Queenstown - Te Anau - Milford Highway Drive Photo Gallery

Jucy offers the cheapest coach-cruise-coach tour from Queenstown. It didn't include lunch and presumably not a glass-roofed coach. Being late winter / early spring, I wasn't worried the tour would be full so I booked the day before. Pick-up was in front of the YHA Lakeside, where I took advantage of the lake views before the bus punctually arrived at 7:30am.

When we left Queenstown, the government website showed the Milford Highway was closed due to snowfall. However, the weather forecast would be great today, so I had hopes things would work out eventually. It was still a bit grey for the initial journey towards Te Anau.

As we approached Te Anau, I checked the website again and the good news came that the road would re-open at 10am. The skies cleared out as well although it was still quite chilly.

Te Anau is a small tourist stop on the edge of another lake. This was a short breakfast stop.

Milford Sound is actually very close to Queenstown on a straight line - directly northwest. However, there is no road through the mountains, which is why we need to do a U-shaped 4-hour drive south, west, then back north. However, the beautiful Milford Highway out of Te Anau is a tourist attraction itself. The tour bus made many stops along the way so we could get off to admire the scenery.

The first stop is Eglinton Valley.

Next stop is Mirror Lakes, which reflects almost perfectly the Earl Mountains in the background.

A wooden walkway leads down from the main road and is big enough to accomodate several bus-loads of passengers.

Knobs Flat is just over 60km from Te Anau and has a wide, flat plain to admire the mountains in a different way.

With no snow or ice on the roads and beautiful weather, I was very surprised when the driver told us we had to turn back because of a tree avalanche in Milford and buses could no longer make it through. He offered to go to Monkey Creek as long as the majority of the passengers agreed, which was as far as the bus could travel. This was the last and probably the most beautiful stop of the day.

The previous night's snow came timely.

I finally spotted a kea, an endangered bird that lives in alpine environments on the South Island. They are the only alpine parrot species in the world and are very curious. DO NOT feed it!

So now we go back to Queenstown.

We made a pit stop again in Te Anau so the driver can have a legally-required break. The cafe there didn't have enough food for all of us, so I headed outside to see the sheep graze instead.

It would have been a nice day in Milford Sound, but that's OK. We caught the light all the way back to Queenstown.

I was a bit disappointed but didn't feel the day was a write-off. It was free after all since we never got to the cruise but the scenery along the way was wonderful. The tours are expensive, but I didn't want my rental car to get stuck in case there is a late winter avalanche.

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