The Best Photo Stops on the Drive From Queenstown to Milford Sound: A Perfect Milford Sound Roadtrip Guide

The Best Photo Stops on the Drive From Queenstown to Milford Sound: A Perfect Milford Sound Roadtrip Guide

Milford Sound attracts up to one million tourists a year for its natural beauty but did you know that the drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound Highway 94 is equally as beautiful? This blog will show you the best photo stops on the drive to Milford Sound that you do not want to miss.

If you are visiting the South Island in New Zealand, Milford Sound is probably one of the top things on your South Island “must see” list. I don’t blame you, there is a reason why this famous fjord is labeled the 8th Wonder of the World.

Milford Sound is known for the incredible fjord with towering peaks, hundreds of waterfalls and its rain forests. Most visitors take a cruise on Milford Sound to see this incredible place in its entirety.

What most people don’t realize is that the drive from both Queenstown to Milford Sound and from Te Anau to Milford Sound are equally as amazing as the cruise itself.

This post will show you all the best stops on the drive from Queenstown or Te Anau to Milford Sound that you really don’t want to miss.

Read Next: How to spend 2 weeks in New Zealand.

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Pinterest Pin: Best Photo stops on the drive to Milford Sound from Queenstown. This photo has 4 smaller photos in it depicting different sceneries of Milford Sound drive in Fjordland National Park.

How Long is the Drive From Queenstown to Milford Sound?

Most people actually stay in Queenstown and do a day trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound. The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is about 290 km (180 miles) takes about 4 hours one way and you pass by the town of Te Anau.

From Te Anau it only takes about 2 hours to drive to Milford Sound, making it the ideal place to spend the night before going to Milford Sound. This is exactly what we did during our 2 weeks in New Zealand.

I stayed at Bella Vista Motel Te Anau, which had great service and even their curtains are thermal ones so you stay nice and warm at night. Since Te Anau is a large town, you can find plenty of accommodation options as well as restaurants to eat at.

In my honest opinion, the drive between Queenstown to Te Anau is not very impressive although there are a couple of nice viewpoints. The best stops are between Te Anau to Milford Sound so you should spend as much time as you can as you roadtrip to Milford Sound fro Queenstown.

You will be driving by the side of Lake Wakatipu the first 30 minutes or so with a couple of nice view points such as Devil’s Staircase. However after you pass the town of Kingston the drive gets quite boring until you enter Fiordland National Park.

Drive-to-Queenstown-Devil's-Staircase
Devil’s Staircase

One fact I love about New Zealand is that there are tons of lookout points as well as parking so when you spot something on your drive, you can just pull over to the side of the road.

New Zealand is also great at giving you advanced warning on when the photo stops are coming up (usually 5km then 2km then 300m warning) so you will never miss an important photo spot.

Because of these beautiful lookout points on the trip from both Queenstown to Milford Sound and from Te Anau to Milford Sound, I highly recommend that you rent a car and drive yourself instead of taking a tour bus. Tour buses only stop at a couple of these lookout points on the trip to Milford Sound and you will be missing out on a lot of incredible view (and hike)!

Drive to milford sound best photo spot

How Difficult is the Drive From Queenstown (or Te Anau) to Milford Sound?

The obvious challenge to driving from either Queenstown or Te Anau to Milford Sound is that you need to be used to driving on the left side of the road (opposite of the US and EU side).

The second challenge is the length of the drive, especially from Queenstown to Milford Sound. Since it is a 4-5 hour drive without stop, you will get tired and maybe bored, especially between the Queenstown and Te Anau stretch. You probably also won’t have time to do all the stops on the drive to Milford Sound.

In terms of the road itself, the drive between Queenstown to Milford Sound is well maintained. The drive between Queenstown to Te Anau is relatively uneventful. However once you drive into Fiordland National Park (where Milford Sound is), the drive does get really windy with hairpin turns and one way bridges.

Even with all the turns and twists, you should have no issue driving to Milford Sound as long as you are careful. But weather plays an important role since Milford Sound are trains more than half of the year, so you should always expect rainy conditions.

In the New Zealand winter months there could be snowfall in Fiordland National Park, so you should have snow chains and know how to put them on and be comfortable driving with them.

You do need to keep track of your speed limit while driving to Milford Sound as I have heard of stories where people got speeding tickets for driving too fast.

