Driving to Milford Sound means exploring one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country at your own pace. Getting to Milford Sound is an adventure in itself. There are various options to reach Milford Sound – from scenic flights, helicopter and coach tours. However many visitors choose to drive themselves via the Milford Road.
Hiring a rental car is one the most common ways to reach Milford Sound. There are a number of car hire operators in Queenstown, Wanaka or Te Anau (closest towns to Milford Sound). Many visitors choose to self drive in New Zealand and including a drive to Milford Sound will be a highlight.
Queenstown is the biggest tourist town close to Milford Sound and is famous as the home of adventure! Many visitors who drive to Milford Sound choose to start from Queenstown and complete the return journey in 1 day. However be aware that the journey is around 4-5 hours each way from/to Queenstown. You should allow extra time for some scenic stops on the Milford Sound road, and if you include the scenic cruise on Milford Sound too (highly recommended) then you are looking at a very long day.
We recommend sharing the driving and setting off early so you have as much time as possible to stop off at scenic points on the Milford Sound road and also have some time to explore when you reach Milford Sound itself. Alternatively consider an overnight stop in Te Anau to break up your journey.
Te Anau is the closest town to Milford Sound and the jumping off point to explore the Fiordland National Park. We think it is a great place to spend a couple of days too. Set on the scenic Lake Te Anau the pace is slower than the tourist towns of Queenstown and Wanaka and the locals are a great bunch of people!
Driving to Milford Sound takes 2-3 hours one way from Te Anau. This makes for a great day out with time to explore.
Here is some helpful information for when you arrive at Milford Sound:
The drive on the Milford Road is really spectacular, with stunning scenery along the way. This includes vast alpine landscapes, towering mountains, and clear, beautiful lakes. There are several popular scenic stops along the way. (* marks those we think you can fit in on a 1 day return drive to Milford Sound)
This is a scenic road which carries some risks to be aware of. The road is narrow and winding in places and should not be attempted by new or very inexperienced drivers. It is also important to allow enough time if you are booked on a Milford Sound cruise and consider sharing the driving with others to avoid fatigue.
It is also important to be aware that the Milford Road is an alpine route and subject to extreme weather conditions such as heavy rain, slips, ice and snow. In winter, the road may be closed due to snow and ice, and can remain so for up to several days at a time (although this is unusual). It is always essential to check the weather forecast for Milford Sound and the road conditions before embarking on your journey. Your vehicle should always carry snow chains in winter and all hire car companies should provide snow chains for you.
Another popular way to reach Milford Sound is by bus or coach tour. Several tour companies operate daily services from both Queenstown and Te Anau, offering a more comfortable and stress-free option for those who don’t want to drive themselves. The bus journey takes around 4-5 hours from Queenstown and around 2-3 hours from Te Anau, and it provides an opportunity to sit back, relax, and enjoy the stunning scenery along the way. Some coaches even have glass roof panels so you can admire the mountain peaks from your seat! View Milford Sound Coach Tour Options.
For those who want a more unique, bucket list experience, there are also helicopter and fixed plane tours that fly directly to Milford Sound. These depart from Queenstown, Wanaka or Te Anau and offer breathtaking aerial views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. Scenic helicopter flights also include glacier landings.
Our Opinion: Driving to Milford Sound is an affordable and popular way to explore, Visitors can experience the Milford Sound road and include several scenic stops on their journey. However careful planning should be undertaken to avoid fatigue and no inexperienced driver should attempt this route.