New Zealand’s Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand so making the scenic drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is essential – unless you can afford a scenic flight with Air Milford instead!
Luckily the drive itself is almost as beautiful as the Milford Sound, with plenty of different landmarks along the way to keep you busy and entertained.
There are countless incredible places to stop along the way, however, we’ve narrowed it down to 21 of our favourites and listed them all out in order.
With how many there are, it’s up to you how you choose to tackle them. It’s pretty likely you’ll be driving both ways, so we’d typically recommend doing some on the drive to Milford Sound and then the rest on the drive back.
About the Drive From Queenstown to Milford Sound
The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is 287.6km and takes around 3 ½ hours to complete without stops, but most people take around 4 ½ – 6 hours. It is a long but awe-inspiring drive offering commanding viewpoints all along the way and we’d recommend taking your time.
If you don’t feel like driving, it is fairly common for visitors to book a full-day bus and boat tour such as this one by Southern Discoveries. They’ll handle transport from Queenstown to Milford Sound as well as the scenic cruise, however, you lose the freedom to stop wherever you like along the drive.
The scenic cruise is an absolute must-do, which you can also book by itself. Our favourite is this one by Mitre Peak Cruises. Their boats are smaller and tend to be a little less packed making for a much better experience.
Best Stops on the Drive From Queenstown to Milford Sound
1. Jack’s Point
The drive out of Queenstown heads past the airport and the first stop along the way is Jack’s Point, just a 19-minute drive from the city centre. There is a golf course set against a mountainous backdrop which is worth stopping at for a quick wander, or you can tackle the 4-5 hour scenic walking track.
2. Lower Wye Creek Track
The Lower Wye Creek Track is a rewarding 4-hour hike that climbs through native beech forest and along a natural, cascading waterfall. Due to the great views we chose to include the Wye Creek Track as one of our favourite things to do in Queenstown.
You can also extend the walk up to Lake Alta where the views continue to improve but this turns it into a challenging 8-hour hike.
3. Devil’s Staircase
The Devil’s Staircase is a fantastic viewpoint found along the state highway leading out of Queenstown towards Te Anau and Milford Sound. We’re not sure where the ‘staircase’ is so don’t get put off by the name, it’s really just a beautiful viewpoint.
An easy 5-minute stop with insane views.
Mossburn probably shouldn’t make its way onto any list on the internet, but it really is a must-stop. This tiny town has a population of 210 and epitomises the saying “blink and you’ll miss it”. But it’s an essential stop for one simple fact: cheap petrol.
You’re embarking on a long drive so NPD Mossburn is where you should aim to fill up your car both on the drive to Milford Sound and the drive back to Queenstown.
5. Te Anau Lion Lookout
After Mossburn you have a 40-minute drive to Te Anau which we’d recommend getting out of the way as quickly as possible – this is the least scenic part of the journey.
Just before reaching Te Anau make sure to stop off at the Te Anau Lion Lookout which offers sweeping views over Te Anau with no effort required at all.
6. Te Anau
Next up drive a few minutes down to Te Anau which is the last major town before you reach Milford Sound.
If you have the time, we’d recommend breaking up the drive by spending a night here. It’s a beautiful town and there are plenty of things to do in Te Anau. If you’re on a budget, staying in Te Anau is also a great way to get some extra time in Fiordland without having to pay for accommodation at Milford Sound Lodge.
But as a short stopover, consider checking out Marakura Wharf (a nice spot to catch the sunrise) and head to the supermarket to grab some snacks.
7. Te Anau Downs
Te Anau Downs is the starting point for hikers embarking on the Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. If you’re an avid hiker and have 4 days then you should definitely consider tackling this hike.
Otherwise, you can stop here briefly to check out the sheltered harbour and walk out onto the jetty. It’s a beautiful spot with views over the lake and mountains.
8. Lake Mistletoe Walking Track
The Lake Mistletoe Walking Track is an easy 30 – 40 minute walk through scrubland offering views of Lake Mistletoe.
It’s a comically easy walk and the views are pretty average so if you plan to attempt any of the harder walks on this list then we’d recommend giving Lake Mistletoe a miss. But if you have young, elderly or unfit travellers with you then this isn’t a bad stop at all.
9. Eglinton Valley
As you head into Fiordland National Park you’ll notice a stark change in the terrain. Long stretches of highway extend through the valley as tussocked paddocks extend to either side and mountains tower beyond them.
The landscape here is exceptionally beautiful and dramatic so we’d recommend stopping a few times along the road just to take some time to look and admire the views, as well as to snap some photos of the road and the valley.
It’s also worth noting that Knob’s Flat, within the Eglinton Valley, is where you’ll find the last flush toilets before you reach Milford Sound, in case the views alone weren’t reason enough to stop.
10. Mirror Lakes
The Mirror Lakes is an interesting stop along the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound. Firstly, we recommend setting your expectations low for this one. We expected serene lakes offering mirror-like reflections. Well, we found it a little underwhelming.
Regardless, it’s a 400-metre walk and it’s worth a quick stop – the lakes do in fact reflect the background.