Are There Gas Stations Between Queenstown and Milford Sound?

There are a number of gas stations on the drive between Queenstown and Milford Sound but you should always fill up the bank before leaving Queenstown.

Some of the gas stations on the drive to Milford Sound are located in the following towns:

  • Kingston
  • Lumsden
  • Mossburn
  • Te Anau
  • Milford Sound

There is no gas station from Te Anau to Milford Sound, which is 120km (75 miles) so make sure you fill up at Te Anau before you leave town!

There are a couple of gas stations at Milford Sound so you can always fill up before coming back.

Are There Car Charging Stations on the Drive To Milford Sound?

New Zealand is quite environmentally friendly so you bet you will find electric car charging stations on the drive between Queenstown and Milford Sound.

Besides Tesla Charging stations, there is another company called ChargeNet that provide vehicle charging stations and they are generally not far from the Teslas ones.

Some of the locations with a charging stations (whether Tesla or ChargeNet) include:

  • Kingston
  • Lumsden
  • Te Anau

There is no electric vehicle charging station at Milford Sound currently, but that may change in the future.

The Best Stops on the Drive From Te Anau to Milford Sound

Wait you may wonder why I am saying the best stops on the drive from Te Anau instead of Queenstown! Well the reason is I really did not think there were that many impressive spots between Queenstown and Te Anau except the Devil’s Staircase.

Therefore I am going to focus on the portion between Te Anau to Milford Sound instead!

There are a number of stops on the drive to Milford Sound and I’ve listed some of my favorite ones below. See map for all the stops:

Te Anau Downs Milford Sound drive photo stop

Lake Mistletoe

On your roadtrip from Queenstown to Te Anau, the first stop noteworthy on your drive is Lake Mistletoe.

After about 20 minutes driving out of Te Anau you will see the sign to Lake Mistletoe on your right hand side (New Zealand drives on the left side).

I did not stop at Lake Mistletoe as there are more lakes you can see later on. But if you wish to stop and check it out, there is a 45 minute loop walk around the Lake that’s family friendly.

Te Anau Downs

Te Anau Downs Milford Sound drive photo stop

The Te Anau Downs is just a few minutes down the road from Lake Mistletoe on the left side of the road. It is a pier on Lake Te Anau that has a ferry service for those who are doing the Milford Track (one of the great walks in New Zealand) to Glade Wharf to start their multi-day hike.

There is a parking lot at Te Anau Downs so Milford Track hikers can leave their cars there. Even if you are not planning to take the ferry it’s still a great photo spot as you can walk on the pier.

Eglinton Valley

Best photo spot on the way to milford sound Eglington Valley

Perhaps one of my absolute favorite photo spots on the drive to Milford Sound, Eglinton Valley is an incredible valley carved out by glacier millions of years ago. Now you can stand in the valley (safely) seeing all the peaks surrounding it.

There are signs on the drive that tells you when the Eglinton Valley stop is coming up and there are descriptions of what you are seeing at the photo stop itself. So don’t worry, you definitely will not miss this incredible photo spot on the road to Milford Sound (it’s on the left hand side of the drive).

Mirror Lakes

This is a photo of Mirror Lakes on the Milford Sound drive since it is one of the best photo spots on the drive in New Zealand

After visiting Eglinton Valley, the next view point on your trip to Milford Sound is the Mirror Lakes on the left side of the road. As the name implies, this small lake has the perfect reflection of the mountain on a calm and clear day.

The Mirror Lakes lookout is also a stop that tour buses make, so you know it’s good! I suggest going early in the morning when the sun is low to get that perfect reflective shot. After you park the car, you can enjoy the lake on the man made platform so no need to worry about getting dirt or water on your shoes.

Mirror Lakes photograph tip: If you have a wide angle lens this is the time to take it out. I tried to capture it on a regular zoom lens (28m on full frame) and was unable to do so.

Lake Gunn

Lake Gunn is an interesting one because a big part of the lake is on the left side of the road to Milford Sound then the next part is on the right hand side. We were quite confused as we were driving because signs pointed to both sides.

Lake Gunn best photo spot on the drive to milford sound

There is a 45 min look walk through the beech forest if you want to do that (I have not personally tried). A nice and quick stop nevertheless, add that to your list of things to see on the trip to Milford Sound!

