SophiePiearceyHomer Tunnel
Milford Road
Sophie Piearcey

One of the most incredible and frequently overlooked features of Piopiotahi / Milford Sound is the journey there. For a taste of Fiordland’s diverse range of scenery, it’s hard to beat the Milford Road from Te Anau to Piopiotahi / Milford Sound.

A journey into the heart of Fiordland National Park

Climbing through the Southern Alps, State Highway 94 (SH94), or the Milford Road is one of the highest and most scenic state highways in New Zealand, it is also the only road access to Piopiotahi / Milford Sound. More of an adventure than a drive, the road to Piopiotahi / Milford Sound gives visitors a taste of Te Wahipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area and the diverse scope of Fiordland’s landscapes. 

The drive from Te Anau to Piopiotahi / Milford Sound covers it all, from lush beech forest and vast valleys to mirror-like lakes, towering mountains and impressive feats of roading engineering. While the final reward is the breathtaking vista of Piopiotahi / Milford Sound, the Milford Road delivers a journey which is every bit as impressive as the destination.

Commonly known as the Milford Road, State Highway 94 is the 119 kilometre (74 mile) section of road running from Te Anau to Piopiotahi / Milford Sound. The road finishes at Piopiotahi / Milford Sound and as it cuts through national park, there are no shops or services along the way or in Piopiotahi / Milford Sound itself. What the Milford Road does offer is plenty of opportunities to pull over and stop for photos, short walks and viewpoints. 

The drive can be done in two hours, but that doesn’t mean it should be. Instead, stop and explore easily accessible scenic spots like the Eglinton Valley, Mirror Lakes, the spectacular Chasm walking track or marvel at the incredible feat of engineering that is the Homer Tunnel bored through the sheer granite of the Darran Mountains.

Beware the beauty, Milford Road - credit Sophie Piearcey

WHAT IS THERE TO SEE ON THE ROAD TO PIOPIOTAHI / MILFORD SOUND?

**Note that due to damage caused by a significant weather event in February 2020 some points of interest on the Milford Road are currently closed.  Check with the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre or the iSite for up to date information**

Numerous scenic views can be enjoyed along State Highway 94 the Milford Road exploring lowland pastures and tussock country, stands of native bush and rocky, mountainous areas around the Homer Tunnel, and alpine herb fields. There are also a number of short walks from the Milford Road ranging from a short boardwalk past Mirror Lakes to longer walks like the rewarding Lake Marian track.

One of the most impressive sights of the journey along the Milford Road is the Homer Tunnel. Until the construction of this 1.3 kilometre (0.75 mile) tunnel through the mountainside, Piopiotahi / Milford Sound was only accessible to those intrepid tourists who arrived by boat or walked there by the Milford Track. Carved through granite rock, construction began on the tunnel in 1935 and was not finished until 1953, 18 years later. 

WALKS ALONG THE MILFORD ROAD

For many, the Te Anau-Milford Highway offers the first taste of Fiordland’s spectacular forest. So why not pull over and take some time to explore all the area has to offer? There are many walks and scenic viewpoints along the Milford Road, which only add to the incredible Piopiotahi / Milford Sound experience.  Click here to read about Milford Road walks

Water shaped landscapes at The Chasm - Pat Wall

IMPORTANT MILFORD ROAD INFORMATION

Check the current Milford Road conditions here

Despite its remote location and challenging conditions, visitors travel along the Milford Road throughout the year on their way to Piopiotahi / Milford Sound. While the road is busier during the summer months, drivers should be aware they will share the road with coaches, campervans and minibuses at any time throughout the year. The Milford Road is not to be under-estimated as it traverses one of New Zealand’s most challenging environments.  There is a comprehensive safety management programme for the Milford Road including avalanche control during winter and spring.  During the winter months the road will be closed if there is avalanche danger until snow in the mountains can be displaced by explosives and the road cleared of debris by heavy machinery. Plan your trip, always check the road conditions before you leave and allow plenty of time.  Alternatively take a coach tour. Let someone else watch the weather and the road for you.

We recommend allowing at least four hours to drive from Te Anau to Piopiotahi / Milford Sound if you want to stop and admire the spectacular views, or alternatively allow two hours to travel in and do your scenic stops on the return journey.

  • Drive time Te Anau to Milford with no stopping is a minimum of 2 hours 
  • You need to allow 30 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
  • There are traffic lights that may delay you at the Homer Tunnel and other areas along the highway
  • There are limited safe passing opportunities on the Milford Road. If you have traffic behind you let it 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. There is a pay phone at Knob’s Flat and an emergency satellite phone at the Homer Tunnel

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. Coach tours offer the added bonus of a commentary along the way to learn about the geology, flora and fauna and history, as well short stops for walks along the way. Check out the options here.

Kea - credit Tim Holden

 

 

FAQs about the road to Milford

How far is it from Te Anau to Milford Sound?

The drive from Te Anau to Piopiotahi / Milford Sound is 120 kms (74.5 miles). Allow 2 hours driving without stops. We highly recommend allowing longer to drive to Milford Sound so you can enjoy the spectacular scenery and short walks along the way.

How can I check if the road to Milford Sound is open today?

It is highly recommended that you check the road status before driving to Milford Sound. Find up to date road information on the NZTA site.

Is the Milford Sound road open?
How do I get to Milford Sound from Queenstown or Te Anau?

If you are a confident and considerate driver you can self-drive to Piopiotahi / Milford Sound. If you would prefer to sit back and relax then book a coach and cruise tour. Most kayak trips and scenic flights can also include a road transport option to get into Piopiotahi / Milford Sound. You can also take a scenic flight from Queenstown or Te Anau.

Is it safe to drive to Milford Sound?

Yes if you are a confident and considerate driver. See more about driving the Milford Road here.

Do I need to check the road conditions before driving to Milford Sound?

It is always a good idea, especially during the winter and spring months. Check the road conditions here.