The Road to Milford Sound

Too many times have people drove from Te Anau, or worse, Queenstown, to get to Milford Sound and back again. Too many times! Hell, we have even been those people! And each time we have gone to Milford Sound, we’ve tried to do it all in a day: a 2-hour drive from Queenstown to Te Anau then 2 hours from Te Anau to Milford Sound. Then all the way back after doing a cruise. Well, no! We swore we would never do that again! There are so many great sights on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound, plus, so many reasons to stay in or around the Milford Sound area. We are going to stay here four days to prove it to you! Here we go!

Campervan contents all secured and ready to go, we leave Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park and hit the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound. It’s a 120km journey along Lake Te Anau and into the Fiordland National Park with numerous roadside sights, hikes and scenic rest stops.

Whoever said that the Milford Road was tough?!

Because the Milford Road is often described as quite a gruelling road, we are totally surprised about how easy the drive is despite the gale blowing straight at our campervan. There are straight roads, barely any other traffic thanks to the fact that we are driving midday (people usually drive early morning or late afternoon to fit their cruise in), and steady gradients. Easaaayyyy!

Entering Fiordland National Park

Once we see a huge sign off the side of the road saying: “Fiordland National Park” we are straight into the native rainforest. Thin regenerating beech tree covered in moss tower over our campervan, opening up every so often to reveal the Eglinton River.

There are plenty of pullover sections on the side of the road to stop and take photos of the forested mountains and valleys ahead. Our first main stop is within the Eglinton Valley.

Walking back to our sweet ride Walking back to our sweet ride
Can you see a reflection? I can't see much of a reflection... Can you see a reflection? I can't see much of a reflection...
Mountain: now you see me, now you don't! Mountain: now you see me, now you don't!
Checking out those icy waterfalls under the rain Checking out those icy waterfalls under the rain

The Eglinton Valley all to ourselves

One long straight road passes through an orange tussock-filled valley with a panoramic backdrop of mountains. It’s too scenic for its own good! Of course, we take our touristy photos. Then we run off into the valley like we’ve never had time to do before! We are all alone in the tussock grasses soaking up the views for as long as we like.

The Mirror Lakes

Now that we’ve stretched our legs and literally run around the valley like crazy people, we hop back in the van for only about 2km until our next stop, the Mirror Lakes.

A Department of Conservation (DoC) sign on the side of the road says: “Mirror Lakes 15 minutes return”. But we can literally see the lake at least 10 steps from the roadside! The DoC has some crazy ideas for timing!

30 seconds later, we have taken the boardwalk down to the Mirror Lake. Like the name suggests, the lake is meant to give vivid reflections of the surrounding mountains when the water is still. Well, today is not that day! There’s definitely a storm brewing and we have already had a few raindrops on our windscreen.

The dance of the diving ducks

Nonetheless, there’s a wee bit of reflection to appreciate and besides, the diving ducks totally steal the show. These black ducks that are swimming on the lake all of a sudden disappear under the water for a concerning amount of time. Once the ripples on the water’s surface clear, you can see the feet of the duck pushing deeper and deeper into the water! It’s hilarious! About 1 minute later, the duck will emerge like nothing happened.

Reflection or no reflection, we were still entertained at the Mirror Lakes. Now we are making our way into more rugged country. Mountains get higher, steeper and more dramatic, as does the weather…

The storm finally hits

Rain comes down HARD and the wind blows clouds so quickly that they transform the entire landscape – one second there are mountains; the next there are none.

We still take the opportunity to stop at various lookout points along the way, snapping up lines and lines of long thin temporary waterfalls that have appeared on the mountainsides. We can’t even count how many waterfalls we are passing right now there are so many.

Watching the scenery change in an instant Watching the scenery change in an instant
Delving into the Homer Tunnel Delving into the Homer Tunnel
Hundreds of waterfalls Hundreds of waterfalls

The Homer Tunnel

Our next planned stop is at the entrance of The Homer Tunnel, a 1.2km tunnel passing right through the mountains. However, the traffic lights for the one-way tunnel have been moved further back along the road due to an avalanche warning. Like we said, there is a serious storm brewing.

We marvel at the cascading waterfalls of the surrounding mountains. We can tell which waterfalls are permanent residents here by the huge pile of snow and ice formed at the base of them.

The traffic light goes green and we make our way through the avalanche zone and into the deep dark tunnel. The echoes of the van are deafening as we slowly make our way through the tunnel. Once on the other side, a huge sign says: “Avalanche Zone for 7km”. It looks like we’re not stopping for anymore photo ops…

Instead, we enjoy the ride with more and more waterfalls and a view of mountains leading to the fiord of Milford Sound.

Prepare for a stormy night!

Milford Sound itself will have to wait until tomorrow though because tonight we are parking up in a powered site of the Milford Sound Lodge nestled in the rainforest.

We check-in to the sight of signs pinned up around reception saying the Milford Road will be closed during the night. As we kind of guessed, a storm is actually non-jokingly brewing. Already our campervan is wobbling from side to side… Plus, is that a leak coming through our roof?

We’ll let you know how that pans out tomorrow, as well as if we manage to get on a cruise through Milford Sound. Ah, Fiordland, you so rainy… See you tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

It's not too often that you see the Eglinton Valley so deserted! We love the shoulder season!
It's not too often that you see the Eglinton Valley so deserted! We love the shoulder season! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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Comments
  1. I certainly do feel that staying in Te Anau is a far better way of exploring Milford Sound than staying in Queenstown. I was so impressed by the incredible beauty of FIordland, particularly the trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound. There were so many excellent (and not very well-known) stops along the road that I just had to dedicate an article to all these fantastic attractions.

    Comment avatar Pilot Mark
    01/03/2017 at 1:41 pm
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