For incredible mountain scenery, you can’t go past Fiordland. Featuring New Zealand’s most visited site, Milford Sound, there is a reason this national park has made so many travelers bucket lists.
Even though it may look close by on a map, it is about a four-hour drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound. Although driving the entire distance in a day is possible, you will want to spend a bit of time exploring some of Fiordland’s other attractions, and other traffic and hazardous weather conditions can always slow down the roads.
Stop halfway in the town of Te Anau, which has plenty of accommodation options. It is the perfect gateway to Fiordland National Park, and will give you extra time to explore the park without having to travel all the way back to Queenstown. See some of the sights in the area like nearby Lake Manapouri, located a 20-minute drive from Te Anau. The lake is a popular starting point for any Doubtful Sound tours. Finish off your day with a stroll around the edges of Lake Te Anau.
Mirror lakes? Waterfalls? Unique birds? Freshwater rivers? There is plenty to see and do in Fiordland National Park beyond Milford Sound. The road to New Zealand’s most visited tourist attraction will take you past plenty of natural landscapes equally deserving of the international recognition.
Across from the Walker Creek campsite, the grassy plains in front of a river surrounded by towering peaks makes for some great photos. The Mirror Lakes are also well-worth a visit. On a clear day with no winds, the snow-capped mountain peaks will be perfectly reflected in the water. From the highway, the views are incredible as it winds toward a tunnel carved into the stone. Local birds use the opportunity to get up close to visitors and their cars at the tunnel entrance.
The mighty Milford Sound lives up to its reputation. The clouds move quickly here, and the weather in the region is ever-changing. Although Milford Sound is generally covered in sheets of rain, my first visit is perfectly sunny. Which is a rare sight for an area that is considered one of the rainiest in the world! If the sun is out you can follow the trails to the water’s edge and capture some great photos of Mitre Peak and the surrounding snow-capped mountains.
If you get a chance to see it shrouded in sunlight it is an unforgettable experience, but Milford Sound definitely holds its own in the rain as well. When it rains, the sheer cliffs of Milford Sound turn into hundreds of waterfalls streaking across the dark faces of the mountain. No matter what the weather, a cruise through the fjord is an unforgettable adventure.
There are a lot of different companies that offer cruises of Milford Sound, so you will undoubtedly be part of a huge line as tourists make their way to the various boats. Scenic cruises often take a couple of hours. The boats will take you up close to some of the waterfalls, so avoid the top deck if you don’t want to get wet!
There’s much more to the South Island! Make sure you visit Queenstown and its surrounds and explore the hiking trails in Mount Cook National Park.