How to get to Milford Sound

Date: 1 December 2023

A trip to Aotearoa New Zealand’s South Island wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the journey to Piopiotahi Milford Sound, the world’s argued 8th wonder. Not only an epic destination to tick off the bucket list, but the journey there is also half of your adventure. If you’re thinking of travelling to Milford Sound, you’re in for one of the greatest scenic road trips in the world. In this guide, you’ll learn all the important information you need about how to get to Milford Sound! 


Driving to Milford Sound

There’s only one road to Milford Sound, the Milford Road! So, if you opt to self-drive, the chances of getting lost are slim. Besides the simplicity of the road, the highlight of driving to Milford Sound is the flexibility it offers. Set your own pace, stop whenever you wish, go on side adventures into the bush, and enjoy the solitude of the road less travelled. Keep an eye out for the local wildlife, which may include keas (alpine parrots), wekas, fantails and tuis.

The Milford Road 

The Milford Road isn’t a means of transport, it’s an adventure. The journey might seem long on Google Maps, but it flies by when you’re soaking up the surroundings and views. From Te Anau to Milford Sound, the road stretches approximately 120km (75 miles) and 288km (179 miles) from Queenstown.  

What is the road to Milford Sound like? 

The Milford Road is your scenic route from Te Anau to the breathtaking Milford Sound, which traverses the stunning landscapes of Fiordland National Park. Meandering through native forests, framed with majestic mountains, and adorned with cascading waterfalls, this singular road offers travellers a captivating journey. It's crucial to exercise caution and preparedness while driving, adapting to the unique conditions of the Milford Road. As the sole access point to Milford Sound, this route tends to be busier than other New Zealand highways, emphasising the need for a mindful and considerate approach to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. 

Road heading towards mountains of Milford Sound

The journey's first half passes along Lake Whakatipu's edge before emerging into Southland farmland. After leaving Lake Whakatipu, the road should be peaceful before reaching Te Anau. This is the last settlement you’ll pass through before reaching Milford Sound. Once you set off from Te Anau, you’ll be driving in the Fiordland National Park, where you’ll wind your way through lush rainforests, past mirror-like lakes, and along dramatic mountain ranges.  

This second part of the drive is dotted with viewpoints and short walks that provide opportunities to stop, stretch your legs, take toilet breaks, and soak in the scenery. During this leg of your journey, you'll realise that every twist and turn of the road reveals a new and breathtaking vista. Passengers should have their cameras ready; you'll want to capture the numerous photo-worthy moments along the way. 

Planning your drive to Milford Sound 

Before setting out on your road trip to Milford Sound, it's essential to plan. The road can be winding and narrow in places, so take your time and drive cautiously, especially during poor weather. Your most confident driver should be behind the wheel. This road, as incredible as it is, isn’t the place to become reacquainted with driving. If no one in your group is confident enough to drive, book onto a coach departing from Queenstown and Te Anau.

Metservice and the NZ Transport Agency are your friends, so use them to check the weather and road conditions before departure, as Milford Road can close for days at a time to heavy rain and, sometimes in colder months, avalanches.  

Ensure your vehicle is in good condition, and don't forget to fuel up before hitting the road. Fuel stations are limited along the way, and the last one before reaching Milford Sound is in Te Anau. After you leave Te Anau, there aren’t any restaurants or shops along the road, so don’t just fill up your car; fill up your bags with snacks and water for the journey too!  

Where to stop on the Milford Road? 

Embarking on the journey to Milford Sound from Te Anau offers not just a scenic drive but also fantastic opportunities to explore along the way. As you leave Te Anau, make sure to take a brief break in this charming town for a quick restroom stop and perhaps lunch or coffee. If you have time you can also combine Milford Sound with the Te Anau Glowworm Caves! Check out our Milford Sound & Glowworm Tour package deal.

Now, entering the breathtaking Fiordland National Park, you'll encounter several noteworthy stops; here are our top 5 recommendations: 

1. Mirror Lakes (Approx. 58kms from Te Anau): Experience tranquillity at Mirror Lakes, especially on a calm day. A brief, easy walk (approximately 5 minutes) along the roadside beside a small lake reveals a perfect reflection of the towering mountains. 

2. Knobs Flat (Approx. 63kms from Te Anau): Discover the expansive valley floor of Knobs Flat, offering essential amenities like restrooms. 

3. Hollyford Valley Lookout: Pause at the designated parking bay to marvel at the panoramic view extending across thousands of hectares of lush forest. Feel on top of the world at this breathtaking lookout. 

4. Monkey Creek: At this roadside parking bay, observe the endangered and cheeky kea, our alpine parrot. While they're fascinating to observe, remember not to interact or feed them, respecting their natural habitat. 

