You can see a good chunk of Fiordland National Park on a day trip from Queenstown — a good option for those with limited time. It’s a long day though, with eight hours of driving if going all the way to Milford Sound. In this Fiordland itinerary I’ll show you the best places to visit and also go through the pros and cons of day trips vs longer trips.
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A Day Trip to Milford Sound
Either by bus or private vehicle, day trips to Milford Sound from Queenstown are a popular undertaking. We did it this way (bus tour) the first time we went there as a couple in 2015 when we visited New Zealand while based overseas. It was a long day but we were used to day tours like this so didn’t mind sitting on a bus for hours on end. The scenery helps too!
Check out this day tour to Milford Sound from Queenstown
Once at Milford Sound you’ll cruise out to the coast, immersed in some of New Zealand’s most beautiful scenery. Most tours include a cruise of Milford Sound and then it’s a long bus ride back to Queenstown.
If you only have a day but have access to a vehicle you’ll be able to see a few more things on the way to Milford Sound. As well as the quick stops you make on the tour you could do the hike up to Key Summit or Lake Marian or maybe drive down Lower Hollyford Road and check out Humboldt Falls.
That could be enough for a lot of people, but if you’ve got the time I’d consider spending a night or two in the area. You could also do the Gertrude Saddle Track, which is a full-day hike. It’s one of our favourite walks in New Zealand but you can only do it in summer in the right conditions — check out our post!
Another day trip option is to skip Milford Sound entirely and visit Doubtful Sound instead. You’ll get longer on the water and less time in a bus or car and the fiord itself is just as beautiful as Milford Sound. I know Milford Sound is more iconic but do look into Doubtful Sound as an alternative, especially if you’re keen to cut down on driving.
Two Days in Fiordland Itinerary
If you’ve got two-three days to dedicate to Fiordland National Park things get a little more complicated. You could spend one or both of those nights in Te Anau or Manapouri and do trips from there or stay closer to Milford Sound on one of those nights. For this two-day itinerary (one night) I’m going to assume you’ll stay along the road to Milford Sound, either at one of the camping grounds or Milford Sound Lodge, the only proper accommodation near Milford Sound.
Check out these hotels in Te Anau!
So, you’d drive from Queenstown to Te Anau and then along Milford Sound Road to your accommodation. Stop off at viewpoints / short walks along the way and maybe consider doing one of the longer hikes (Gertrude Saddle if the conditions allow it or Key Summit / Lake Marian).
Explore as much of Fiordland National Park as you can before dark then settle in for the night before doing a Milford Sound cruise in the morning. You’ll then have a long drive back to Queenstown — a lot more relaxing splitting it into two days instead of one though.
Another option would be to do it all in one day and then stay in Te Anau for a night on the way back to Queenstown. This makes the driving easier and Te Anau is a cool town to stay in for a night. That would let you do the Doubtful Sound day trip the next day too as it starts very close to Te Anau.
READ MORE: 10 of the Best Things to Do in Te Anau
Three Days in Fiordland
With three days in Fiordland I’d do exactly the same as the two-day itinerary with a night in Te Anau as well. This allows you to check out the glow worm caves, hang out in picturesque Te Anau or Manapouri, do the Doubtful Sound tour, walk the Circle Track above Lake Manapouri, visit Lake Hauroko or do a day on the Kepler Track.
Doubtful Sound is just as spectacular as Milford Sound but the day trip there is quite different. It starts in Manapouri (10 minutes from Te Anau) and consists of a boat ride across Lake Manapouri, a bus ride over Wilmot Pass and then a cruise through Doubtful Sound. You’ll spend a lot more time on the water than at Milford Sound and there’s way less driving.
You could also spend two nights camping or stay at Milford Sound Lodge giving you more time at Milford Sound and allowing heaps of time for walks — there are heaps of good ones!
READ MORE: 13 of the Best Walks in Fiordland
Have More Time?
If you’ve got more than three days you should consider doing one of the Great Walks. You’ll need to book them in advance but if you love hiking you’ll struggle to find a better place to do it. There are three Great Walks in the area — the Kepler Track starts in Te Anau and is the easiest and cheapest to organise. We found it the hardest of the three physically, but it was pretty wet when we did it and it was our first Great Walk!
The Routeburn Track is the easiest of the three and takes you through two national parks (Mount Aspiring and Fiordland). You’ll need to organise transport as one end is close to Glenorchy (Queenstown) with the other on the road to Milford Sound. Not far as the crow flies but a very long drive.
The Milford Track is the ultimate Great Walk but it also costs quite a bit for transport and it’s the hardest one to get a booking for. It’s a very iconic walk and I reckon if you’ve only got the chance to do one of these walks in New Zealand this should be it. In saying that, the Routeburn is just as good in terms of views but is a lot easier (three days instead of four) and it doesn’t seem to book out as quickly.
Extra days in a Fiordland itinerary could be spent doing random walks or fending off sandflies while trying to relax. Lake Hauroko is an interesting one to check out — it’s in the opposite direction to Milford Sound and many people leave it off their Fiordland itineraries. It’s New Zealand’s deepest lake and one of the most southern of the big lakes — you can even see Foveaux Straight from the viewpoint.
Hopefully, all that information made planning your Fiordland itinerary a little easier. It’s a place that many people visit in a day, but if you’ve got time in your schedule I’d set aside a night or two.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our South Island travel guide!
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