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The Best New Zealand Road Trip Stops from Te Anau to Milford Sound

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Milford Sound New Zealand at Sunset

One of the most incredible drives in the world is the road trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound in the beautiful South Island of New Zealand. We just got back from a 12 day road trip throughout the South Island and have to say this area of Fiordland is one of our favorite areas in the whole country.

Milford Sound is often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” This title, although unofficial, reflects the awe-inspiring natural beauty and grandeur of the fiord, with its towering cliffs, dramatic waterfalls, and the iconic Mitre Peak rising from the waters.

Despite being one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, Milford Sound often gets overlooked by those coming to the country due to its hard to reach, remote location. But, we’re here to tell you, it’s 100% worth the drive down.

Whether you are planning on visiting Fiordland National Park for a Milford Sound day trip or a couple of days, our guide provides the best road trip stops, hikes, and viewpoints along your journey from Te Anau to Milford Sound to make the most of your adventure. Let’s dive into it!

Things to Know Before Driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound

Waterfall in Milford Sound New Zealand South Island
Bowen Falls Watefall in Milford Sound

Driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound is an unforgettable journey, but it’s important to be well-prepared, as the drive is 2 hours without accounting for these road trip stops. Here are some key things to know before you set off.

Road Conditions

The Milford Road (State Highway 94) can be challenging, especially in winter. It’s prone to avalanches, rockfalls, and icy conditions. Always check the road conditions before you depart. Click here to see the current road conditions and Homer tunnel closure schedule, as sometimes it closes during parts of the night.

Weather

Fiordland’s weather is highly unpredictable and can change rapidly. Be prepared for rain and, in winter, snow and ice. Carry appropriate clothing and equipment.

Gas Stations

There are no fuel stations between Te Anau and Milford Sound, so make sure you have enough fuel for the round trip. The distance is about 120 km (75 miles) each way.

Boat in Milford Sound New Zealand South Island

Limited Services & Accommodations

Services along the route are extremely limited. Pack sufficient food, water, and any other essentials you might need for the journey. We’d recommend filling up on groceries at the Te Anau Fresh Choice!

There’s also very limited places to stay along the route from Te Anau to Milford Sound unless you are planning on camping. We rented a van from JUCY rentals and found that was the easiest, most flexible way to visit Fiordland!

We opted to camp at one of the DOC Campsites along the Milford Highway for one night and camp inside Milford Sound for our other 2 nights in the area. If you need cash for any of the DOC campsites along the way, make sure to use the ATM right outside of the grocery store in Te Anau before departing as well.

Staying in Milford Sound

Woman in campervan in Eglinton Valley Fiordland New Zealand

Your only option to camp in Milford Sound proper is to stay at the Milford Sound Lodge, whether you book their beautiful hotel rooms or camp in a Powered Site in your van or RV. We opted to do this for two nights and it was AMAZING.

We highly recommend trying to stay a night or two here despite the slightly higher campsite costs because you will essentially get Milford Sound all to yourselves at sunset when all the tour buses leave. It’s truly a magical experience we highly recommend. Just note, sites and rooms book up quickly, so try booking your dates at least a few months out!

The only other main accommodation option offered in Milford Sound is staying in a renovated boat, the Fiordland Discovery, where you can stay right off the water in Milford Sound!

Cell Phone Coverage

Expect limited to no cell phone coverage on much of the drive. It’s a good idea to inform someone of your travel plans if you’re driving alone or in a small group. We’d recommend downloading offline Google Maps so that you will be able to have directions to your stops without any issues.

Homer Tunnel

Be prepared for a wait at the Homer Tunnel, especially during peak times. The tunnel is a one-way system controlled by traffic lights. If you want to avoid the most amount of traffic, arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid all the tour busses congesting the highway.

Best Road Trip Stops

Woman hiking the Lake Marian Track in Fiordland New Zealand

Te Anau

Lake Te Anau

Lake Te Anau serves as a gateway to Fiordland National Park. As the largest lake in the South Island and the second-largest in New Zealand, its absolutely worth checking out at the start of your road trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound. Make sure to fill up on gas and groceries in this area before heading down further into Fiordland!

Glow Worm Caves

Te Anau Glow Worm Caves
Te Anau Glow Worm Caves | Image Credit: Pure New Zealand

Similar to the famous Waitomo Glow Worm Caves in New Zealand’s North Island, the glow worm caves in Te Anau offer a unique and magical experience! These caves are part of the Te Anau cave system located on the western shore of Lake Te Anau in the Fiordland region of the South Island. They are renowned for their populations of glow worms, which are actually the larval form of a species of fungus gnat. The glow worms produce a bioluminescent blue light that illuminates the cave ceilings and walls, creating a starry effect in the darkened environment.

