New Zealand – the land of the long white cloud – is a beautiful country with many scenic highlights. One of the best of them is the incredible drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound, which weaves through a patchwork of snow-capped peaks, fjords, glaciers, pristine lakes and dense forests that will take your breath away.
To experience it, you will need to make a Queenstown car hire reservation if you don’t have your own vehicle. However, as the drive involves twists and turns through mountainous terrain, there are a few things you should know before setting off.
To clue you up, this article will outline twelve essential tips for driving from Queensland to Milford Sound. Take them on board, and you will enjoy a seamless drive and a truly enriching experience during your adventures in Aotearoa.
Tip 1: Hire the Right Car
Before embarking on your road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound, you must ensure your car can handle the journey. If you intend to use your own car, it would be worth having it looked over by a professional mechanic to give you peace of mind that it will last the course.
Alternatively, if you need to hire a car, ensure that you procure a vehicle that suits the mountainous terrain and, at times, challenging road conditions you will be navigating. A sturdy and reliable car, preferably with four-wheel drive, is highly recommended. Double-check the vehicle has chains if you will be setting off in the winter months.
Overall, making sure your car is roadworthy or choosing the right hire car sets the tone for a comfortable and secure drive, allowing you to fully appreciate the breathtaking scenery without any unnecessary concerns about the vehicle’s capability of lasting the distance.
Tip 2: Plan and Prepare
The road from Queenstown to Milford Sound has many highlights and points of interest. So, it’s worth planning out your route to make the most of your drive.
Along the way, you can see highlights such as the mesmerising Lake Wakatipu, which is framed by towering peaks and crystal-clear waters and best seen from Bennetts Bluff – a scenic viewpoint which offers panoramic vistas of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Elsewhere, Mirror Lakes perfectly mirrors its stunning landscape, creating a surreal experience. At the same time, The Chasm appeals with its powerful waterfalls and intricately carved rock formations that showcase the raw forces of nature.
These are some of the many places you can visit. So, it is worth drawing up an itinerary to enable you to see as many of them as possible in the time you have available. This itinerary should include places to stay overnight if you plan to do so and maybe one or two venues to eat.
Tip 3: Drive On The Left and Follow Speed Limits
In New Zealand, unlike many countries around the world, cars travel on the left side of the road. So, if this is something you are not used to doing, it is worth taking the time to familiarise yourself with the practice – particularly when it comes to turning and overtaking – before embarking on your trip.
Additionally, it is worth being mindful of posted speed limits, which are always in kilometres. As a rule, vehicles should not drive faster than 50 km/h in built-up or urban areas and 100 km/h outside of them. The exception is on motorways and expressways where 110 km/h is permitted.
It is worth noting that when driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound, the journey combines stretches of open highway with winding mountain roads, which demands a prudent and adaptive approach to driving.
Tip 4: Download Maps or Use Apps
Before commencing the journey, it’s wise to plan your route on physical maps or download reliable direction apps to make it more seamless.
While New Zealand’s roads are well-marked, the terrain can be challenging, so having offline maps or navigation apps with real-time updates ensures you stay on course even in areas with limited cell service. Consider apps like Google Maps or Waze, which allow you to navigate the scenic yet intricate roads you encounter more easily.
At the same time, physical maps can also serve as valuable backups, providing a tangible reference for the route.
Tip 5: Pack Snacks and Water
While the journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound takes you through the captivating landscapes of South Island, it does involve navigating long stretches of remote terrain with limited dining options. Subsequently, it is worth carrying plenty of snacks and water with you.
Doing this not only satisfies your hunger pangs but also allows you to indulge in impromptu picnics at scenic viewpoints. As the weather can be unpredictable, it is equally important to stay hydrated. Therefore, you should have an ample supply of water and hydralytes to keep yourself energised and refreshed throughout the day.
If you do pack snacks and take water with you on your road trip, it is imperative to dispose of any rubbish responsibly.
Tip 6: Dress in Layers
When travelling in New Zealand, especially on the road from Queenstown to Milford Sound, it is important to dress in layers due to the unpredictable weather conditions.
