Queenstown to Milford Sound Drive: A mini road-trip itinerary

Mirror Lakes Eglinton Valley on Milford Sound Road

When visiting Queenstown New Zealand, it’s probably also part of your plans to go Milford Sound to see the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. For those with little time, there’s an abundance of Milford Sound day tours from Queenstown. But did you know you can also spend a weekend getaway in Milford Sound?

You might wonder, is Milford Sound worth the drive? YES, it totally is! If you stay at the sound, that is. If you only have one day, I do not recommend you to do the Queenstown to Milford Sound drive, it’s much too long. But a mini road trip? Heck yes!

Here’s a sample itinerary for your mini roadie to Milford Sound:

Queenstown Airport to Milford Sound drive map

Day 1: Queenstown to Milford Sound drive (278km)

An early morning start in Queenstown is waiting for you. Either you spent the previous night in Queenstown or you caught one of these ultra-early flights.

Pick up your Go Rentals car directly at Queenstown airport when they open at 8am, then grab a coffee and off you are, on the Queenstown to Milford Sound drive. While the kilometres number looks ok, it will probably take you all day on the road.

The first part of your trip already turns out a beauty as you’re cruising along Lake Wakatipu.

Your first pit-stop is in Te Anau. If you have some more time, Te Anau is a great place to spend a night and visit the glow worm caves. 

Further down Milford Sound Road, two must-stops are Eglinton Valley and the Mirror Lakes. Eglinton Valley was formed by glaciers and not only looks picturesque but also starred as the Misty Mountains in Lord of the Rings. 

On calm days, the lakes in the valley reflect the surrounding mountains like a perfect mirror, hence their name Mirror Lakes.

Mirror Lakes Eglinton Valley on Milford Sound Road
Mirror Lakes on the Milford Sound Road

If you feel it’s time to stretch your legs, Lake Gunn Nature Walk might be a good choice. The 45-mins loop walk takes you to the shores of Lake Gunn and back.

There are many more lookouts along the way to stop and take pictures but the next longer stops would be at the Homer Tunnel car park (your first chance at encountering the cheeky Keas) and the Chasm. The Chasm is a 20-min loop walk through a dense rain forest to a waterfall with impressive rock formations.

After another short drive, you have completed your drive to Milford Sound from Queenstown. Welcome to the beautiful Milford Sound! It’s time to settle into your accommodation (see further down)

Day 2

Get up nice and early to encounter the first sun rays touching the mountain peak and listen to the dawn chorus of the local birdlife.

After breakfast, head over to the cruise terminals to check into the Milford Sound cruise you booked. We chose Southern Discoveries’ Discover More Cruise for our Milford Sound weekend getaway as they not only include the cruise through the Sound itself but you’ll also visit their underwater observatory the see the local wildlife from under the water’s surface and learn more about conservation work in Milford Sound.

Southern Discoveries boat getting a shower at Lady Bowen Waterfall in Milford Sound New Zealand

After you’re back from your tour, how about the Milford Sound Foreshore walk or one of the many other walks in the area? 

For dinner, how about a delicious meal at Pio Pio Restaurant? Let me assure you, your taste buds will be delighted!

Day 3

Today you’ll unfortunately have to leave the Fiordland paradise again. 

On your way back to Queenstown from Milford Sound, I suggest you stop for the Key Summit Track. Key Summit is the beginning of Routeburn Track and makes for a great half-day hike! With normal fitness and weather, it will take you about 3 hours return. 

This leaves you plenty of time to return to Queenstown at a reasonable time, drop off your rental and return back home.

More things to do in Milford Sound

Milford Sound Cruise

If you’re coming to Milford Sound, it’s pretty much a MUST to book yourself onto one of the many Milford Sound Cruises.

We suggest you take one of the cruises that leave the terminal around 10 am.

