The Milford Road
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You can walk into Fiordland National Park directly from Te Anau and Manapouri, as our towns are built on the national park's eastern boundary. However, there's also a road, called the Milford Road, heading north from Te Anau that enters the national park and ends, 120km later, at the majestic and world-famous fiord at Milford Sound. The Milford Road is the only sealed road inside the national park and is known as one of the most scenic roads in the world. There are plenty of places to stop and admire the view and go for short walks along the way.
The first part of the journey up the Milford Road from Te Anau travels up the eastern side of Lake Te Anau until you get to the wharf for the boat that carries people across to the western side of the lake to start the Milford Great Walk track. You then drive past farm land belonging to an extremely large sheep farm, before entering the national park, with beautiful southern beech forest on both sides. You then travel up the wide, stunning Eglinton Valley (pictured at the top of this page). More than an hour after leaving Te Anau you get to the start of the famous Routeburn Great Walk track at a place known as the Divide, which is just before the land falls away into the awesome Hollyford Valley. From the Divide you travel through the Homer road tunnel and then down some hairpin bends to get to Milford Sound.
There are plenty of marked stops along the route. These include Mirror Lakes, which has fabulous reflections, the Chasm, a rushing river with amazing sculpted rocks, and Key Summit, a small peak accessible from the start of the Routeburn Great Walk track at the Divide car park. Another great place to pull over is in the Eglinton Valley. Get someone to take your photo while you jump into the air, giving the optical illusion that you are jumping over the distant peaks.
You can also take a detour down the Hollyford Road, which takes you along the start of the Hollyford Valley. There are several awesome short walks that you can do from this road, and it's also the start of the Hollyford Valley multi-day walk.
Mini-coach and coach transport on the Milford Road
If you want a relaxing option that enables you to gaze out the window and arrive at Milford Sound refreshed, you may wish to choose a mini-coach or coach instead of driving yourself. This is also a great option for sustainability reasons. You can support one of Te Anau's mini-coach park transport providers. Tracknet offers scheduled services on the Milford Road to access the boat wharf for the Milford Track, the trail head of the Routeburn Track, and Milford Sound. Another transport provider is Trips and Tramps. Mini-coach drivers often give you a value-added journey by scheduling in stops at interesting spots along the route.
Taking your own vehicle on the Milford Road
There is no road toll on the Milford Road - you can drive straight into the National Park at no charge. Given the length of the journey to Milford Sound, and the many beautiful stops along the way, it is sensible to start your journey in Te Anau rather than somewhere further afield such as Queenstown. Remember to drive slowly and be vigilent; it is a bendy road in places and if you drive slowly you will be safer and enjoy the scenery more. So plan plenty of time for your journey. Remember to drive on the left. The Milford Road is sadly one of the most crash-prone roads in New Zealand, due to speeding and tired drivers hell-bent on getting to Milford Sound, and drivers who forget to drive on the left. Remember this is a remote area, so it takes a while for emergency services to arrive at a crash scene. Drive carefully!
Staying in Milford Sound or along the Milford Road
To make your trip up and down the Milford Road even more relaxed, why not spend a night in Milford Sound or along the Milford Road? You can choose to stay a night at Milford Sound in the Milford Sound Lodge, which offers luxury accommodation to backpacker accommodation and camp sites. Or alternatively you can stay in two places along the road, Knobs Flat (studio units and camp sites) and Gunn's Camp (old-school hut accommodation).
Closure of the Milford Road
Occasionally the Milford Road is closed due to avalanche risk or rock fall or heavy snow. There are safety systems in place to protect vehicles on the road, so if the road is too dangerous to travel it will be closed. You can find out at any information centre in Te Anau about whether the road is open, or you can look at the official Milford Road page. It is also important to carry snow chains if there is a requirement to do so (there is a big sign telling you as you enter the park). If you don't have chains, you may be turned back further up the Milford Road and have had a wasted journey trying to get to Milford Sound.
If the road is closed it can be a benefit! You can still have an amazing time in Fiordland National Park. Stay in Te Anau or Manapouri and access the park directly from these towns; they are both on the border of the park and from here you can stroll on the Kepler Great Walk track, take boat cruises on our beautiful lakes, take a flight in one of our helicopters or planes, or access Doubtful Sound.
Alternatively, it may be the case that a large section of the Milford Road, giving you access to beautiful places, is still open and it is only the last section to Milford Sound that is shut. This is commonly the case, and in which case you may be able to still drive down the Hollyford Road, which is a side road before you get to the final section to Milford Sound. The Hollyford Road has several easy short walks accessible from it, and some longer walks, so it's definitely one not to miss.