Cascade Creek View Point

Cascade Creek view point is another of my favorite view point along the road to Milford Sound on the left hand side. Even though the name says Cascade Creek, the drawing point (for me at least) is not the creek but the beautiful lupine field.

Cascade Creek Lupine Field best stops on the trip to Milford Sound

We drove by it the first time on our trip to Milford Sound so I made a mental note to stop the next time. There are Chinese tour buses that stop here so you know it’s a great stop (otherwise these tour buses will not bother to stop). I have a thing with Lupines so to me this stop is AMAZING but if you don’t care for lupines then feel free to skip.

Cascade Creek lupine field best photo spots on the way to milford sound

The Divide (Key Summit Track and Routeburn Track)

The Divide itself is not much but it is the starting (or ending) point of the famous Routeburn Track, one of the great walks in New Zealand.

The Key Summit Track is a day hike on the Routeburn Track and the effort to reward ratio is HIGH. Most of the hike is in the forest and after 1.5 hours of gradual uphill you will have an incredible view of the surrounding peaks as well as Lake Marian, an alpine lake that you can hike to (discussed later and in a separate post).

Lake Marian view from Key Summit Track milford sound
View of Lake Marian from Key Summit Track

The Divide is on the right hand side when you drive towards Milford Sound and it has a huge parking lot for hikers as well as bathrooms (with toilet paper) and a bus stop. If you have time for a nice hike, you must not miss the Divide and the Key Summit Track!

Key Summit Track view Milford Sound hike
The other view of Key Summit Track

Pop’s View of Hollyford Valley

Wow! This is the only word I can use to describe the view from Pop’s View on the trip to Milford Sound. So far all the view points I mentioned are on the lower valley side so you get the view of the mountains from the bottom.

Hollyford Valley photo view point drive to milford sound

However at Pop’s View photo stop you get this incredible view of Hollyford Valley from the top of the mountain. The view is grand and incredible and make sure to bring your wide angle lens because you will be amazed at what glaciers helped form this beautiful valley.

Lake Marian Track

Lake Marian is an alpine lake situated in Fiordland National Park. Most people don’t know about this lake but it is truly a hidden gem.

If you do not want to hike, the first 10 min walk will take you to an incredible waterfall and you can turn back after. If you are up for a challenge or simply want an interesting hike, do the Lake Marian track and you won’t regret it.

Lake Marian Viewing Gallery waterfall milford sound
Lake Marian Viewing Gallery (10 min walk)

If you do decide to do Lake Marian I suggest either going a bit earlier or a bit later in the day as this hike has gotten so popular in recent years that the parking lot (there are 2) fills up by 2pm.

This is a photo of the famous Lake Marian Alpine Lake in New Zealand as one of the best spots on the drive to Milford Sound
Lake Marian

We had a difficult time finding parking when we got there after our Milford Sound Cruise. Lake Marian hike is 3 hours return but you probably will end up spending 4-5 hours because the track is not easy (lots of big rocks so you need to watch where you step), you can get lost quite easily and you probably will want to spend some time at Lake Marian to take in the view.

Homer Tunnel

After the Divide, Highway 94 to Milford Sound gets significantly more windy and narrow with hair pin turns. As you slowly drive your way up the mountain, you will eventually stop in a queue to cross the famous Homer Tunnel, a 1.2km tunnel dug through the mountain.

Homer Tunnel View Point milford sound drive
Homer Tunnel View Point

There is a great photo spot/ view point right before the Homer Tunnel so you can either pull over for some photos or just leave your car in the queue (if the queue is long enough, there is a timer) to take some shots. You will be surrounded by mountains and occasionally you may even see a waterfall at this point.

Homer Tunnel Milford Sound drive
The queue to enter the tunnel

Homer Tunnel View Point Photograph Tip: Visit the view point when you are coming back from Milford Sound as the parking will be on your left hand side immediately after you exit the tunnel.

homer tunnel milford sound drive

The Chasm

Another popular tour bus stop with a huge parking lot on the left side of the road, the Chasm is a nice and easy 15-20 minute return walk to see a water-sculpted chasm.

The Chasm best photo spots on the drive to milford sound

You will be stopping on a bridge and see a powerful waterfall below your feet. This chasm is formed by the Cleddau River down the narrow rocky formation forming this chasm.

