We 100% recommend self-driving to Milford Sound. You can drive at your own pace, stop at all the pretty sights for a photo, make an all-important coffee pitstop, stop when you need a bathroom break. The pro list is endless in our opinion for self-driving to this natural wonder of the world.
Most tourists to Milford Sound come from Queenstown – a 4 hour drive away. Hence, we don’t recommend doing the drive in one day – that’s a whopping 8 hours of driving. That’s not taking into account the traffic you will indefinitely encounter on the narrow roads into Milford Sound. So, 8 hours could quickly turn into 10 hours.
Instead of doing the trip in one day, we highly recommend spending the night in the pretty little town of Te Anau and leaving early the next morning to catch your cruise from Milford Sound. The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound only took us 1 hour 40 minutes. We left at 7:30am & didn’t encounter much traffic. We were able to catch the 10am cruise – beating all the coach tourists who typically get the 12pm or later cruises. Winning!
In this piece, we will tell you the most photogenic spots to stop at en-route to Milford Sound as well as giving you the lowdown on road conditions, how much we spent & many more insider tips.
Where should I stop on the road to Milford Sound?
About 40 minutes from Te Anau you will find the very photogenic Eglinton Valley.
This valley was carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago. Today, steep rocky mountains covered in native beech forest line the valley. The flat floor of the valley is covered in luminous golden tussock grass. Luckily – there are lots of safe spaces for you to pull in and take lots of photos.
A little further up the road from Eglinton Valley is the equally gorgeous Knobs Flat. We pulled into the campsite car park for our photos. Importantly, Knobs Flat is also the last flush toilets before you reach Milford Sound.
Stroll among small lakes with gorgeous reflections of the Earl Mountains on this easy & short walk. The best photo opportunities here are on a bright & sunny day, unfortunately for is it was very cloudy.
The famous tunnel on the Milford road that signals the start of your descent through the Cleddau Valley & into Milford Sound. It may not seem like it on first glance but the tunnel is wide enough for a bus and a small vehicle to pass each other. However, traffic lights operate during the busy summer months to keep it safe. The scenery before you enter the tunnel is gorgeous especially on a rainy day, with lots of narrow waterfalls cascading from the surrounding cliffs. Driving through the tunnel is an experience in itself. Honestly, I was terrified.
Top tip – make sure you fill your tank up before departing Te Anau. Be aware, there are no petrol stations between Te Anau and Milford Sound. There is a little petrol station in Milford Sound (surprisingly the prices are competitive). There is also very limited cellphone coverage on the road.
How much petrol did we use?
We have a 2 litre engine car and we filled up in Queenstown and we made it all the way there and back with some petrol to spare.
Make sure you stock up on supplies in Te Anau
There are no stores or coffee shops on the road from Te Anau to Milford. If you’re leaving Te Anau early in the morning like we did, there are a few coffee shops in town that open at 7am. We recommend Sandfly Cafe and Wapiti Bakery. Freshchoice supermarket also opens at 7am.
Are there many public toilets on the Milford road?
Thankfully, yes there are – most of them are portaloo’s. However, there are flush toilets at Knobs Flat which we recommend using. All the toilet stops on the Miford road are signposted.
Be careful of the other drivers on the road
On the road to Milford Sound you will come across tourists driving really slowly. Randomly stopping in the middle of the road to take a photo or turning off without indicating. There are also “Fast & the Furious” wannabes who drive at least 20km over the limit and overtake where they shouldn’t. You definitely need to have your wits about you on the Milford Road. If you’re an inexperienced driver, we do not recommend driving this road!
There you have it, our top tips for driving what we believe to be one of the most beautiful drives in the world. We drove it this past weekend, and it was unforgettable. We made lots of photo stops as you can see from all the photos in this piece. Have you driven to Milford Sound? If so, what did you think? Are there are any other important facts we should include in this piece?