Despite its remote location, many people travel along the Milford Road each year, particularly in the busy summer season (October to April). Drivers will be sharing the road with cars, coaches, campervans and minibuses. There is less traffic in winter months (May to September) but road conditions require more caution.
Times and distances
The journey from Te Anau to Milford and return (along the same route) is 240 km (144 miles). An eight hour day is needed if you plan to take in the many scenic sights and short walks along the way, and do a boat cruise on Milford Sound. From Queenstown the return trip is even longer - 600 km (360 miles) taking 12 to 14 hours. So, for your comfort and enjoyment, we suggest that you plan your return trip from Te Anau.
Over 400,000 people visit Milford Sound each year, most during the summer season. Many visitors plan their arrival in Milford to coincide with boat cruise departure times. This can result in congestion at some of the scenic stops along the Milford Road during peak times.
The majority of coaches depart from Te Anau between 9 am and 10 am, and arrive at Mirror Lakes around 10.30 am, Knobs Flat at 11 am, The Chasm at 12.30 pm and Milford Sound for the 1pm cruise. By avoiding this pulse of traffic, your Milford Road experience will be more relaxed, with less disturbance from the heavy coach traffic and high numbers of visitors. If you have limited time, a non-stop direct drive from Te Anau to Milford will take at least 2 hours.
To avoid traffic congestion during summer (October to April), either leave Te Anau early in the morning (before 8am) or later in the morning (11am onwards).
Before you leave
There are no shops or fuel stations between Te Anau and Milford Sound. A limited selection of supplies is available at Milford Sound and at Gunns Camp (detour down the Hollyford Valley Road). Refreshments are also available on the boat cruises. Public toilets are only available at Te Anau, Knob’s Flat and at Milford.
Remember, dogs are not allowed in the National Park.
If you’re planning a relaxing day, taking time to stop and experience all that the Milford Road journey has to offer, make sure you have a full tank of fuel before leaving Te Anau, and take food and beverages with you. It is also recommended that you take insect repellent.
On the road
Milford Road is a scenic highway and everyone will travel at different speeds. If you are holding up other travellers be courteous, pull over at a safe site and allow queued traffic to pass. When parking at a scenic spot along the road, be sure to make the best use of the sometimes limited space available, so as not to inconvenience other travellers wishing to stop at the same site. Always be aware of pedestrians.
The road, although tarsealed and maintained to state highway standards is nevertheless a challenging and, in places, narrow and winding drive. The scenery can be distracting - take your time, be aware of other road users and if you wish to enjoy the views pull over with plenty of warning.
The Homer Tunnel
The Homer Tunnel was completed in 1953 and opened up Milford Sound to road access. The tunnel, at 945 m above sea level, is 1.2 km long and has a steep gradient down towards Milford.
There is no internal lighting in the tunnel, so remember to take off your sunglasses and turn your lights on before you drive in. The tunnel has two narrow lanes with a passing bay at either end for larger vehicles. Don’t forget to turn your lights off when you exit the tunnel.
During winter (May to September), driving conditions can be extremely challenging. The road can often be covered in snow and ice. Freezing temperatures cause the road to be icy in places. At this time of year the traffic numbers are low, so it’s advisable to leave later in the morning (9am onwards). Drive with extreme care, especially in areas where the road is in the shade.
You must carry snow chains for your vehicle during winter. (Snow chains are available for rent in Te Anau). Make sure you know how to fit them before starting your journey.
For current road conditions see the Transit NZ website. Roadside information signs at Te Anau, Knobs Flat and Milford also advise current road conditions.
The section of road between the Hollyford Road junction and The Chasm is a Restricted No Stopping Zone as this is an avalanche area. For more detail on the avalanche hazard and winter driving, pick up a copy of Transit New Zealand’s Awareness of the Avalanche Hazard brochure or see the Transit NZ website.
During winter you must carry snow chains for your car, bus or campervan. If you are not confident about driving in winter conditions take a coach, relax and enjoy the winter scenery.
Telephone services are available at Knobs Flat (card-phone), from the Homer Tunnel (satellite phone for emergency use only) and at Milford Sound (card-phone).
There is no mobile phone coverage between Te Anau Downs and Milford.
Te Anau has a population of 3,000. It has a wide range of accommodation providers with hotels, motels, backpackers' hostels, home stays and holiday parks, as well as many restaurants and cafes.
Accommodation is also available at Te Anau Downs, in the lower Hollyford Valley, at Milford and on overnight boat cruises on Milford Sound. There are several basic self-registration campsites along the Milford Road.
Campervan drivers note; there are dumping stations at Te Anau, Manapōuri, Knob’s Flat and Milford. There are no dumping stations at any of the camp sites on the Milford Road.
Do not discharge any waste along the road or into the National Park.