Highway through valley, Milford Sound © Sora Jack

Te Anau to Milford Sound Piopiotahi Highway: the journey into the heart of Fiordland.

View the map


If you want your senses drenched in Fiordland’s wilderness, vastness and beauty, without being drenched in that seemingly perpetual rain, take a top road for unbeatable scenic highs: the Piopiotahi Highway from Te Anau to Milford. Start your engines. Gently. It’s only two hours.

Fill up with gas at pretty little Te Anau, take chains in winter and check conditions before you go. Roll past the rolling farmland on one side, the second largest lake in the country on the other, the snow-capped peaks in the distance. You’re on your way.

You’ll head past Te Anau Downs, the launch point to walk the Milford Track. This marks the beginning of the Fiordland National Park — the beginning of something else, really. There are so many amazing lookouts along the way you’ll likely double that estimated travelling time. The Mirror Lakes are unlike anything you’ve ever seen, or had reflected back at you, almost dreamlike in their quality. Oh wait, there’s more?

At 480m above sea level, Lake Gunn is stunning, the mountains seemingly disappearing into its still waters; you may well spot the aptly named paradise ducks, too.

It was from here where local Maori would head to Anita Bay at the seaward end of Milford Sound to look for greenstone or pounamu, as priceless and more sacred than gold was to later prospectors. At the southern tip of the lake is Cascade Creek; there’s an exquisite and relatively short nature walk here if you feel so inclined, waterfalls and a campsite located in one of the world’s more dramatic spots.

Then you’re at The Divide, totally appropriately named, being an east-west pass through the Southern Alps. You’re very clearly, and quite suddenly, in mountain territory here, with sheer slopes crowding down on seemingly all sides (they seem close enough to touch).

The next thrill is the Homer Tunnel. Rough-hewn, functional but far from modern, it is in keeping with the eeriness of the whole place. Eighteen years in the making, from the Depression years on, and a feat of engineering and human spirit, really. It’s 1.2km long and climbs steadily until you emerge, blinking at Cleddau Canyon on the other (Milford) side.

It’s worth doing the 10-minute Chasm Walk to see where the Cleddau River plunges through strange rock formations.

Then on, more rivers — the Tutoko, across the bridge and views right through here of Fiordland’s highest peak, Mt Tutoko, and then into Milford Sound itself. Even if you’ve seen pictures of it a thousand times: nothing prepares you for its stillness and eerie beauty. That’s a drive, Clive.

Be the first to comment on this page. You cannot post comments until you have logged in. Please log in or register if you don't have an account.

More stories like this

Find out more

Things to do > Must-Do's

Must-Do's Hawke's Bay: art deco, wine and the largest gannet colony in the world

Traverse beautiful coastline, riverbeds, rolling pastures and native bush before taking in panoramic views and experiencing the exhilarating sight and sound of 20,000 gannets.

Find out more

Things to do > Must-Do's

Must-Do's Auckland: the show never stops

Summit the city's most iconic volcano, as well as its youngest and largest.

Find out more

Things to do > Must-Do's

Must-Do's Queenstown: New Zealand's adventure capital

Queenstown Hill, just out of town, is more than worth a peek, and you can make its peak in an hour if you get a wriggle on, and check out the series of information panels showcasing the past, present and predicted future of this stunning part of the world.

Find out more

Things to do > Must-Do's

TranzAlpine: the rail journey considered one of the best in the world

Feast on one breath-taking view after another as you travel from Christchurch to Greymouth on one of the greatest rail journeys in the world, drinking in rolling farmland, snow-capped mountains, deep gorges, serene, ice-fed rivers and lush rainforests, all from the comfort of your seat.