5. Homer Tunnel: Continuing beyond Monkey Creek, you'll reach the awe-inspiring Homer Tunnel, a road carved through a mountain. Take a moment to pull over both before and after entering the tunnel. The emerging view on the other side is an unforgettable memory. 

These strategic stops not only allow you to stretch your legs but also ensure you savour the journey to Milford Sound. Plan your itinerary wisely to make the most of these remarkable points of interest. For an extensive list of places to stop, check out our blog, '12 must-do stops on the road to Milford Sound'.

Eglinton Valley On The Milford Road

Is it safe to drive to Milford Sound in winter? 

Exploring Milford Sound in winter can be a breathtaking experience, and there are two main options for your journey. Firstly, for a stress-free and scenic winter adventure, consider travelling by coach, letting an expert navigate the challenging conditions while you relax and soak in the beauty. However, if you prefer driving, exercise caution by checking for road closures due to potential ice, snow, and avalanche risks. Ensure your rental car is equipped with snow chains – consult your rental company – or if you're a local, invest in chains beforehand to ensure a safe and enjoyable winter drive to Milford Sound. Check the weather and road conditions prior to your departure using the Metservice and NZ Transport Agency websites. 

Queenstown to Milford Sound drive 

The journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound is an incredible one, and driving yourself in your own car in your own time can be rewarding and extra fun. However, you need to be time-savvy and organised, especially if you have a Milford Sound cruise pre-booked. This way, you’ll have plenty of time to see the highlights of the Fiordland National Park while not rushing.  

Milford Sound, located 288km from Queenstown, typically requires a driving time of approximately 4 hours and 15 minutes, allowing for one stop. However, the total duration might be closer to 6 hours, depending on the number of stops you choose to make. It's important to consider that weather and seasonal variations can impact your travel time.  

Given the substantial distance, plan an overnight stay in Te Anau either before or after your journey to Milford Sound. Te Anau offers a range of accommodations, dining options, cafes, bars, and even a supermarket, providing a convenient and enjoyable break in your travel itinerary. 

Te Anau to Milford Sound drive 

The journey from Te Anau to Milford Sound travels purely through the Fiordland National Park, where you’ll pass through epic valleys, dense rainforests, and spectacular waterfalls tumbling from majestic mountains. While you’re driving to Milford Sound for the destination, the journey is just as wonderful.  

  • How long is the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound? 

Embarking on the scenic drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound covers a distance of 118 km. While the typical travel time is approximately 2 hours, this can vary based on the duration of your stops and your starting point. The journey along Milford Road is a unique experience, with opportunities to pause and appreciate the breathtaking surroundings. 

Christchurch to Milford Sound drive 

  • How long is the drive from Christchurch to Milford Sound? 

The drive to Milford Sound from Christchurch is around 750-770 km and around 10 hours without any substantial stops. There are a couple of routes you can take: an inland route that takes you through Queenstown or a coastal route which takes you through Dunedin. 

There is very limited accommodation in Milford Sound, so break this journey up. If you’re going inland, stop in Tekapo, Queenstown and Te Anau before making your way to Milford Sound. If you’re going via the coast, stop in Oamaru, Dunedin, and Te Anau, before continuing to Milford Sound.  

Parking in Milford Sound 

There are two places to park your car at Milford Sound, one is paid parking, and the second is free parking: 

  • Paid parking: This is closest to the Milford Sound Visitor Terminal, only a 5 - 10 mins walk along a path with a beautiful view of the fiord. The paid parking is clearly signposted as you enter the small village of Milford Sound. Parking costs an hourly rate of $10. The car park is managed by Milford Sound Tourism, and the money collected is used to fund Milford Sound’s facilities and infrastructure.  

    Overnight parking is available at the terminal for $30, from 3.30pm until 11am the following morning. This can be paid by card or paywave inside the terminal building.

  • Free parking: There is a free car park for day and overnight visitors located at Deepwater Basin Road, about a 20-minute stroll to the Visitor Terminal along a scenic forested pathway. Allow 45 minutes to 1 hour to park your vehicle and walk to the Milford Sound Visitor Terminal, as you need to check in for your cruise 20 minutes prior to departure. Guests should always allow extra time for themselves to check in and board their vessels.

Coach to Milford Sound 

Wondering how to get to Milford Sound without a car? Or maybe you don’t want to miss out on the epic views or local knowledge? Catching a coach to Milford Sound is one of the best and most affordable options to travel there. It allows your whole group to sit back and relax while a professional takes care of the driving, making sure you get to your cruise in good time. Coach transfers to Milford Sound usually operate out of both Te Anau and Queenstown. 

