Queenstown is a popular base from which to explore New Zealand’s South Island. One of the big draws in the area is Milford Sound in the neighbouring Fiordland region. Given its remote location, it is best visited from Queenstown as an overnight trip rather than a day trip – the drive with your Queenstown Airport car rental is 4 hours one way at a minimum. Alternatively, Te Anau is halfway between Milford Sound and Queenstown, and is a small township where you can base yourself.
Half a million people visit Milford Sound each year, mostly during the summer season. Drivers will be sharing the road with campervans and coaches, resulting in congestion at some of the stopping points along Milford Rd. To avoid the mid-morning peak, try to leave first thing, or later in the morning. During winter, freezing temperatures can cause the road to ice over – drive extremely carefully and leave later in the morning. During the winter season you will need to carry snow chains.
The Milford Rd is considered one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand. It is narrow and winding at times, and the distraction of beautiful scenery is a different challenge in its own right. Be considerate when pulling over to park at scenic spots, giving plenty of warning and allowing space for other traffic to pass. There are a number of short walks you can do from various points along Milford Rd, through tussock, bush, and lowlands. The Mirror Lakes is a popular place to stop and stretch your legs; the water on a clear day provides perfect reflections of the surrounding mountains and forest. As you approach the fiord itself, rocky and alpine waterfalls will have you reaching for your camera.
The Homer Tunnel is one of the defining features of the Milford Rd. This 1.2km long tunnel is nearly 1 km above sea level, and has a steep gradient down towards Milford, emerging into enormous canyons. There is no lighting inside the tunnel, so you will need to turn on your headlights and take off your sunglasses as you drive into it. There are only two narrow lanes inside the tunnel.
There are no shops or petrol stations between Te Anau and Milford Sound, although at Milford Sound fuel is available for your Queenstown car hire.