This actually really reminded me of the Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park but on a smaller scale. If you are not into hiking then the Chasm to Milford Sound is a great family friendly activity.

The Chasm the best view spots on the way to milford sound

After the Chasm you will continue to drive on the windy road for about 10-15 minutes before you reach the Milford Sound Cruise Terminal parking lots.

Miford sound cruise terminal

There are a few different parking lots and the closest car park to the Milford Sound cruise terminal is still a 10 minute walk.

I highly recommend that you take one of the earlier cruises (before 11am) because the closer parking lots fill up REALLY fast. Also most of the tour buses come in around 12pm so unless you want to do the cruise with an organized bus tour, it’s better to do the cruise earlier.

Read Next: All You Need to Know About the Milford Sound Cruise.

We got to Milford Sound at about 10am and most of the spots were already filled up in the two closer parking lots.

Once the spots fill up, you will need to park further away from the Milford Sound cruise terminal and walk a good 20-30 minutes. So definitely keep that in mind as you plan your trip to Milford Sound as you don’t want to be late for your cruise (you need to check in with the Cruise operators at least 15 minutes before departure also).

If you are driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound and want to catch the cruises before 11am then you basically need to leave by 6am. If you are driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound for an 11am cruise or earlier then leave no later than 8am.

There are also a lot of sandflies at Milford Sound so either cover yourself up or put on a insect repellent before you visit Milford Sound and all its magnificence. The sandflies are really vicious and will keep you itchy for weeks (I’m not kidding!)

This is a photo of a girl standing on the Milford Sound Cruise on a sunny days

Tips to Viewing and Photographing the Lookout Points on the Drive to Milford Sound

It may be tempting to stop at all these amazing photo stops when you are driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound or from Te Anau to Milford Sound. But unless you gave yourself enough time, you will probably only have time to stop at 2-3 lookout points before you run out of time to reach your Milford Sound cruise.

In the blog, I mentioned which side of the road these viewing spots are on the road to Milford Sound. Since New Zealand drives on the left hand side of the road (same for the UK, Japan and South Africa), I suggest that you do those stops on the left side first when you are driving to Milford Sound: Te Anau Downs, Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, Cascade Creek (Lupine field), etc.

You can do the rest of the stops on your way back to Te Anau since you will have more time. I highly suggest that you spend 1-3 nights in Te Anau to give yourself enough time to explore Milford Sound. One cruise to Milford Sound is simply not enough and does not do this place justice.

We spent a couple of nights in Te Anau so we could have enough time to do the hikes, take photos and enjoy the Milford Sound cruise. And if you are adventurous enough, you can always venture to Doubtful Sound.

If you are a photography enthusiasts, definitely bring a wide angle lens with you to capture the entire scenery! I also suggest bringing a zoom lens in case you want to focus in on anything in particular.

Photo stop on the drive to milford sound

Final Thoughts On Roadtrip to Milford Sound

Photos are hard to do Fiordland National Park justice and you really have to go see it yourself. I drove back and forth on Highway 94 to Milford Sound 4 times total and still barely had enough time to see all the best photo stops on the road. You will inevitably spend longer than intended at these Milford Sound lookout points and that’s okay! Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to prepare.

If you are more of an active person and likes to hike, then you definitely should do some of the day hikes I highlighted above: Key Summit Track and Lake Marian Track. Those two hikes were really amazing as you get completely different views.

However if you are more of an experienced hiker and wants something more challenging, then be sure to check out East Branch track and Gertrude Valley hike to Gertrude Saddle.

For those who want to do multi day hikes, there are 3 along the road to Milford Sound: Milford Track (4 days), the Hollyford Track (4 days), and the Routeburn Track (2-3 days). As you can see, you can spend weeks in Milford Sound and still not see everything.

Like this post? Pin this Road Trip Guide to Milford Sound to Pinterest!

Visiting New Zealand and Milford Sound? Check out this blog on The best photo stops on the drive to Milford sound in the South Island #NewZealand #Travelguide
Visiting New Zealand and Milford Sound? Check out this blog on The best photo stops on the drive to Milford sound in the South Island #NewZealand #Travelguide
Pinterest Pin: Best Photo stops on the drive to Milford Sound from Queenstown. This photo has 4 smaller photos in it depicting different sceneries of Milford Sound drive in Fjordland National Park.