The highlight of the visit is undoubtedly the silent boat ride through the glow worm grotto, where the soft, glowing light from thousands of these tiny creatures creates a serene and otherworldly ambiance. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take any photos or videos on the tour, to prevent disturbing the delicate environment and the glow worms themselves. This is definitely a bummer as professional photographers ourselves, but it’s still an experience worth checking out.

Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lake Fiordland
Photo by Sander Lenaerts on Unsplash

As you travel down the Milford Highway, you’ll come across the Mirror Lakes, which offer stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains and forests on a calm day. This spot is a must-see for its tranquil beauty and the unique photographic effects you can capture.

There’s a ton of parking for Mirror Lakes on the side of the road. The entire viewpoint is paved on a boardwalk so it’s a great stop for families of all ages. We’d recommend visiting around dawn or dusk for the best chances of seeing a perfect reflection of the mountains in the water. If you visit during the middle of the day, the position of the sun makes it a little bit more difficult to capture good photos.

Eglinton Valley

Campervan in Eglinton Valley Fiordland New Zealand

Located right off the side of the road, Eglinton Valley is renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, featuring vast open fields, surrounded by steep mountains. The valley is a testament to the power of glacial forces, having been carved out by glaciers over thousands of years.

When we arrived, it literally felt like we were in the middle of a Lord of the Rings movie. This area was actually used in the movies as a filming location! You can often find some moody low hanging fog in the mountains, and it makes for some incredible photographs.

There’s a wide pull out where you can park on the side of the highway to take in the views and stop for some photos!

Lake Gunn

Lake Gunn Fiordland New Zealand

Lake Gunn is your next stop along the Milford Highway and is perfect for those seeking out a gorgeous, tranquil experience in nature. The lake itself is completely surrounded by a native beech forest. It’s an especially picturesque setting with the reflections of the surrounding mountains on the lake’s surface creating stunning photo opportunities.

We opted to only stop here for a short photo stop, but if you want to spend some more time here, you can also stretch your legs around the lake! There’s a short and easy nature walk around Lake Gunn. The walk takes about 45 minutes to an hour and allows you to experience the unique Fiordland ecosystem.

Key Summit Track

View of the mountains in Fiordland National Park

Key Summit Track is a must-do hike for adventure enthusiasts on a Te Anau to Milford Sound road trip. This is a beautiful 4.8 mile round trip hike has stunning views over the Humbolt and Darran Mountains in Fiordland National Park.

Although fairly steep, you can take in some stunning panoramic views of Fiordland’s peaks and valleys at the summit. Once you get to the top, you get views of Lake Marian from above. You can check out the full trail data for Key Summit here.

Fair warning – the parking situation here is pretty crazy because the Key Summit Track starts along New Zealand’s famous Routeburn Track. Get here early or late in the afternoon to secure a spot.

Lake Marian Track

Man standing in Lake Marian in Fiordland National Park

This moderately challenging 3.8 mile round trip trek promises a perfect blend of alpine scenery and lush rainforest. Situated right off Milford Road, the Lake Marian Track is accessible from the Hollyford Valley viewpoint, providing a picturesque starting point for your journey as you immediately cross a bridge over piercing blue glacial rivers.

After you cross the first bridge, you start heading up some gradual elevation through the forest. About a quarter way through, you’ll reach the roaring waterfalls on your right hand side. They are beautiful blue falls, but PLEASE be careful here and only stick to the boardwalk. Don’t wander of trail. The rapids are so strong and you can easily slip and fall in. Don’t put your life at risk for photos and keep an eye on your kids.

Make sure to wear really supportive hiking shoes, as this trail has a lot of hiking over tree roots and rocks, as well as treading through mud. We’d also recommend packing some bug repellent, layers, and swimsuits if you decide to make the cold plunge into Lake Marian!

Monkey Creek

Monkey Creek Fiordland New Zealand


Monkey Creek earns its fame for its beautiful crystal-clear glacial waters that come from the Southern Alps. The alpine water here is so pure, you can fill up your water bottle up here for a refreshing drink. In our opinion as professional photographers, Monkey Creek was definitely one of the most photogenic spots on the drive down from Te Anau to Milford Sound.

PRO TIP: Do this stop in the morning or after 5pm to have this spot to yourself. Tour buses overrun Monkey Creek after 9 am!