11. Lake Gunn Nature Walk & Viewpoint
This popular, 45-minute short loop walk is a beautiful stroll through native beech forest covered in green moss. The views over Lake Gunn and the mountains behind it are impressive.
Make sure to take a short side trail to head down to the shore of Lake Gunn.
12. The Divide & Key Summit Track
The Divide marks the starting point to a bunch of epic Fiordland hikes, not least of all the Routeburn Track. The Key Summit Track is actually the first section of the Routeburn and is one of the most popular day hikes in the region.
The Key Summit Track is a truly epic day walk and is just 3-hours, but does require over 400m of elevation gain to get to the top which can be a bit challenging. Anyone fit won’t have a problem.
The views over Fiordland National Park are spectacular, so if you have the time to complete just one short walk along the drive, make it either Key Summit or Lake Marian.
13. Hollyford Valley Lookout
By now you will have noticed a lot of lookouts along the drive and there are more to come. You won’t have time to stop at them all but we’d recommend keeping an eye out for the Hollyford Valley Lookout.
This is one of the best lookouts along the drive with views out over the Hollyford Valley. The views are essentially from the carpark so no hiking is required.
14. Lake Marian Track
Lake Marian Track is one of our favourite hikes in the South Island of New Zealand, and in terms of the effort vs the reward it is about as good as it can get!
The hike takes about 3-hours in total with 400m of elevation gain. The elevation gain is pretty consistent along its 6km distance meaning you don’t get much respite from the climb. The trail is also pretty poorly maintained in a lot of places. You’ll need to climb rocks and boulders in places, and we did meet a couple of hikers who got lost so follow the markers.
Despite some of the challenges, the views at the top are breathtaking. The entire walk is fairly nondescript, but Lake Marian is just so beautiful and serene that it makes up for it all.
15. Falls Creek Waterfall and Track
We love a good waterfall and Fiordland National Park is home to some of the best waterfalls in the country.
Located right on the side of the road after the Hollyford Road turnoff, Falls Creek is easily accessible. The waterfall isn’t the best in the region, but it’s quite easy to get a good photo. The setting of this waterfall within a hidden crevasse is beautiful.
There is also an expert-level track next to it that is suitable for advanced hikers.
16. Monkey Creek
Drive a little further along the road and you’ll reach Monkey Creek. Named after William Henry Homer’s dog, Monkey (there are, of course, no monkeys in Fiordland), Monkey Creek is a beautiful, glacier-fed spring.
Apparently the water is pure enough to drink straight, though we weren’t brave enough to try it. The creek itself is also home to rare whio (blue duck) and you can often find some cheeky keas in the carpark.
17. Gertrude Valley Lookout and Gertrude Saddle
The Gertrude Valley Lookout is yet another picturesque stop along the drive to Milford Sound. The views from this particular spot are breathtaking and worthy of a quick stop.
Starting from the lookout, the hike to Gertrude Saddle is a 4-6 hour hike that will reward hikers with stunning views over the valley and Milford Sound. It’s worth noting that this is a hike only for expert hikers.
18. Homer Tunnel
Although not technically a stop, the Homer Tunnel is a 1.2km long unlined road that cuts through the Darran Mountain Ranges.
Each time we’ve been through the tunnel there has been a set of traffic lights set up to limit traffic through the tunnel. For this reason it’s not uncommon to have to wait up to 20-minutes at the start of the tunnel, so factor this into your timings.
19. Milford Valley Lookout
As you drive out of the Homer Tunnel you’ll be greeted with some more epic views out over the valley. There are a few lookout spots along the road here and you can stop at any of them.
We believe we stopped at the one marked on Google Maps as Milford Valley Lookout and the views here were amazing.
20. Hundred Falls
Just a bit further along you’ll be able to make a quick stop over to see the Hundred Falls. When it rains, which it does pretty much all the time in Fiordland, the water cascades off the cliffs forming waterfalls all around the park.
This particular spot is a scenic lookout that looks out to a cliff where ‘hundreds’ of waterfalls can be seen on one cliff. However, when there’s been heavy rain you really don’t need to find a lookout spot to see this beautiful, picturesque effect.
Usually, when you park up to wait for the Homer Tunnel you’ll have enough time to jump out of your car and snap some pics of the hundreds of falls around the valley.
21. The Chasm
The Chasm is an easy 20-minute walk located just outside Milford Sound village. The walk contains two foot bridges that cross the powerful Cleddau river to offer dramatic views over a series of waterfalls.
Unfortunately, this walk has been closed for a while now. It used to be an extremely popular walk so we hope that it opens again in the near future.
Where to Stay in Queenstown and Milford Sound
For Queenstown accommodation we’d recommend either The Rees for mid to high-end accommodation or Absoloot Hostel for budget-oriented travellers. We’ve stayed at both and they are extraordinary value for money. The Rees in particular is the best place we’ve stayed in New Zealand.
If you’re planning to stay in Milford Sound then you only have one option: Milford Sound Lodge. It’s a bit pricey but it is a beautiful place and we reckon it’s worth spending the money to stay in Milford Sound. It’s the only accommodation in the area.