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New Zealand self drive Queenstown to Milford Sound

Queenstown to Te Anau.

The following is an itinerary for an independent day trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound and is typical of the detailed itinerary information you will receive as part of the comprehensive documentation for your itinerary

Queenstown.

Early settlers and visitors to Queenstown came for the Otago gold rush of the 1860’s and the establishment of farming stations, but today it is the breathtaking beauty of the Queenstown landscape and its recreational facilities that draw people here.

Year round cruises operate on Lake Wakatipu with TSS Earnslaw to Walter Peak Farm including evening trips that include a buffet dinner at the station, farm visit and horse treks offered. Take a stunning lakeside drive down to Glenorchy the venue for a Dart River wilderness safari by jet boat or Dart River Funyak Safari into the Mount Aspiring National Park. White water rafting in Queenstown on the Shotover River and Kawarau River, the Shotover River jet boat for thrills or in the upper reaches great white water rafting for family adventures. Try the world famous bungy jump from the historic Kawarau Bridge.

Fiordland National Park can be visited from Queenstown on Milford Sound day cruises or Doubtful Sound day cruises by coach or to enjoy the full Milford Sound experience including a cruise, but in a shorter time, consider one or both directions by Milford Sound scenic flights with fantastic aerial views of the National Park. Milford Sound overnight cruises and Doubtful Sound overnight cruises can also be taken from your Queenstown base.

From Queenstown you can connect to multi day hiking on the Milford Track, Routeburn Track and Hollyford Track, or try one of the other shorter guide walks Queenstown has to offer including a one day experience on the Routeburn Track.

The Otago and Southern Lakes region takes top place for the most picturesque vineyards in New Zealand with Gibbston Valley and Chard Farm located in the spectacularly rugged Kawarau Gorge, other vineyards that may be visited include Peregrine, Waitiri Creek Vineyards, Chard Farm Vineyard, Amisfield Cellars, Mt Difficulty, Felton Road, Carrick, Akarua and Olssens vineyards. Whatever your taste in wine, there is sure to be something to delight your taste buds, and of course deliciously fresh food and produce to accompany. To make the most of your wine experience join one of the guided wine tours Queenstown is popular for.

Close to Queenstown is the village of Arrowtown, known for its historic cottages and museum where you can learn about the hardships of life amongst the goldfields. The village also boasts some great restaurants which, when added to those in Queenstown and the nearby countryside, will leave you spoilt for choice.

Golf Courses that boast fantastic scenery are located at; the venue for the Centennial New Zealand Golf Open “The Hills” and at Millbrook Resort Queenstown who also offer a great range of accommodation.

The Otago Region is a popular fishing destination with good sized trout fly fishing Queenstown with a guide can take you to the ‘special places’ hidden amongst the rugged landscape.

In winter Queenstown snow skiing holidays brings the town alive with skiers and snowboarders from around the world who delight in the diverse selection of trails offered by the Remarkables Range and Coronet ski fields. Coronet Peak also has a program of night skiing. For wonderful views of the mountains and lake don’t forget a ride on the Queenstown Gondola. Queenstown autumn holidays are a perfect time to visit to see the colors and cooler days for hiking

Queenstown to Te Anau 172 kms  allow 2 1/2 hours

Features:

  • Highway 6, the southern route out of Queenstown follows the shore of Lake Wakatipu
  • As you leave the Lake, note the Kingston turnoff, steam train rides in summer
  • Past Mossburn, pass through an area known as The Gorge, (Gorge Creek)
  • Cross barren tussock land known as The Wilderness.
  • Views of Lake Te Anau
  • Note the turnoff to Manapouri

Driving notes: Take a shortcut at Five Rivers (95km ex Queenstown, 11km out of Lumsden) to Mossburn, join Highway 94.  Going through Lumsden adds 10km to the trip.

Te Anau

Dramatic, rugged and remote the Fiordland Region contains the Fiordland National Park that covers more than 1.25 million hectares. Access is by just a few roads and walking tracks – not surprising that the Takahe, one of New Zealand’s intriguing flightless birds, remained hidden here and thought to be extinct for more that 50 years, before being re-discovered in 1948. Some captive Takahe (part of the species management program) can be seen at the wildlife enclosure on the shores of Lake Te Anau.

Highlights for visitors to Fiordland include Milford Sound day cruises or Doubtful Sound day cruises, or you can overnight on Real Journeys Milford Sound overnight cruises and Doubtful Sound overnight cruises. Enjoy spectacular scenery and wildlife spotting (watch for Fiordland Crested Penguins, Bottle Nosed Dolphins, New Zealand Fur seals, Blue Penguins & Dusky Dolphins). For day trippers you can travel to Milford and experience a day time scenic or Nature Cruise, or take the full day excursion for a Doubtful Sound Day Trip. Fiordland sea kayaking is great for those that like to get up close. Milford sound and Doubtful sound have their own special features and the make-up of their trips is quite different. Milford sound being a 118km road journey through spectacular countryside to the start of the sound, with its dramatic peaks. The trip to Doubtful sound involves a short trip (21km), boat trip across Lake Manapouri, a coach trip underground into the power station (whenever possible), and then over the Wilmot Pass, followed by the boat trip on Doubtful sound.