The climate can change quickly from perfectly sunny to windy, cold or rainy in a few hours, and even during the summer months, temperatures can fluctuate significantly. Subsequently, wearing layers allows you to adapt to changing weather, ensuring your comfort and warmth, whatever the elements throw at you.
It is also worth bringing a waterproof jacket, as Milford Sound is known for its occasional rain and mist. At the same time, sturdy walking shoes and a hat are necessary while out hiking or taking in the region’s breathtaking landscapes.
Tip 7: Plan Toilet Stops
It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound. However, it is important to take a moment to consider practicalities like toilet stops because a little bit of forward planning can save you plenty of discomfort in your moment of need.
The route includes long stretches of remote terrain with few facilities, so it is prudent to schedule strategic bathroom breaks. Plan stops along the way at towns such as Te Anau and take advantage of available facilities at visitor centres, cafes and attractions.
For a smoother experience, download toilet apps like ‘Campermate’ and ‘Toilet Finder’ onto your smartphone. They can be particularly handy in areas with few signs or facilities.
Tip 8: Take Your Time and Enjoy the Scenery
Driving from Queenstown to Milford Sound is not a race – unless you are really strapped for time. Therefore, you should make a conscious effort to take your time during the drive and savour the breathtaking scenery that unfolds along the way.
After all, this isn’t merely a drive. It is a journey through landscapes where every twist and turn greets you with landscapes of snow-capped peaks, serene lakes and lush forests.
Along the way, embrace the freedom to pull over at numerous viewpoints to capture the essence of this revered journey. Whether it’s the stunning reflections on Lake Wakatipu or the majestic peaks of Fiordland, each moment invites you to linger, breathe and immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty that defines this iconic road trip.
Remember to take lots of photos and write down where you visit and at what times to make it easier to remember weeks after you have returned home.
Tip 9: Fuel Up in Te Anau
Te Anau is the last town with fuel stations before reaching Milford Sound – so it’s wise to top up your tank here.
The remainder of the journey is remote and fuel options are limited along the way. So, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially considering the extra fuel consumption that might occur due to the mountainous terrain.
It’s also worth topping up on your food supplies and taking a bathroom break here, before resuming your journey.
Tip 10: Be Mindful of Wildlife
When travelling in the more remote parts of New Zealand, it’s important to keep an eye out for wildlife – particularly on the road.
The country is home to many unique species of animals which you might encounter during your journey. Look for signs that indicate wildlife crossings and reduce your speed accordingly. Also, don’t approach or intimate any wildlife you come across when hiking or taking in a beautiful scenic view.
Doing this will go a long way towards ensuring your safety and protecting the local fauna.
Tip 11: Check Road Conditions
During the course of your journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound, it is always worth checking the road conditions. The route passes through diverse landscapes, including mountainous terrain and road conditions can change rapidly – especially in unpredictable weather.
Before starting the next leg of your drive, it is prudent to consult reliable sources to get the latest information about the road conditions. The New Zealand Transport Agency provides real-time updates, ensuring that travellers can plan the next stage of their journey with awareness of potential challenges such as road closures or adverse weather conditions.
This simple, proactive approach facilitates better preparation and ensures a smoother and safer drive.
Tip 12: Check Cruise Schedules and Book in Advance
Once you arrive at Milford Sound, treating yourself to a cruise is highly recommended. The drive there is breathtaking, but the fjords, waterfalls and wildlife at Milford Sound are even better seen from the water.
Many tour operators offer cruises, which allow you to appreciate the towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls from a different perspective. However, Milford Sound is a popular spot – particularly during peak seasons – so cruises tend to fill up fast. Subsequently, to avoid disappointment, it’s best to check the cruise schedules and book your tickets in advance.
This way, you can secure a spot on the cruise of your choice and plan the rest of your day accordingly.
The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is a fabulous adventure that showcases the unparalleled beauty of the South Island of New Zealand.
By planning ahead, taking your time, and embracing the region’s natural wonders along the way, you’re sure to create memories on this iconic road trip that will last a lifetime.
So why not pack your bags, hire a car, hit the road and embrace the awe-inspiring landscapes that await you on this unforgettable journey?