When you travel by coach to Milford Sound with RealNZ, you’ll travel in ultimate comfort with experienced, professional drivers. And because guests come first, the journey to Milford Sound will be as spectacular as the destination, with custom-built coaches complete with extra-large windows, a clear roof, and angled seating for optimal viewing for all guests on board. Your driver will ensure you don’t miss out on any of the must-see stops along the way, and you’ll enjoy the bonus of their insider knowledge too. Discover RealNZ's Milford Sound Cruise options, from day trips to overnight cruises. 

Coach driving to Milford Sound surrounded by mountains

How long is the coach ride from Queenstown to Milford Sound? 

If you're embarking on the unforgettable journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound with us, be prepared for a day of scenic wonders. The adventure begins in the morning and concludes in the early evening, with approximately 4.5 hours of travel each way. Our route includes a strategic stop at Te Anau, the halfway point between Queenstown and Milford Sound. During this break, you'll have the chance to refresh, stretch your legs, and enjoy a cup of coffee. 

How long is the coach ride from Te Anau to Milford Sound?

For those starting the journey from Te Anau to Milford Sound, expect a 2.5-hour ride through the breathtaking landscapes of Fiordland National Park. The expert driver will take the time to pause along the way, allowing you to capture photos, spot wildlife, and make necessary restroom stops. Our commitment to a leisurely pace ensures you not only reach your destination but savour every moment of this incredible experience. 

Mountainous views from coach driving to Milford Sound

Fly to Milford Sound 

Experience the remarkable landscape of Fiordland National Park from above with a scenic flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound. This is the ultimate way to travel to Milford Sound, saving you time, but delivering on views. Your pilot will make sure that as you arrive in Milford Sound, you’ll have a seamless connection with a scenic cruise of the fiord before returning to Queenstown by your choice of plane or coach.  

Fly from Queenstown to Milford Sound 

The scenic flight connections between Queenstown and Milford Sound are the ultimate way to experience the vastness of New Zealand’s dramatic alpine scenery. 

You’ll see the vastness of Lake Whakatipu, the magnitude of our National Park’s mountains, the depth of the valleys, and experience something not many get to do. It’s really the experience of a lifetime.  

The small aircraft are specifically designed for mountain flying, and pilots are specially trained. You can choose to fly both ways or get the best of both worlds by flying back after travelling the spectacular overland route on our luxury coach. 

Flights depart daily (weather permitting) with courtesy pick-ups from most accommodations and include a shuttle bus between Milford Airport and the Visitor Terminal. To book one of the most scenic flights in the world, call 0800 65 65 01. 

How long is the flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound? 

Experience the stunning journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound in just around 40 minutes each way. The actual duration may vary based on factors like weather conditions, scenic views, and the chosen route. This quick and efficient travel option not only provides breathtaking vistas but also saves you considerable time compared to alternative modes of transportation, such as coach travel. 


What cruise is right for me?

There are four to choose from, and each offers a different style of experience in Milford Sound. Take the quiz to find out which vessel will suit you.

Is there a visitor centre at Milford Sound? 

There is a Visitor Terminal at Milford Sound, situated next to where the boats depart on their cruises. Here you’ll find numerous cruise operators, as well as a RealNZ visitor centre kiosk. The team will be able to help you with any query or need.

What is the best time of year to visit Milford Sound? 

The Best Time to Visit Milford Sound: All Year Round! Milford Sound's beauty knows no seasonal bounds. Contrary to specific months, any time from January to December offers a spectacular experience. In the sunshine, witness the stunning contrast of blue skies against majestic mountain peaks. Yet even rain transforms the landscape, creating a breathtaking display of hundreds of waterfalls cascading around the fiord. Whether it's the warmth of the sun or the drama of rainfall, Milford Sound captivates visitors with its timeless allure throughout the entire year. 

Are there any scenic stops or viewpoints on the way to Milford Sound? 

If you're journeying from Queenstown to Milford Sound, the route is dotted with breathtaking stops that demand your attention. Whether you're an avid photographer or simply want to soak in the scenery, these carefully selected spots are a must-visit. Top recommendations include Mirror Lakes, Knobs Flat, Hollyford Valley Lookout, Monkey Creek, and the iconic Homer Tunnel. Discover the beauty of each location and plan your stops accordingly. Remember to prioritize safety and adhere to recommended stopping points for an unforgettable and secure journey. 

Are there any recommended pit stops for meals or rests along the way? 

Our recommended pit stop along the way to Milford Sound is Te Anau, the last town before you reach Milford Sound. It has all the amenities you might need, coffee shops, cafes, and a supermarket, so grab the food, drinks, or travel bits you might have forgotten before you head into the great outdoors! When you reach Milford Sound and board your cruise, one of our four RealNZ vessels will also be equipped with delicious local food offerings to satisfy every tastebud.