When travelling to Milford Sound take time to experience some of the many short walks and photo stops along the way and to appreciate the fantastic feat of engineering that the road itself represents.

The road out to Milford Sound requires concentration so for the driver to have a better experience and fully enjoy their day, consider one of the small group Trips N Tramps Milford Sound guided trips, locally based with many years experience they will give you a day out you will always treasure. Two options

For a more active expedition there is a Milford Track 1 day guided walk and multi day hikes into wilderness areas on the Milford Track, Routeburn Track and Hollyford Track

The main accommodation base for trips to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound is Te Anau, located 21kms from Manapouri, the departure point for Doubtful Sound, and 120kms from Milford Sound. At Te Anau you will find the departure point for trips to the Te Anau Glow Worm Caves that are accessed via a boat trip across Lake Te Anau.

Te Anau to Milford Sound 118 kms allow 2 - 2˝ hours (plus stops)

Features:

  • Five-Mile Lookout over South Fiord
  • Henry Creek Lookout over Middle Fiord
  • Te Anau Downs, 45min return forest walk to Lake Mistletoe.
  • Mirror Lakes, reflections of Earl Mountains, beech forest & wetlands (5 mins)
  • Knobs Flat interpretational display, geology and wildlife.
  • Lake Gunn Nature Walk easy access 45 min. loop track
  • Pops View, lookout point.
  • Homer Tunnel 1200m rock hewn tunnel, car park and nature walk, (15mins)
  • The Chasm waterfall walk, waterfalls and water-sculpted rocks, (20 mins)
  • Tutoko Bridge viewing point.
Driving notes: Recommend that you have a full tank of petrol before departing from Te Anau. The road is good out to Milford Sound; recommend that you allow plenty of time to stop for sightseeing.

Return trip Milford Sound to Te Anau is by same route 118 kms allow 2 - 2˝ hours

Milford Sound

The settlement at Milford Sound is primarily a disembarkation point for those arriving by road and air. Most visitors then take a scenic cruise into the fiord to best appreciate the spectacular scenery and wildlife. Watch for seals, dolphins and the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin. Take warm clothing to wear on board the boat, binoculars, sunhat and glasses and personal insect repellent to ward off sandflies – and of course your camera and accessories.

The Fiordland National Park is New Zealand’s largest covering an area of 1,251,924 hectares and encompasses a jagged coastline of many inlets and fiords (the two best known being Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound) as well as lakes, rivers, waterfalls and forest covered mountains. These mountains are home to the rare flightless bird the Takahe, thought to be extinct for more than 50 years before being rediscovered in 1948.

The Milford Road

The Milford Road is a unique journey into the heart of Fiordland National Park, part of Te Wāhipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Some of the most striking and significant features of the World Heritage Area are revealed along its route. Excellent short walks and sightseeing along this road

World Heritage Highway

The Milford Road is a unique journey into the heart of Fiordland National Park, part of Te Wāhipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. Some of the most striking and significant features of the World Heritage Area are revealed along its route. It is 119 kilometres from Te Anau to Milford Sound. The sealed road takes about two hours to drive without stops.

While many travellers will be satisfied to admire the scenery through windows of a car or bus, others will be rewarded by stopping to discover the short walks or viewing sites along the way.

The road is occasionally closed from the Marian Corner due to adverse weather conditions, particularly in winter. Signs at each end of the road notify motorists of closure. The no stopping signs between Marian Corner and The Chasm should be observed during periods of avalanche danger.

Motorists are advised to fill vehicles with petrol in Te Anau, although Gunns Camp and Milford Sound can have supplies.

An Historical Journey

The first human inhabitants of New Zealand travelled along parts of what is now the Milford Road to gain pounamu, or greenstone from Anita Bay in Milford Sound. The Māori name for Milford Sound is Piopiotahi, after the native thrush - piopio - now probably extinct. Permanent Māori settlements were located in the Hollyford Valley and around lakes Manapōuri and Te Anau, linked by well-worn routes through territory rich with eels and forest resources.

Milford Sound was named by a Welsh sealing captain John Grono after his birth place, Milford Haven. The first permanent European resident was Donald Sutherland, a Scottish prospector, sealer and ex-soldier, who arrived in 1878. A fjord and waterfall are named after him and he helped cut the Milford Track with Quintin Mackinnon, establishing a land link with the interior and a tourist route.
In 1889 William Homer discovered the saddle now named after him. The section of road from Te Anau to the Divide was completed by government work scheme gangs in the 1930s. Work on the Homer Tunnel began in 1935 but difficult conditions and interruption by the Second World War delayed its completion until 1954.

