It is no secret how much I love Fiordland National park. It’s vast, its epic, its untouched, untamed natural beauty is alluring and it is full to the brim with epic adventures. From Queenstown, it will take you around two hours to reach Te Anau, Fiordland;’s base camp and worthy of a stop on your South Island itinerary. From there allow at least two hours to drive the Milford Road. In fact, allow half a day, why? There is so much to do and see on this one stretch of state highway that requires a flexible itinerary and an adventurous spirit.
From photo stops, to lakes, glaciers, towering mountains, and day hikes, Kea sightings, and hanging out of the window with your mouth wide open ogling at the views… you need the time to take it all in. The Milford Road is everything you expect from a New Zealand road trip experience and is an eye-opening, accessible look into the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage area. Fiordland National Park is huge, like seriously huge, covering 1.2 million hectares of land and home to Doubtful, Dusky, and the ever so famous Milford Sound.
Here are some of my favourite places to stop, take photos, hike and explore along the Milford Road… plus keep scrolling for what is possibly the most epic campsite in the South Island.
One of the only road-accessible valleys in Fiordland and most people’s first stop when entering the National Park. It is one of those pinch-me moments… is this real life? Like, how huge are those mountains in the distance and real Lord of The Rings territory if you know what I mean? I don’t think one can truly grasp the scale of Fiordland until you see tiny humans peppered across the landscape here. If you arrive early morning the roads are quiet and you will have this vast wonderland all to yourself. These mountains were carved out of glacial activity and are now covered in native beech forests.
Lake Gunn is stunning and possibly my favourite place to stop and soak in the silence of Fiordland. There are two options here, you can stop before the lake and complete the 45-minute little loop track that winds through the forest or keep driving past the lake and take the left turn into the day parking area, this is where we always go. If you have a campervan it is the chilliest spot, pull up make your lunch have a huge relax kinda vibe. If you are a bird lover then head here, so many Tui’s, Bellbirds, and New Zealand Robins.
Fiordland National Park is home to three of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The Milford Track, Routeburn Track, and Kepler Track. Key Summit is a day walk on the iconic Routeburn track. If you are lucky enough to be completing the whole track then be sure to add this sidewalk on before you descend to The Divide. But, if you are here for the day and fancy a short uphill blast to incredible views then get amongst. It is exactly that, short, epic, and well worth the uphill grunt. Views from the top don’t get much better than this. 360-degree mountains, a look straight down the Hollyford Valley and if you are really lucky then a sneaky peek at lake Marian over the way. Allow 3 hours to return for a gentle stroll and time for lunch at the top.
Oh Lake Marian, how beautiful you are. Honestly will never get bored of hiking this trail. Starting across an iconic NZ swing bridge and winding up a wonderfully constructed wooden platform alongside a river and crashing waterfall gives you a taste of the natural beauty awaiting. The whole track is uphill under a native bush canopy but the reveal at the top is worth every step, tree root, and rocky ascent. Truly breathtaking and a hike that everyone should attempt at least once in their life. I would be comfortable with a four-hour return for this hike but could easily spend so much time hanging out at the top, especially in summer.
Without a doubt my favourite stop on the whole Milford Road. This is also the stop I have the most success at spotting Keas. The Kea is New Zealand’s native alpine parrot and the only alpine parrot in the world. They are known to be notoriously cheeky and 100% cute. Just don’t feed them please, we need to protect these babies at all costs. Monkey Creek has a little freshwater glacial stream good for a bottle refill and views into the valley. Mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls await here. There is a sweet pullover bay at the bottom of the hill too so you are safe to snap away and capture the goods.
Did you know the Homer Tunnel is a 1.2km long man-made tunnel that sits directly under a mountain range? That’s right, way back when some very kind, brave folk created a tunnel that now connects Te Anau with Milford Sound. You wait your turn (with the traffic light system) and pass through the one-way tunnel slowly, carefully into the steep, winding road leading down through the Cleddau Valley. The Jurassic Park theme tune instantly enters my mind as we emerge from the tunnel, it is incredible. I say monkey Creek is my favoruite but secretly this view looking down the valley takes the cake.
The jewel in Fiordlands crown, the most photographed mountain in New Zealand, and the most incredible, indescribable beautiful landscapes are right here, you made it. It is Milford Sound, and yes, it is as beautiful as you imagined. I will forever be in awe of this landscape, I mean look at it. Simply stunning. Park up and hop on a cruise if that is your jam, join a kayak tour or explore the Milford Track day walk with Fiordland Outdoors if you are keen to tick off some of those Milford Sound bucket-list activities or take a wee stroll around the foreshore. The 20-minute loop will lead you to the secret Milford Sound swing and uninterrupted views of Mitre Peak. Whatever your adventure here enjoy it. It is truly magical.
Milford Sound Lodge
Okay, you have packed up the campervan and you hit the road, explored, hiked, and tuckered yourselves out from the adventure and now it is time to hit the hay before experiencing it all again. The Milford Sound Lodge is the only accommodation in Milford Sound and is home to one of the best campsites on the South Island of New Zealand. Nestle your home on wheels on the perfect size pitch surrounded by the Fiordland rainforest and nature’s very own soundtrack. Birds, waterfalls (most possibly rainfall), and epic views are all included in the price along with an awesome shower block, lounge area, and camp kitchen. Waking up with a cup of tea and the sound of rain on your campervan is possibly the most relaxing way to start your day, I can guarantee that.
Stay a little longer, explore a little deeper and enjoy the beauty of Fiordland right here in Milford Sound. You won’t regret it, promise!