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Queenstown to Milford Sound: 13 stunning stops to make

If you’ve been searching for the best places to stop while driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound, we’ve got you.

Join us as we uncover the beauty spots, hikes, and activities that you need to check out on one of the most famous stretches of road we have in Aotearoa NZ.

The journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound is one that you can’t make without making a few stops.

Although you can technically do the 287 km drive in one go, it’s far better to explore what this road trip has to offer.

In this rundown, we’ll cover all of the main spots to see when travelling from Queenstown to Milford Sound.

Whether you want to stretch your legs on a nature walk or see a stunning waterfall, there’s something here for all nature-lovers… and if you’re headed to Milford Sound, that’s you!

The reflection of Mitre Peak and surrounding fiords on Milford Sound's foreshore.
Stunning reflections found along Milford Sound’s foreshore. Photo: Julie Gibbs.

The Best Places to Visit When Driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound

1. Lower Wye Creek

If you’re travelling from Queenstown to Milford Sound, the first place you might want to stop at is the Lower Wye Creek Track.

This 6.7 km return walk will help you get your steps in while enjoying the beautiful scenery that Queenstown is so well known for.

Despite this trail being quite short, it usually takes up to 4 hours to complete (even for fitness buffs!).

It crosses rocky bluffs, takes you through a large beech forest, and brings you to a wonderful viewpoint overlooking Lake Wakatipu. You’ll also see a hydro dam and have the chance to go for a swim in the (very chilly) river.

That’s largely because of the rocky terrain, but it’s also because there’s a steep incline on the way up.

For this reason, we suggest stashing a pair of hiking boots in the car to keep your ankles secure.

Pro tip: If you need to get to Milford Sound in a hurry, we suggest walking as far as the hydro dam before turning back.

2. Devil’s Staircase Lookout

The Devil’s Staircase Lookout is one of our favourite stops between Queenstown and Te Anau – and it’s one of the best-known too.

Thankfully, it isn’t quite as intimidating as it sounds, and you can easily snap the best of your photos on the road.

That’s right, there’s no extensive hiking here.

However, you should be warned that parking is pretty measly here and the minimal spaces are usually full.

While we suggest you stop to enjoy the lookout if possible, you can also do as we normally do and just enjoy the scenery as you drive the Devil’s Staircase without stopping.

3. Kingston

At just 45 minutes from Queenstown, you don’t necessarily need to stop at Kingston if you’re driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound.

The biggest attraction in town is the Kingston Flyer Steam Train. It’s a hit with young and old alike.

This beautiful old steam train offers public trips most Sundays from September to June. The journey takes between 1.5 and 2 hours, covering 28 km of track to and from the Fairlight Railway Station.

If the train is running while you’re in the area, we highly recommend hopping on board. And if it doesn’t, it’s an easy trip back from Queenstown.

You’ve also got the glorious Eyre Mountains Conservation Park nearby which is part of the “Around the Mountains Cycle Trail”. At an impressive 175 km long, it’s a hit with hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders.

If you don’t have the time though, feel free to move straight on to Te Anau.

Black steam train Kingston Flyer passing across a field.

4. Te Anau

Ah, Te Anau.

Not only is this place home to some wonderful restaurants, but it’s one of a handful of places where you can join a commercial tour to see glow worms.

Plus, it’s the official halfway point if you’re travelling from Queenstown to Milford Sound.

It is also a popular spot to spend a few nights, providing a shorter drive into Milford Sound… whether you choose to self-drive or join a [discounted] tour from there is totally up to you.

One of the things you must do in Te Anau is check out the gorgeous Lake Te Anau.

You can easily head on a nature walk like the Kepler Track or hit the water on a relaxing [discounted] cruise.

While there, you can also try out trout fishing or visit the native birds at Te Anau Bird Sanctuary.

And hey, why not take to the skies in a [discounted] helicopter to explore the heart of Fiordland?

You know you want to.

The following recommendations are our top-stops if you’re short on time or you’re making the longer trip from Queenstown right through to Milford. If you have more time for the next part of the drive, we suggest you follow our Te Anau to Milford Sound guide which includes additional stops.

A boat cruising on the calm waters.
Hop on board Fiordland Historic Cruises – one of many things to do in town.

5. Te Anau Downs

While you’re around Te Anau, make sure you make a pit stop at the Te Anau Downs.

It’s approximately 30 kilometres from Te Anau and boasts one of the most gorgeous nature walks in the surrounding area.

It’s called the Milford Track and boasts everything from ancient rainforest to waterfalls, valleys, and glaciers.

This 3-night, 4-day Great Walk requires a lot of forward planning though… tickets to the huts sell out quickly and you’ll need to organise transport including a boat transfer.

Plus, as this trail is only walked one way, you’ll end up in Milford Sound (so you’ll need to save the rest of these awesome stops for another time).

Given the length of this walk, most people reading this post won’t undertake it on the way into Milford Sound – but we had to let you know about it just in case.

And if you’re not walking the Milford Track?

Te Anau Downs is still a great place to stop for a picnic.

6. Eglinton Valley

After moving past Te Anau, you’ll hit the beautiful Eglinton Valley.

This is the place to visit while traveling from Queenstown to Milford Sound if you’re a beech forest fan.