In 1992 the last section of State Highway 94 was sealed and new visitor facilities were completed at Milford Sound.

A Natural Journey

The Fiordland Mountains are comprised of hard rocks like gneiss, diorite and granite. The Milford Road begins on the ridges of rock debris deposited to the side of a glacier that once filled Lake Te Anau.

The U-shape of the valleys and the steep bare walls have been formed by the grinding and rounding action of glaciers. Just before the Homer tunnel the road enters a cirque basin, carved by ice into a steep walled amphitheatre.

High mountains stand in the path of prevailing westerly moisture laden winds that bring heavy rain and snows falls to the area. Plants and trees here have adapted to this very wet environment. On the dry terraces east of Lake Te Anau fire modified shrublands of manuka, bracken and young beech are very different to the forests to the west of the mountains.

As the road enters the Eglinton Valley red beech becomes the dominant tree, interspersed with important remnants of native grasslands and wetlands.

Walkers may see bush birds like tomtits, grey warblers, fantails, chaffinches and brown creepers. Rarer birds like riflemen, robins, yellow-heads (mohua) and parakeets are also relatively common. Native long-tailed bats and recently discovered short-tailed bats are active around dusk in summer, near streams and borders of the forest.

Beyond Lake Gunn silver beech trees are stunted because of the harsh climatic conditions. Mountain ribbonwood, hebe and fuchsia grow on ground laid bare by frequent snow avalanches.

Kea, our cheeky mountain parrots, are frequently seen around the Homer tunnel. Here buttercups and daisies grow among alpine shrubs and tussocks.
On the descent into Milford Sound/Piopiotahi occasional native conifers like rimu rise above the silver beech. Tree ferns, under-storey shrubs, mosses and ferns thrive in the wet conditions.

Milford Sound/Piopiotahi stretches 16 kilometres to the open sea and is 265 metres deep in places. The very high rainfall creates a permanent freshwater layer on the sea surface. Below this layer - stained a tea colour by material washed out of the forest - there is a concentrated 40-metre band of unusual marine life growing on and around the sheer rock walls.

For information about the Milford Road and a map showing the highlights we provide our clients with maps and a route guide:

Walks on the Milford Road

For Milford Road Walks we provide our clients with a brochure

Key Summit - 3 hours return
The Key Summit track is an ideal introduction to the impressive scenery and natural features of Fiordland National Park.

The track starts at The Divide carpark and shelter and follows the Routeburn Track for about an hour. It then branches off on a 20-minute climb to Key Summit, where there is a self-guided alpine nature walk.

Walkers will pass a range of native vegetation: beech forest, sub-alpine shrublands, and alpine tarns and bogs. Birdlife is prolific and tomtits, robins, wood pigeons and bellbirds are commonly seen.

Key Summit provides panoramic views over the Humboldt and Darran Mountains. During the last ice age, which ended about 14,000 years ago, a huge glacier flowed down the Hollyford Valley and overtopped Key Summit by 500 metres, with ice branches splitting off into the Eglinton and Greenstone Valleys.

Lake Marian - 3 hours return
The Lake Marian Track is signposted from a car park area about 1 km down the Hollyford Road. The track crosses the Hollyford River/Whakatapu Kā Tuku by swing-bridge then passes through silver beech forest to a spectacular series of waterfalls, reached after 10 minutes. The track then becomes steep and sometimes muddy during the 1.5 hour ascent through forest to Lake Marian.

Lake Marian is in a hanging valley, formed by glacial action, and this setting is one of the most beautiful in Fiordland. The lake is above the bush line and reflects the Darran Mountains which surround it.

Lake Gunn Nature Walk - 45 minute round trip
The Lake Gunn Nature Walk is an easy 45-minute loop walk suited to all ages and accessible to wheelchairs.

The walk provides an introduction to tall red beech forest and birdlife typical of the Eglinton Valley. Side trips can be made to several lake beaches and sheltered fishing spots.

Knob’s Flat
Here an interpretive display has been provided to show the effect of avalanches on the Milford road and give some information on the wildlife of the Eglinton valley.

Mirror Lakes - 5 minutes
A good place to stretch your legs during the drive to Milford Sound. Small lakes provide outstanding reflective views of the Earl Mountains. Waterfowl and wetland plants can be seen against a backdrop of beech forest.

The Chasm - 20 minutes return
Two foot bridges over the Cleddau River offer spectacular views of a series of waterfalls. Thousands of years of swirling water have sculpted round shapes and basins in the rock.

Bowen Falls - 30 minutes return
A boardwalk skirts the steep rockwall shoreline beyond the Milford Sound launch terminal. NOTE: Check to see if this Bowen Falls walk is closed due to geological instability. An alternative option is the Piopiotahi/ Milford Foreshore Walk, an interpretive walk of up to 30 minutes, starting from the main visitor carpark.

Return trip Te Anau to Queenstown is by same route, a further172 kms 2˝ hours

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