Travelling from Queenstown to Milford Sound is a very popular way to experience the beautiful Fiord and about 50% of travellers who travel to Milford Sound are coming from the resort town however the number staying in Te Anau before travelling to Milford is growing. In this article we breakdown the drive you will experience, what you will see, where to stop between Queenstown and Milford Sound, where to eat and even the toilets that are in good order for your use!
How do you get from Queenstown to Milford Sound?
When you look at a map you will see that geographically Milford Sound and Queenstown are within 70km of each other, however the road that you must take between the two is 288km long. You simply cannot travel the shorter route by road as there is none. Options are limited to walking (something that can be undertaken via the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand's 'Great Walks') and by small plane or helicopter.
The only road from Queenstown to Milford Sound is via the township of Te Anau and along the world famous 'Milford Road'. This journey driving with no stops takes approximately four hours one way, however stops are advised, not only to enjoy the scenic landscapes but also because along with the Milford Road, there is the Devil's Staircase road between Queenstown and Kingston that requires a lot of attention and care.
For this reason, we highly recommend staying in Te Anau the night before and after travelling to Milford Sound as this gives you a break and allows you to explore the Milford Road and all its scenic stops without being rushed to get to your cruise in Milford Sound. Better yet, you can take a Milford Sound Day Tour from Te Anau and let local expert guides & drivers do the heavy lifting for you, taking you to the best local known spots.
The best stops from Queenstown to Milford Sound
After departing Queenstown or Frankton (the last part of the township before the open road), we suggest the following stops and reasons why:
Devil's Staircase Lookout - 37mins
Just over halfway along the Devil's Staircase road between Queenstown and Kingston is a 35km/h corner with a lookout to your right, which looks down Lake Wakatipu to Kingston, or back up towards Queenstown, flanked by mountains. On a clear, calm day, your photograph may get the reflection of the mountains in it.
Garston - Coffee Bomb - 57mins
Open most days is the Coffee Bomb trailer at Garston. As you round a corner to the left after the Garston rock sign and 70km/h signs, Coffee Bomb is to your left with plenty of space for car parking, as well as a kids playground and public toilets. Great coffee, food and time for a short break.
Five River's Cafe - 1:18hours
If Garston didn't suffice or a sit down morning tea/lunch suits you better, the Five River's Cafe is a great option. This Cafe is on the corner before you turn right towards Te Anau. There are good toilets, plenty of car parking and some unique New Zealand souvenirs available here too.
Te Anau - 2:09hours
A must do stop at a minimum, a highly recommended two-night stop preferably. Some tours turn off just before the main township and stunning lakefront which is a real shame and disrespectful to the town. If you are driving your own car or rental, we suggest staying the night and jumping on a guided tour the next morning to fully immerse yourself in the Milford Road and Milford Sound experience.
See our articles on Te Anau
Eglinton Valley - 2:47hours
Flanking the Earl Mountain Range and 25km in length, this is a well known location with visitors. On a nice day, head into the golden fields to the left of the road for a photo. This area featured in the first Lord of the Rings movie - The Fellowship of the Ring, as the Misty Mountains.
Mirror Lakes - 2:51hours
Another very popular stop, with a few thousand people every day undertaking the challenge of capturing a perfect reflection of the mountains in their photo. You will need at least 10-mins at this stop.
Knob's Flat - 3:00hours
This is the last spot for a flushable toilet before Milford Sound. Knob's Flat has good bathroom facilities, tidy and well maintained. While you wait for your travelling companions, there is interesting information board covering avalanche history in the area and the building of the Milford Road, as well as a cash/card vending machine.
Lake Gunn - 3:12hours
A short stop here on a nice day is well worth it for a picturesque experience. Tucked in amongst native forest, Lake Gunn attracts native birdlife to its shores. A good spot to enjoy a break and some morning tea.
Hollyford Lookout - 3:18hours
You can't miss this location as it is signposted and there is dark red walkways and platforms that look out over the Hollyford Valley. This one can get quote busy however if you are travelling with a local tour, guides know a few other spots to give you the same view with less people around.
Monkey Creek - 3:24hours
The elevation of this area means you are likely to meet the Kea Parrot, a bird only found in the South Island of New Zealand. Monkey Creek which flows through here to join to the Hollyford River is pure snow melt and is completely drinkable. Allow 5-10 minutes here.
Where are public toilets located between Queenstown & Milford Sound?
Where can you purchase food & drink from Queenstown to Milford Sound?
Five Rivers Cafe (turn off to Te Anau/Milford Sound)
Te Anau (best variety)
Milford Sound (very limited)
How long will Queenstown to Milford Sound return take?
If you are driving yourself or touring to Milford Sound from Queenstown, then it is very likely that you will be doing a cruise also in Milford Sound and we of course highly recommend this. This means the total day is going to be about 12-13 hours.
6-hours Queenstown to Milford Sound with photo/rest stops.
2.5-hours in Milford Sound for check-in and cruise.
4-hours return drive Milford Sound to Queenstown.
How should I travel Queenstown to Milford Sound
Day One: 3-hours - Travel to Te Anau, taking your time with stops along the way.
Day Two: 8.5-hours - Take a guided tour from Te Anau to Milford Sound with a cruise included.
Day Three: 2.5-hours - Do the Te Anau Glowworm Caves in the morning at around 10am after you check out from your accommodation. 2-hours - Travel back to Queenstown, or onto your next destination.
We have extensive other articles on why using Te Anau as a base before heading to Milford Sound is advantages:
Why should I travel to Milford Sound from Queenstown?
If you prefer to travel fast paced, see the highlights and don't mind being on a bus, coach or in a car for a large part of the day (at least nine hours), then travelling to Milford Sound from Queenstown is the right option for you.
Why should I travel to Milford Sound from Te Anau?
If you have a more relaxed travel style, prefer to take time at photo stops and scenic locations and want less time in a vehicle in one day, then Te Anau is really the option for you. If you want to experience more of Fiordland and the area, then you might like to consider adding on Doubtful Sound, Te Anau Glowworm Caves, a Jet Boat ride, a Helicopter Tour or even one of the Great Walks.
The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is beautiful, filled with a mixture of driving along the edge of Lake Wakatipu, farmland and plains through to Te Anau and then the magical Milford Road. As locals we have driven this many times so trust us when we say it is not for those who want a relaxed style of travel and wish to fully immerse themselves in Milford Sound. A night in Te Anau halfway is the best way to travel to Milford Sound and you will still see everything that Queenstown to Milford Sound has to offer.