When you’re this close to Fiordland, to what is described by Rudyard Kipling as the Eighth Wonder of the World, then making the most of every moment counts.
The drive from Queenstown to Fiordland is as unforgettable as the destination itself – and as you go deeper into the wild, rugged and remote landscapes will surprise you at every bend.
Carved by glaciers 100,000 years ago, this natural wonderland full of ancient rainforests, the deepest fiords, epic waterfalls, and massive mountain ranges is a journey you won’t forget.
Here are some practical tips for first timers who want to discover hidden gems and enjoy every bit of the journey from Queenstown to Fiordland.
Queenstown – Te Anau 171 km, 2 hr. drive
From Queenstown, it’s an estimated 2 hrs. drive to Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland or your base camp. Take in the brilliant waters of Lake Wakatipu, majestic mountains, rural townships and rolling countryside – stunning scenery you’ll want to take your time and savour.
Best time to leave:
Leave Queenstown early in the morning so you can enjoy the incredibly scenic drive to Te Anau. Begin your journey on State Highway 6 with the glistening waters of Lake Wakatipu guiding you along the way. Keep an eye out for designated stops you can safely pull-over to take in the beautiful surrounds – the magnificent waterways are even more striking against the iconic mountain range known as The Remarkables.
Where to stop:
The Devil’s Staircase Lookout Point is about 35 kms outside of Queenstown. Snow-capped mountains and the pristine waters of Lake Wakatipu – it’s a beautiful spot to stretch the legs and take some breathtaking photos of the breathtaking landscape.
Stay and play in Te Anau:
To maximise your Fiordland experience and day in Milford Sound, check-in for the night at your choice of Te Anau accommodation provider to experience some genuine Southland hospitality. Stretch those legs with a stroll along the shores of the stunning Lake Te Anau – the largest glacial lake in the South Island or pop into the awesome Te Anau Bird Sanctuary.
Te Anau to Milford Sound 181 km, 1.5 hrs. drive
The early bird gets the worm when it comes to Milford Sound so rise with the sun and make sure you’ve got refreshments and picnic food with you for the many picture perfect pitstops you may want to enjoy along the way.
Best stops on the road to Milford:
Just 56 kms from Te Anau, the renowned Mirror Lakes certainly lives up to its name. Easily accessible from the road, treat your senses to a 10-minute stroll to admire the crystal-clear mountain lakes against the breathtaking backdrop of the Earl Mountains.
Over halfway to Milford Sound located within the Hollyford Valley, Monkey Creek is a glacier-fed spring that attracts visitors for its awe-inspiring scenery and possibility of spotting the rare whio/blue duck, with a few fun-loving keas to boot.
Look out for:
They say the keas around here as friendly and curious as the locals. Keep an eye out for these beautiful native birds, with feathers as colourful as their cheeky personalities.
Book in a boat cruise:
A visit to Milford Sound wouldn’t be complete without a scenic boat cruise. Hourly departures are available from the Milford Sound Visitor Terminal but make sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment.
There are no petrol stations between Te Anau and Milford Sound so remember to fill up the tank in Te Anau.
Milford Sound to Queenstown 288 km, 4.5 hrs. drive
The return leg of your trip to Queenstown includes some quiet moments to take it all in. Anywhere, everywhere, there’s breathtaking beauty abound.
Just 10 kilometres from the Milford Sound Visitor Terminal, The Chasm is an otherworldly place that is a rather fitting last stop before leaving Milford Sound. From the well-marked carpark, enjoy a 20-minute return easy walk with dramatic views of mighty waterfalls and lush evergreen bush for a few mindful moments in the heart of Fiordland.
Re-fuel in Te Anau:
It’s a good idea to re-fuel in Te Anau before returning to Queenstown – for yourself as well your vehicle. There are plenty of gastro pubs, restaurants, and cafes to enjoy in Te Anau so take your pick and enjoy some local Fiordland fare.