Milford Sound is well and truly off the beaten track. It is 120km from Te Anau, the closest township with a good level of amenities, and a four hour drive to Queenstown with the closest international airport. Your travel around New Zealand is likely to be more than just a few days, however this Q & A article focuses just on Milford Sound and a basic itinerary - done well.
If I am flying to the area, what are my options?
Queenstown airport is a medium sized domestic and international air with connections to Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland, as well as Australian cities Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Gold Coast. It is a two hour drive to Te Anau and a further two hours to Milford Sound. We recommend staying in Te Anau for the night before heading to Milford.
Invercargill airport is another option with domestic flights to Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland. It is the same road drive time to Te Anau and Milford Sound with the Southern Scenic Route being a popular way to go for the best scenery.
There are plenty of rental car options from either airport.
What is a basic itinerary where I will get a great Milford Sound experience?
Day 1: Make your way to Te Anau, either by driving yourself or getting a bus connection in. Spend the night in Te Anau and enjoy what the small town has to offer in the way of restaurants such as Ditto, Fat Duck, The Moose, The Ranch, Redcliffe's, La Toscana for dinner or Sandfly cafe for breakfast/lunch. Most places are located within a 5mins walk of each other in the centre of town. Te Anau has plenty of accomodation options including hotels, motels, camping grounds and AirBNB's. This night will give you the rest you need before heading into Milford the next day as it is a decent journey in and out.
Day 2: Our recommendation is that you join a tour from Te Anau that will look after you for the day. Now of course that sounds bias as we are a tour company! But we have driven the Milford Road enough to know that it is best viewed from a passenger seat with an experienced guide who can let you know all the best spots, photo opportunities, keep you safe for the day and get you to where you need to be at specific times such as your cruise. Most tours will depart Te Anau between 8am and 11am. Earlier leaving tours can be great for ultimate relaxation with plenty of time to enjoy all the stops. Nobody wants to miss that special photo because you only had a few minutes.
Following this day in Milford Sound, we recommend staying another night in Te Anau, especially if your next destination is somewhere such as Queenstown, Invercargill or further afield. Give yourself time to have a break. A walk along the edge of Lake Te Anau is sure to recharge you. You may even want to consider adding another stunning tour into Day 3 or Day 4 such as the Te Anau Glowworm Caves, or even Doubtful Sound.
If you are driving yourself into Milford Sound
Departure around 8am in spring/summer/autumn is a good option to give yourself plenty of time to make
each of the beautiful stops along the way. With about 10 stops, you are looking at a drive time of about 4 hours from Te Anau. In winter, best to leave an hour later and allow the sun a bit more time to make the road safer. You can check road warnings here. Cruise options depart throughout the day, but the most popular time is around 1pm - be wary of the heavy traffic on the road either side of this. It can be a good idea to look at a slightly earlier cruise or, one of the later afternoon options.
Day 3: Spend the morning perusing the shops in Te Anau, grabbing a coffee at Sandfly cafe and then take your time as you head out of Te Anau onto your next destination.
We highly recommend spending more time in the area and using Te Anau as a base. From here you can spread your days in Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Te Anau where there are various options such as helicopter tours, the Glowworm Caves, biking tracks, jet boating and one of NZ's Great Walks - the Kepler Track.
If you are on limited time, we suggest you allow two nights and a whole clear day for the drive into Milford Sound and your stunning Fiordland experience.