Queenstown to Milford Sound is a route driven by campers, tour buses and even cyclist (mostly) all year round. This route takes 185 km and has been referred to as ‘one of the finest alpine drives in the world’. But this route is not one to be driven by all, as major warnings along the road and in tourist leaflets hinting about the potential dangers on route.
Nevertheless this road passes numerous breathtaking views of snow capped mountains (even in the summer months), glacial lakes full of crystal clear waters (in particular Mirror Lake) and dramatic shear faced granite cliffs of Te Anau Downs. This area, also known as Fiordland, became a National Park in 1952 and covers a total of 1.2 million hecatares. The very first visit was Captain Cook in 1773, but due to the landscape and isolated location it didn’t really become a place to settle until many years after.
If driving yourself you should really stop at Te Anau or the numerous DOC sites to make it easier, as well as have the chance to catch the early cruises which are often less busy.
At the end of the road you reach one of the 14 sounds on the South West coast of South Island in Fiordland called Milford Sounds. This is the most popular in terms of tourists due to its accessibility as well as travel boats. We choose the company Cruise Milford, which offered just under 2 hour cruise around the sound, with excellent commentary about the wildlife and landscape and not to forget the endless cups of tea and coffee on offer. Instead of a cruise you can opt for a special flight across the area but it is slightly above most peoples budget!
The unique landscape of Fiordland is due to New Zealand’s past glaciers which have carved through the valley. Even though it is called a sound, this isn’t technically true as a ‘sound’ is a geographical river valley that has been flooded due to land sinking. Milford Sound is a16km fiord, passing Mitre Peak, waterfalls and out into the Tasman Sea. If wanting to visit, have a look at the weather forecast as heavy downpours are frequent throughout the year, in one year they receive about 7-8m of rain!
For a less popular sound try Doubtful Sound, which is still practically ‘untouched’ by tourists,but this comes with a price tag.