One of the most popular day trips from Queenstown is the big drive to Milford Sound. This is a must-do for anyone serious about seeing what New Zealand is really all about. Milford is the only place in the Fiordland wilderness area with easy road access. Your Hertz Queenstown Airport car rental will make the trip easily.
Pick up a rental car from Queenstown Airport and set aside at least 4.5 hours each way for the drive. For an easier trip spend a night or two in Te Anau, which is about two hours from Queenstown, or ensure you have two drivers. The first part of the drive skirts the southern shores of Lake Wakatipu before heading south-west through prime southern farming country. Te Anau, on the shores of Lake Te Anau, is a small, sleepy town servicing a large area almost empty of people but a favourite haunt of local fly fishermen. The trout fishing is exceptional.
Te Anau is also where you’ll begin to see the massive country that makes up Fiordland National Park, which is also a highly regarded World Heritage Area. Lofty peaks often clothed in dense cloud, dark blue wind-streaked lakes, thick native forest and enormous glacial valleys are just the start. The drive into Milford climbs from Lake Te Anau through the Eglinton Valley before crossing the Key Summit into the Hollyford Valley. Further on, the Homer Tunnel leads the road under a final mountain range before breaking out above the breathtaking Cleddau Valley. From there it’s all downhill to Milford Sound.
Allow several hours to take a cruise around the sound. See Mitre Peak, Stirling Falls, visit the Discovery Centre & Underwater Observatory and take a peek out to the Tasman Sea. There are also several boat operators running overnight and multi-day cruises. You won’t know the true meaning of the word ‘quiet’ until you’ve slept in a remote cove many hours from the road-end with a clear night sky above and an almost endless depth of dark water beneath.
Driving conditions into Milford Sound are easy in fine weather, although during the busy summer season there are many coaches, campervans and other cars sharing the road with you. Allow 2.5 hours from Te Anau to Milford, without stops.There can be a wait time at the Homer Tunnel during the summer, and there are several narrow sections within the 1.2 km tunnel length. In winter the road can be covered in snow, and will occasionally close due to the avalanche risk, especially above the Homer Tunnel. These conditions are well broadcast so check at your accommodation before you leave.
Fiordland receives a massive seven metres of rain a year so there’s always a chance you’ll strike bad weather. Rather than being a day-breaker this brings a whole new world alive as the sheer mountainsides stream walls of water and plummeting waterfalls cascade down from high in the covering cloud. If you strike a wet day then make a stop at the Fiordland Cinema in Te Anau and catch a screening of the locally-made short film, Ata Whenua. It’s a stunning depiction of Fiordland and will show you all the amazing scenery you’ve missed because of the weather.