Maiden of Milford catamaran in Milford Sound New Zealand with Mitre Peak mountain and mirroring water

Milford Sound Overnight Cruise

Real Journeys offer a very unique way to see Milford Sound: On an overnight cruise! The cruise starts in the afternoon when most day-trippers head back already. This means you’ll have the Sound pretty much for yourself. They have a nature guide on board and you’ll get to explore Milford Sound from the vessel either on a kayak or a small boat (whichever you prefer). After dark, a buffet dinner is waiting for you as well as your private cabin with ensuite. A pretty special experience that runs from mid-September to mid-May.

Kayaking

Kayaking is the perfect way to get up close and personal with the local wildlife. Watch dolphins following you around and maybe even have an encounter with a curious seal. There are several ways to combine a Milford Sound Cruise with kayaking or, if you prefer, there are tours that are kayaking-only. 

Some tours only run during Summer but there’s a possibility for kayak tours in Winter. Message us for more info.

Yellow kayak in Milford Sound New Zealand

Eat delicious food

There’s really only one Milford Sound restaurant, but it’s a goodie. It’s Pio Pio, the restaurant that belongs to Milford Sound Lodge. In the morning, you can have a delicious breakfast (in Summer) and for dinner, they’ll serve you real treats for reasonable prices. Not one person we know of who’s had dinner at Pio Pio and not raving about their food! Seriously, give it a try!

Two glasses and a bottle of New Zealand red wine and appetizer at Pio Pio Restaurant at Milford Sound Lodge

Milford Sound walks

There are so many walks around Milford Sound and a few of them can easily be done before or after your cruise as they don’t take too long. The Milford Sound Foreshore Walk is an easy 30-minute loop walk past some of the most iconic landscapes. This is also the walk if you’re trying to find the famous Milford Sound swing. It will still take you a bit of searching, though.

Another great short walk is the Milford Sound lookout track. It’s yet another 30-minutes loop walk.

Grave Talbot Track, Gertrude Saddle and Key Summit Track are a little further away and take a bit longer but are very much worth it (Gertrude Saddle is expert hikers-only)

Couple in Milford Sound posing in front of Mitre Peak

See stars, so many stars!

If you’re lucky to stay in Milford Sound on a clear night you’ll be amazed at how many stars you’ll see sparkling in the sky! Being so far off the beaten track, there’s hardly any light pollution. This means you’ll see the Milky Way and all the stars!

Milford Sound Accommodation

Milford Sound Lodge

There really only is one Milford Sound accommodation and that’s Milford Sound Lodge. The good news, though, it’s a stunning accommodation that caters to all budget levels.

Just a few minutes drive from the cruise terminal, Milford Sound is all yours after the day-trippers leave. It’s pretty much just you and the Keas.

Aerial shot of Milford Sound Lodge, river and mountains

During the Summer months, you can join a free evening nature walk through the premises of Milford Lodge and learn about some of the amazing stories, plants and animals that make up this World Heritage Site.

The lodge’s chalets are designed to melt into the surroundings. They’re homely, cosy and come with huge windows to even enjoy nature from the warmth of your bed. 

The most beautiful rooms are the Riverfront Chalets with the Mountain View Chalets not far behind. Families or groups of friends love to stay in the 2-bedroom Garden Chalet Suites. And for those who travel with a campervan or motorhome, there’s the beautiful Rainforest Campervan Park with fully-powered sites and a spacious communal kitchen.

Couple drinking wine and beer with great background views in a Mountain View Chalet at Milford Sound Lodge
Riverside Chalets at Milford Sound Lodge in Fiordland during sunset
Milford Sound Lodge Rainforest Campervan Park

Book your weekend getaway in Milford Sound!

Our Weekend Getaways NZ Milford Sound package comes with 2 nights in the Mountain View Chalets (upgrades to Riverfront and 2-bedroom Chalets possible), a dinner for 2 at Pio Pio and the Milford Sound Discover More Cruise with Southern Discoveries. A Go Rentals car can be booked, too. 

A truly romantic getaway is waiting for you!

Click here to see the getaway!

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