Queenstown to Milford Sound is without a doubt one of the most iconic road trips in New Zealand and one that everyone who visits the South Island should add to their itinerary. The drive is a scenic meander through stunning landscapes from lakes and mountains to rolling countryside – it’s a drive to take your time on so allow plenty of time to stop off along the way and make the most of the journey. There are heaps of tour buses on the road as well as cars so you have no option than to take your time so get some good music blasting out and enjoy the ride!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Queenstown to Te Anau (172kms 2 hours 5 mins)
it may be tempting to stick around in Queenstown once you get here – after all, it is the adventure capital of the world but hopefully our 3 day itinerary will leave you enough time on your way back to get involved in some adrenaline fuelled adventures so for now it’s time to hit the road.
The drive down to Te Anau is truly stunning and many people whizz by in their attempts to get to Milford Sound before all the tour buses. This itinerary ensures you can take your time and enjoy the journey down – make regular stops on your way at any number of the rest stops and look out points along the way.
The road to Te Anau winds around the shores of Lake Wakatipu and with the magnificent mountain range aptly named The Remarkables in the backdrop, make sure your camera is charged as this is definite GO Snap Happy country!
As you leave Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu behind you, Lake Te Anau, the largest of the South Island’s many lakes comes into view and before you know it you will have reached Te Anau which is your final destination for the evening.
Te Anau is a picturesque township with lots going on in and around the town if you made it down here in good time. There are some great walking tracks which take you to the shores of the lake and the glow worm caves are a must if you have never seen anything like this before.
There are loads of accommodation options in Te Anau and plenty of restaurants to choose from in the evening making this a perfect stop off on your way down to Milford Sound.
2Milford Sound (303kms – 4 hours 25 mins)
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world, Milford Sound is THE MUST DO for anyone visiting the South Island. A great chance to give the GO Rentals hire car one final run out, the 4+ hour drive from Queenstown is well worth the early start to check out the magnificence of this most spectacular fjord carved out by glaciers during the ice age (that’s a long time ago by the way!).
Hop out of your GO Rentals hire car and straight onto a boat as this is a must once you get down there. With a number of companies offering day or night cruises, you’ll not be short of options for exploring the water when you arrive. Find yourself ‘ooooing’ and ‘ahhhing’ at the spectacular waterfalls, some of which are over 1000 metres high so be sure to pack the camera but also make sure you pack your wet weather gear as inevitably it rains down at Milford Sound. Some say this makes the waterfalls even more spectacular but we’re not too sure about that one!
For those wanting a more hands on experience of Milford Sound, why not give kayaking a go. There’s nothing quite like taking to the open water and paddling yourself out into one of the most inspiring places on planet earth. GO Play partner Real Journeys offer a 4-5 hour trip out on to the water taking in the serene Harrisons Cove and the magnificent Mitre Peak offering some spectacular views up to the Pembroke Glaciers.
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Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory
Due to its unique underwater environment, Milford Sound is home to species of black coral usually found at depths of 500m or more, including magnificent 300 year old ‘trees’ and the best way to check these old timers out is at the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory.
The Discovery Centre will send you on a journey back through the history, geology and wildlife of the Sound where you will also learn about the culture and heritage of this awe-inspiring place from local guides.
If you decide not to do the overnight cruise, preferring instead to head out in a kayak or explore the observatory, there are accommodation options at Milford Sound or you can make your way back to Te Anau but be aware that the road back out gets pretty busy with day trippers on their way back to Queenstown.
3Milford Sound to Queenstown (287 kms – 3 hours 43 mins)
Well, after what will hopefully have been an awe-inspiring day down at Milford Sound, it’s time to hit the road and head back to Queenstown. Thankfully if you stayed the night down here, the traffic should not be as busy as you head the opposite way to most people making their way down here for the day. Make sure you take your time – the roads are windy and will still be busy so stick to the speed limit and get back to Queenstown safe and sound.
Hopefully you will have given yourself enough time to have an explore in Queenstown or maybe get involved in one of the many adventure activities to be found here. We know you won’t have too much time so we have put together our highlights whether you want thrills or chills after the drive up from Milford Sound:
Adrenaline fuelled adventure
For those who have headed to Queenstown for adrenaline fuelled adventure, these are our highlights of things to do in a day:
1) AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy – Australasia’s highest bungy at 134m, this is not for the feint hearted – 8.5 seconds of freefall will have you screaming like a lunatic!
2) Skipper Canyon Jet – reaching speeds of up to 85mph this ride up the tight Shotover Canyon is sure to get your pulse racing. The 360 degree spins will get you closer to the wall than you feel comfortable with! Skippers Canyon Jet is also a GO Play partner. Bonus!
3) Coronet Peak ski resort (in season) – fantastic resort for pros and beginners alike, Coronet Peak is a GO Rentals favourite in the winter where lots of fun can be had on and off the slopes
Something a bit more…relaxing
We know that jumping off mountains and flipping jet boats is not everyone’s cup of tea but there’s more to Queenstown than adrenaline fuelled adventure. Here are our top three things for the more laid back traveller:
1) Ben Lommond – a 4 hour walk giving you some awesome views of Queenstown, the lake and surrounding mountains
2) Skyline gondola – take the gondola up Bob’s Peak and enjoy some award winning cuisine and some amazing views. If you want to get down a bit quicker, the luge is a lot of fun!
3) Arrowtown (22.1km – 22mins) – head out in your new GO Rentals hire car and check out this small town which was at the heart of the NZ gold rush. There are lots of nice shops, bars and places to eat as well as relaxing walks.
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