many excellent Milford Sound and Te Anau attractions to make up for 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
- Milford Sound has no petrol stations, so make sure to 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. It is best to drive relatively slow. Additionally, 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. and returning by the same road from Milford Sound to Te Anau. 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.
Do you love road trips with spectacular views? Read Next, “Wild West Coast of New Zealand. It’s the soul!”