There is no doubt about it, New Zealand was made for road trips. And if one road tops them all, it is undoubtedly the Milford Road, 120 kilometers of stunning mountains, pristine forest, wild lakes and views for days between Te Anau and Milford Sound itself.
Winding its way through the untamed mountains of the UNESCO world heritage Te Wāhipounamu, over two and half million hectares of incredible landscapes and national parks, the Milford Road is the only road access into the incredible Milford Sound. With limited to no facilities or reception and susceptible to closures regularly from slips, avalanches and snow, it’s important that you plan ahead before undertaking a journey out here, or opt to take one of the bus and cruise options to Milford from Te Anau or Queenstown.
What also makes the Milford Road so fascinating is the history behind it. Its inception began in the 1920’s but took over 30 years to finish, with the Homer Tunnel being one of the most challenging features. Plowing straight through a solid granite mountain, it’s 1.2 kilometers long and took decades to complete, only opening in 1953. This one lane tunnel passes through the Darran Mountains, below the Homer Saddle where mail used to be lowered down to Milford before the tunnel was finished, at about 945 meters above sea level. Nowadays, you’re likely to meet a few resident young kea at the Homer Tunnel while waiting for the lights to indicate it’s your turn to pass through. It’s also home to the annual local nude tunnel run, only shoes and headlights are required.
Also known as State Highway 94, the Milford Road brings travelers into the very heart of Fiordland National Park and is jam-packed full of stops and highlights worth checking out. After leaving Te Anau and passing through picturesque farmland and the Te Anau Downs, where the boats taking trampers to the start of the Milford Track begin, you’ll enter the dense beech forest of Fiordland National Park and realize you’re on your way somewhere special. Eventually you’ll break out of the forest and be greeted by the stunning Eglinton Valley, a wide expanse showing the surrounding mountains.
There are plenty of obvious stopping points like the aptly named Mirror Lakes, which offer a perfect mountain reflection on a clear day to Lake Gunn, with plenty of small and long hikes nearby. You’ll cross the Main Divide of the Southern Alps, where more tracks lead off from before winding your way up closer to the highest point of the Milford Road at the Homer Tunnel. Monkey Creek has incredible views and is a known hang out for kea and the whio, Blue Duck.
Once you emerge from the darkness of the Homer Tunnel into either the mists or the sunshine of the Cleddau Valley, depending on the weather, you’ll slowly descend dowards Milford Sound, passing some incredible scenic stops like the Chasm, where the river has carved out incredible rapids and falls through the forest over the centuries before you begin to get views of Mt. Tutoko, Milford’s highest mountain. Before you know it, you’re back down to sea level at the mighty and stunning Milford Sound itself.