The area is known for its beech forest. In fact, it’s one of the only spots in the country with large lowland areas of this forestry.

For that reason, it’s a wonderful spot to admire the steep and rocky mountains while you trudge along the tussock grass.

Oh, and did we mention the incredible New Zealand animals that you might encounter here?

Eglinton Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Area and is home to creatures like the pekapeka (bat) – though you will be lucky to see one – and endangered bird species.

So, between the gorgeous mountains, tree-lined hillsides, and beech forestry – there’s plenty to capture in a holiday snap.

7. Mirror Lakes

Next, you’ll come across the glimmering Mirror Lakes.

This is a real must-see on the drive between Queenstown to Milford Sound itinerary because it’s just stunning… though it is much smaller than you’re probably imagining.

The Mirror Lakes are approximately 56 km from Lake Te Anau and are surrounded by the Earl Mountains.

If you’re lucky, you may even see them reflected in the ultra-clear waters (hence the name).

We suggest visiting as early in the day as you can to avoid unwanted shadows in your photos when the sun is glaring down.

A lake mirroring the mountains of Milford Road.

8. Lake Gunn

Lake Gunn is runs along the main route to Milford Sound (State Highway 94, otherwise known as the Milford Road).

There’s a glorious nature walk here with a red beech forest and tons of birdlife, along with two different lookouts.

However, if you don’t want to go for a walk, you can easily spend your time taking in the mountain views and moss-covered beech forest that lines the waterfront.

9. Lake Marian Track

Lake Marian is one of the most photogenic spots on this road trip (which says a lot, considering how spectacular this part of the drive is)!

This is a wonderful hike that takes you around Lake Marian

The track is 3.1 km one-way and can occasionally be a tad muddy. However, the slightly muddy tracks are worth tackling for the magnificent mountains and alpine lake!

You’ll start the track from Lake Marian Carpark which is by Hollyford Road.

Get there by turning off Milford Road by Marian Corner – this should lead you toward the car park.

If completing the track in full, allow 3 hours to complete the walk and to give you time to enjoy the wooden viewing platform.

Or reduce your walk to a 20-minute adventure (return) if you’re just looking for the waterfalls (or if you’re short on time because you’re racing for your [discounted] scenic cruise.

Lake Marian with its beautiful reflections on the water and snow-capped mountains.
Photo: Angela Verbaarschot, NZTT member.

10. Monkey Creek

As you carry along on your journey towards Milford Sound, you’ll pass Monkey Creek.

If you’ve had your fill of natural beauty, you can give this one a miss… but the glacier-fed creek is surrounded by mountains and breathtaking forestry – so, it’s certainly worth seeing.

The water here is incredibly pure, and visitors often prove this point by drinking straight from the creek. Assuming it hasn’t just rained heavily, feel free to fill up your bottle – water just doesn’t get better!

And hey, you can’t beat the imposing mountains in the background if you’re looking to spice up your Instagram feed!

Monkey Creek with its lovely little stream and big snow-capped mountains on either side.
Photo: Peter Giordano.

11. Homer Tunnel

The Homer Tunnel is quite intimidating.

It’s dark and wet as it’s a 1.2 km stretch of road that’s drilled into existing rock!

It’s also a local icon. It took 19 years to construct, making road access through to Milford Sound possible when it opened in 1954.

A sign post before entering Homer Tunnel.
Photo credit: Philip Morton.

You’ll head through the tunnel on your drive anyway, but if you’d like to stop, you’ll notice several spots to stop by the roadside.

There’s one on the left after you exit the tunnel – this is probably the easiest pull-over you’ll find.

Oh, and keep an eye out for the iconic alpine parrots that tend to flit around here. Just watch out for your food or it might get pilfered!

Pro tip: As you come out the other side of the tunnel, be sure to have your camera at the ready. The switchbacks coming down the hill are an incredible part of this drive.

12. The Chasm

After you’ve passed through the Homer Tunnel, you’ll want to stop and check out The Chasm.

You’ll need to walk approximately 20 minutes return from the car park (400 m) through the tranquil forest to reach the Cleddau River.

This is where you’ll see the impressive plummeting waterfall that boasts serious water pressure and speed.

There’s a dedicated bridge above The Chasm that lets you look down on the waterfall.

It’s incredible for pictures but it can get relatively busy, so be ready to wait your turn.

Although the water itself is incredible, make sure you take a look at the bedrock and surrounding rocks.

The sheer power of the water here has created awesome smoothed basins and swirled chunks of rock.

And that’s well worth a photo or two.

13. Milford Sound

The final spot on this scenic road trip is Milford Sound itself!

From a [discounted] scenic cruise or a kayak trip to Bowen Falls, Harrison Cove, and Mitre Peak, there’s a lot to love here.

Oh, and don’t forget to visit the marine life at the underwater observatory [promo code NZTT]!

If you need a place to refuel, the Pio Pio Restaurant at the Milford Sound Lodge is excellent, and there’s another cafe by the Milford car park.

Whatever you choose to do at your final destination, you’re bound to be blown away by Milford’s natural beauty.

There you have it: the ultimate guide on where to stop while travelling from Queenstown to Milford Sound!

If you have any questions about the legs of this journey (or about anything else!), feel free to get in touch with us.

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