The drive between Queenstown and Te Anau is a popular one, with scores of tour buses, cars and vans desperate to get to Milford Sound and the other wonders of Fiordland National Park. What can you see on the drive between Queenstown and Te Anau? Keep reading to find out!
Queenstown to Kingston
The first part of this drive takes you from Queenstown to near the airport (follow the airport turnoff). It’s not the most exciting start, but soon enough you’ll see Lake Wakatipu again, and the views are awesome. You can also drive up to the Remarkables Ski Area if you’re keen for a detour. There are great roadside viewpoints and the short hike to Lake Alta is recommended (only in summer).
The views start to open up pretty quickly after that and you’ll have lots of chances to pull over and grab some photos. The Devil’s Staircase is a highlight, and soon after that there’s a little beach / boat launch area which is worth a look.
From there it’s views all the way to Kingston – such a beautiful place on a sunny day!
If you were driving nonstop it’d take around an hour to drive from Queenstown to Kingston. Kingston is a great place to stop for a bite to eat. I’d also highly recommend checking out the beach in Kingston — easily one of the best beaches at Lake Wakatipu.
Kingston to Te Anau
The section from Kingston to Te Anau isn’t quite as exciting as the one that proceeded it, but there are still a few things to see. First is the historic Fairlight Railway Station. The Kingston Flyer, an old steam train, used to ply this route, I’ve heard rumours about it coming back which would be cool.
You’ll also pass through Gaston, the most inland town in New Zealand, and Athol. These could be good places to stop for some food or a coffee.
Other than that there doesn’t seem to be too much to see. The views are decent (the photo below was taken from the car while driving), but nothing compared to the views near Kingston. Eventually you’ll reach the turnoff to Te Anau. On that road there are a few places to stop including the Key (there’s a viewpoint there, not amazing though), Mossburn (cheap petrol) or the long detour to the Mavora Lakes.
The main road doesn’t pass through Manapouri, but I’d recommend the detour if you have a bit of time (Frasers Beach is a scenic spot). Manapouri is where the Doubtful Sound tours depart from, and there’s also an excellent half-day walk (Circle Track).
You’ve finally made it to Te Anau, and what a cool place it is. Lake Te Anau is right on the town’s doorstep, and there are heaps of eating, drinking, and sleeping options. It’s a good base for incursions into Fiordland National Park. I’ll be writing a post about Te Anau soon, so stay tuned for that.
Te Anau to Milford Sound
I’m going to write a full post on this leg of the journey, as there is a lot to see on this stretch of road. In fact, I’d say it’s in the top 5 (maybe top 3) scenic drives in New Zealand. You can stop off at the Mirror Lakes, Lake Gunn, Lake Marian Falls (pictured at the end of this post) and heaps more. If you’re looking for a hike, check out Lake Marian, Key Summit and Gertrude Saddle.
Queenstown to Te Anau and Milford Sound FAQs
- How long does it take? If you were driving from Queenstown to Te Anau with minimal stops it’d take you around 2 hours. To Milford Sound it’d be around 3.45 hours.
- Where are the Best Towns to Stay? Te Anau and Manapouri are good places to stay if you’re spending a few days exploring Fiordland National Park. You can also stay at Milford Sound Lodge.
- What about buses? You can catch a bus between Queenstown and Te Anau, or you can organise a day tour which will take you from Queenstown to Milford Sound and back (including a cruise through the sound). We did that trip a few years ago and it was good but a very long day!
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our South Island road trip itinerary!
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