Gertrude Valley

Viewpoint: There’s a viewpoint along your way to the Homer Tunnel where you can pull over and admire the incredible peaks in Gertrude Valley.

Hike: If you want to immerse yourself in Gertrude Valley’s epic beauty, consider adding hiking the Gertrude Saddle Route to your Fiordland itinerary. This is probably the most challenging hike on this list at 5.1 miles with 2116 ft of elevation gain.However, it also has some of the most rewarding views in all of Milford Sound. We’d only recommend this hike for experienced hikers with backcountry experience.

You start walking through the valley until you reach the end and climb the steep track up the waterfall to Black Lake. There are a few cords to help climb steep and often slippery parts. Then a little bit more rocks hopping, and you get to the pass.

Homer Tunnel

View of Milford Sound exiting the Homer Tunnel

The Homer Tunnel is an impressive feat of engineering, carved through solid rock. As mentioned previously, Homer Tunnel is your gateway into Milford Sound proper. There’s a parking lot right before you get to the line to enter the tunnel where you can take in the architectural feat as well as the hundreds of waterfalls around you if you’re lucky enough to be visiting when it’s raining.

However, anticipate traffic here as timed traffic lights manage the one-way flow. As a reminder, make sure to check for tunnel closures in advance in the event that you are trying to pass through. When we visited, there were timed closures from 8pm-6am as they were doing construction. We had to map out our game plan around that and it was inconvenient.

The Chasm

The Chasm is home to several stunning waterfalls. The water cascades down through the narrow rock formations, creating a spectacle of rushing water and mist. The rushing water has created deep crevices, potholes, and impressive rock formations, offering a glimpse into the forces of nature.

Access to the Chasm is relatively easy, with a short and well-maintained walking track leading from the road. You can find the full trail data on the half mile hike here. You probably only need about 20-30 minutes here!

Unfortunately, The Chasm’s trail was under some maintenance when we visited. However, if you check the conditions and the trail is fully operational, we would highly recommend checking it out!

Milford Sound

Man waving in Milford Sound at sunset

YAY – you made it! Milford Sound is one of our favorite places in the whole world. There’s a few different ways to take in the beauty of the fiord.

Cruise Milford Sound:

Explore the natural world of the fiord by hopping on a small cruise and getting closer to one of the most dramatic places on earth! We opted to go on a tour with Southern Discoveries and had a great time, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the tour operators in Milford Sound. You also have access to an Underwater Observatory in the sound if you book specifically with them, which we thought was cool!

Kayak in Harrison’s Cove:

Southern Discoveries also offers a kayaking adventure around Milford sound as well. We’d recommend booking this along with your Milford Sound Cruise to avoid any repetition in tours! We loved the kayaking tour because you get away from the crowds of the bigger boats, and can really get a unique feel for the area. Our guides were amazing and it felt like we had the whole fiords to ourselves, honestly.

They give you all of the items you need, so you simply just have to bring your phone or camera! You can book the incredible experience here.

Hike the Foreshore Trail:

Woman standing in front of Mitre Peak Milford Sound New Zealand

This is the main trail from the parking lot in Milford Sound that will take you around the shore facing the incredible Mitre Peak. You can walk as long or as little as you want since the trail is fairly short. The hike completely surrounds you with jaw dropping views anywhere you look.

Find Milford Sound’s Secret Swing

If you hike the Foreshore Trail, keep an eye out off to the right side of the trail for a secret hidden swing along the beach. It’s tucked away in some trees, but it’s the perfect little spot to take in the views of Mitre Peak. BEWARE – there are hundreds if not thousands of sand flies over here!

Take in Milford Sound by Air

Want to see the incredible scenery of Milford Sound from above? There are constantly helicopter and plane tours flying above the fiord that you can take part in. You can check out some of the top tours below, but keep in mind some will depart directly from Milford Sound while others will actually leave from Queenstown!

Final Thoughts

Want more resources on planning your trip to New Zealand’s South Island? Check out our Thatch Guide, where we give you our Full 10 day Itinerary here!

Woman drinking coffee in front of waterfall in Milford Sound New Zealand

Overall, if you’re visiting New Zealand’s south island you should absolutely take a few days to make the trek down to Milford Sound. There are so many hidden gems, beautiful hikes, and road trip stops from Te Anau to Milford Sound for you to explore on your adventure!

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1 Comment

  1. Daniel Jodrey on February 24, 2024 at 6:30 am

    Awesome stuff you guys! Been following you for a while and you have inspired me and my wife in many ways. We are both in corporate world and dream of stepping away to travel the world.



Stephen & Giselle backpacking the Sierra High Route