Wet or fine, Milford Sound is incredibly grand. Mitre Peak magnetises photographers, and the fiord’s sheer cliffs excite both admiration and apprehension.
Milford Sound is by far the best known of all of the fiords and the only one that can be accessed by road. It is approximately 16km from the head of the fiord to the open sea, which means visitors can comfortably travel the length of the fiord to open ocean and return on one of the many cruise options available in 1½ to 2 hours cruising time.
Visitors to Milford Sound will not be disappointed - it is truly spectacular, with scenery that has remained unchanged throughout the ages. In 1883 Explorer James Hingston wrote "For thousands of feet upwards the eye looks upon straight cut rocky frontages, not worn smooth by time, or by wind or water, but as sharply defined and as fresh looking in all respects as if riven asunder but yesterday by the stupendous wedges of Titanic Masons.“
The Maori were the first to attribute the creation of the fiords to a 'titanic mason', Tute Rakiwhanoa who hewed out the steep sided valleys with keen edged adzes. No other explanation seems to fit, as it is impossible to comprehend the sheer breadth of geological events that created this seemingly perfect sculpture, as sheer cliffs rise vertically upward from the ocean.
The Milford Road is one of the most incredible and frequently overlooked features of Milford Sound is the journey to get there. One of the best ways to experience it is via a coach and cruise option with local operators who can show you all the highlights!
A stunning alpine drive, visitors need to allow plenty of time to make the trip if travelling independently as this is a steep and windy highway. Numerous viewing points and short walking opportunities present themselves en route, providing a chance to get out of the car and drink in the spectacular scenery and the sheer scale of the landscape. At 119km (approx 74 miles) from Te Anau to Milford Sound, the sealed road takes a minimum of 2 hours driving without allowing for stops. Motorists are advised to fill vehicles with petrol in Te Anau, although supplies are available at Gunns Camp in the Hollyford Valley and at Milford Sound.
Underwater world is yet another unique feature of the Fiordland environment. Beneath the water, the mountains continue to plunge down as steep rock walls until they reach the floor of the fiord at depths of 100-450m. Few visitors are aware that below the tide line there exists a fascinating and unique world. A fresh water layer that sits on top of the seawater filters light to allow normally deep water dwelling species to exist very close to the surface. A visit to the Milford Discovery Centre & Milford Deep Underwater Observatory or a guided dive tour allows access to sights rarely revealed to human visitors - highly recommended!
- Important Milford Road Information
Despite its remote location many people travel along the Milford Road each year, particularly in the summer months (October to April). Drivers should be aware that they will share the road with cars, coaches, campervans and minibuses. Plan your trip! We highly recommend taking the journey from Te Anau and making Te Anau or Manapouri your accommodation base.
- We recommend allowing at least 4 hours to drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound if you want to stop and admire the spectacular views
- Drive time Te Anau to Milford with no stopping is a minimum of 2 hours
- You need to allow 45 minutes to park and get transport or walk to the cruise terminal
- Check in for your cruise is 20 minutes prior to your departure time
- Delays can occur at the Homer Tunnel and other areas along the highway
- There are limited passing opportunities that are safe. Allow people to pass – don’t speed up on the straights
- Take your time and enjoy. Be a safe and considerate driver
- If you think you are going to miss your cruise you can usually be accommodated on a later cruise so don’t take unnecessary risks on your drive to Milford.
- There are public toilets at Knob’s Flat – about halfway from Te Anau to Milford
- There is NO CELLPHONE COVERAGE along the Milford Highway
- Fill up your vehicle with fuel before leaving Te Anau as there is a very limited supply of fuel at Milford
If you are at all concerned about driving the Milford Road take an organised tour from Te Anau and view the scenery without the need to drive. These offer excellent commentary about local sites and history, with short stops along the way. Check out the operators here.