West Coast Scenic Route to Milford Sound
This four day Milford Sound itinerary will take you on a scenic journey from the sunny Marlborough region at the top of the South Island and down the unforgiving rugged west coast. You’ll travel through the vast rainforests of the Westland Tai Poutini and Mount Aspiring national parks, before being blown away by the sheer beauty of Milford Sound. You’ll reach Milford Sound on the final day of this four day Milford Sound travel itinerary.
Take your time at each stop to absorb the history, heritage and sights of each destination.
Picton –> Nelson –> Greymouth –> Franz Josef –> Wanaka –> Queenstown –> Milford Sound
DAY 1: PICTON TO NELSON
Driving time: 2 hours
Begin your West Coast adventure in the lovely port town of Picton, an ideal starting point as the Interislander ferry arrives here. With many cafes, restaurants and art galleries dotted along the Picton harbour, enjoy a delicious breakfast here before heading to Nelson. Named the sunniest region of New Zealand, it’s just a two-hour drive from Picton.
If you love golden sandy beaches you’ll want to stay and play in Nelson for the day. There are many beautiful beaches to visit, or venturing out to the world famous Split Apple Rock formation in the Tasman Bay is an interesting experience. Nelson has a thriving arts community – spend an afternoon perusing through the many art galleries and souvenir shops to find something unique. Spend the night in Nelson and continue this journey the following day.
DAY 2: NELSON – GREYMOUTH – FRANZ JOSEF
Driving time: 6.5 hours
Nelson to Greymouth
Bid farewell to Nelson over an early breakfast and prepare yourself for the four-hour drive to Greymouth. Stop in Westport for some morning tea, and visit the coal mining museum while you’re here. The one and a half hour drive along the Coast Road to Greymouth is absolutely stunning. The winding road hugs the rugged west coast coastline while the left-hand side is a cliff face coated in dense forestland. Stop somewhere for a quick dip in the Tasman Sea and be sure to visit the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks!
Greymouth to Franz Josef
The largest West Coast town of Greymouth is located at the mouth of the Grey River. Entertain yourself here by giving sea kayaking or quad biking a go. Alternatively, a visit to Shantytown will stimulate the mind where you’ll learn about the gold rush history of the West Coast.
After enjoying lunch at one of the many cafes or restaurants in Greymouth, continue on to Franz Josef in the afternoon. This two and a half hour journey of rugged coastline continues with waterfalls, sheer rock gorges, beaches and forest around every corner.
Take part in a guided tour of the Franz Josef Glacier, the world’s steepest and fastest flowing glacier. You could also book a helicopter flight to see the amazing view from above. Spend the evening relaxing in the Glacier Hot Pools, set amongst tranquil rainforests, it’s the perfect way to relax after a day on the road.
DAY 3: FRANZ JOSEF – WANAKA – QUEENSTOWN
Driving time: 4.5 hours
Franz Josef to Wanaka
Travel towards Queenstown today, on the Fox Glacier Highway. Stop at Lake Matheson to capture some stunning photographs and enjoy an easy walk with views of Mount Cook and the mirror-like lake nestled in dense rainforest.
Continuing on the three and a half hour journey to Wanaka, stop at Knights Point Lookout, before arriving in Haast for lunch and a swim at the beach. You could also take part in a river safari, or visit the fur seal and penguin colonies.
Wanaka is a two hour drive from Haast and as you travel along the Haast Pass through Mount Aspiring National Park, you’ll undoubtedly want to stop to enjoy one of the many walks or simply admire the view and capture some memorable photos. While in Wanaka, try skiing or snowboarding, mountain biking or hiking, there’s an outdoor activity to suit everyone.
Wanaka to Queenstown
There are two ways to travel from Wanaka to Queenstown – via Cromwell, or over the Crown Range. If you’re driving yourself, we recommend giving the Crown Range a go (as long as your vehicle can handle steep inclines, and the weather conditions make it safe). The Crown Range passes over the Southern Alps at an altitude of 1121 metres or 3678 feet above sea level, making it the highest main road in New Zealand. Stop in at the quaint historic township of Arrowtown on your way into Queenstown.
Arriving in Queenstown in the afternoon, you might like to go for a stroll along the lakefront and wander around the shops. Alternatively, head out and experience some of the activities that make it the ‘adventure capital of the world’! Try the AJ Hackett Bungy, give jet boating or white water rafting a go, or you could throw yourself out of an airplane and skydive. There’s also the Skyline gondola, biking and hiking trails, or exploring the vineyards. Stay the night in this picturesque town, with many accommodation options in the centre of town and dotted along the pretty lakeside.
DAY 4: QUEENSTOWN – MILFORD SOUND AND RETURN
Driving time: 8 hours
Queenstown to Milford Sound
Saving the best for last, your trip to Milford Sound will be an incredibly memorable experience and just as fascinating as the destination itself. Booking a sightseeing tour to Milford Sound takes the stress out of the journey. There are several local tour operators with experienced guides who give informative and entertaining commentary and know the best places to stop for photographs. Or if you prefer, drive yourself – just make sure you’ve prepared well for the long drive.