Dunedin to Milford Sound to Dunedin in 5 days

Driving Tour

If you’re lucky enough to have earned yourself a 5-day break then chances are you’ll want to make the most of it. With a starting point in the great city of Dunedin, you can have an adventure in the Deep South of New Zealand like no other. Our itinerary sets out to deliver exactly that, taking you all the way around to the wondrous Milford Sound and back. We’ve included some real treats along the way too but enough talk – let’s hit the road!

If you’re still in the planning stage of your trip, make sure you check out the great deals on car hire in Dunedin – we’re not one of New Zealand’s favourite rental car companies for no reason!


  1. Route map with key locations
  2. Recommended vehicle for this trip
  3. Trip itinerary

Trip Itinerary

1Dunedin to Bluff (230kms – 2 hours 48 mins)

With the keys to your new GO Rentals hire car in hand you’ll be chomping at the bit to get your 5-day road trip underway. With so much exploring to get through, much of it through untamed wilderness, you’re in for an adventure that’s nothing short of epic!

Heading out from Dunedin you’ll begin by journeying into the heart of the Deep South along State Highway 1 until Clinton before briefly joining State Highway 93 until Mataura where you’ll rejoin State Highway 1 until the very last stop which is Bluff!

It’s a touch under 3 hours from start to finish but we’re going to extend it with some great little stopover recommendations along the way.

Balclutha (80kms – 60 mins from Dunedin)

The town of Balclutha is actually the largest of its kind in the region and was founded because it is situated at the heart of the mighty Clutha River. The Clutha River is the largest (by volume) in the country and has much to offer a visitor by way of salmon and trout fishing, walkways and sheer admiration. The town itself also has a great museum known as the South Otago Museum which describes the history of the town including its fascinating gold mining era!

Invercargill (205kms – 2 hours 36 mins from Dunedin)

Invercargill is the southernmost city in New Zealand which actually makes it one of the southernmost in the world! There’s a lovely rural vibe in Invercargill and plenty of things to see and do that reflect this. One of those is the renowned Bill Richardson’s Transport World which has an incredible collection of vehicles including trucks and tractors that have helped shape the land. As well as this they also have the picturesque Queen’s Park which is especially beautiful during autumn with the sight of golden and amber leaves everywhere.

Bluff (230kms – 2 hours 48 mins from Dunedin)

Image of the oyster shucking at the Bluff Oyster and Food Festival

Your final stop for this epic first day comes at the end of the road, literally. Bluff is recognised as the southernmost stop on the South Island. As a matter of fact, when we locals refer to the country from top to bottom, we say “From Cape Reinga to the Bluff”.

It’s a quaint little place and at first, you may wonder why we suggest a stop here. The answer is simple. Bluff Oysters. If you’ve never heard of Bluff Oysters, then you’ve really been missing out in life for they are the most delicious, succulent, tender, meaty oysters you’ll find anywhere in the world. So legendary are they, that people travel from all over the world to experience the oyster of oysters. They even have their own dedicated festival that takes place in May of every year selling out months in advance.

Needless to say, you’ll want to be dining on them for dinner and you’ll have no shortage of places in the town centre to choose from.

2Bluff to Te Anau (218kms – 2 hours 51 mins)

After sleeping well on a belly full of Bluff Oysters you’ll want to set out early for another packed schedule of a day to Te Anau.

The route we’ve recommended joins what’s known as the Southern Scenic Route, recently described by an Australian Travel Magazine as one of the “great undiscovered drives in the world”.

The first part of the drive takes you from State Highway 1 to State Highway 99 to the town of Riverton.

Riverton (68kms – 59 mins from Bluff)

Riverton is one of the most popular seaside towns in the South Island and is locally referred to as the “Riviera of the South”. They have a lovely estuary there as well as some very pleasant bays and beaches. It’s also a place that’s rich with history as one of the first places of European settlement on the South Island. The Te Hikoi Southern Journey Heritage Museum is a great place to learn about this and more.The seaside town of Riverton

Leaving Riverton you’ll continue on State Highway 99 along the coast taking in and enjoying the views as you go. If you’re after a few recommendations for places to pull over and take a break then we definitely recommend Colac Bay, which is, among other things, a great little surfing spot. Another good place to take a break is McCracken’s Rest which is a great lookout point over a cliff with awesome views out towards Stewart Island and the sea.

Our next official stop, however, is something a little bit different and that’s Clifden Caves.

Clifden Caves (129kms – 1 hour 42 mins from Bluff)

The Clifden Caves are an extraordinary network of caves filled with limestone stalactites and glow worms. The caves do require some degree of fitness as the route is a little challenging and narrow in places (we’re talking hands and knees narrow) but those who get through it rate it as an awesome little adventure. The whole route takes around 1.5 – 2 hours following the triangular markers. If you choose to take it on it’s important to be prepared with a head torch (with spare batteries) and decent clothing with you (as you may get a little wet).

Te Anau (218kms – 2 hours 51 mins from Bluff)

Having explored the caves you’ll be relieved to reach your final destination for the day being Te Anau. The town of Te Anau, like many in New Zealand, was established around its lake. Lake Te Anau is that lake and is actually the second largest in the country. It also has the virtues of being in front of the magnificent Mount Luxmore and Murchison Mountains making it an Instagrammers paradise. It’s also seen as the “Gateway to Fiordland” which is what makes it the perfect place to stop before your trip to Milford Sound tomorrow.

But first, you’ll want to have a nice and relaxed afternoon/evening and we just happen to have a few suggestions for how to do that.

Lake Te Anau

With such a beautiful Lake at your doorstep, you’d be silly not to spend a bit of time properly appreciating it. From the Town Centre, you can do a bit of the lakeside walk, no problems at all. It’s nice and easy, won’t cost you anything but offers plenty in return.

Te Anau Bird Sanctuary

While on your Te Anau Lakeside walk you may happen to stroll across the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary, a great little attraction that serves a worthy cause. Open from dusk to dawn you’ll be able to witness some of New Zealand’s most precious and rare birdlife. This includes the likes of Kaka, Takahe, Morepork, Kereru, Bellbirds and more. The Department of Conservation team look after them here and also do tours around the daily feeding times but they’re in the morning so you’ll have to schedule it for the start of Day 3 if you’re interested.A kaka in flight

Te Anau Glowworm Caves

If you didn’t opt to stop at Clifden Caves (or enjoyed it so much you want more), then the Te Anau Glowworm Caves will be able to sort you out. Like the Clifden Caves, the Te Anau Glowworm Caves are a network of limestone caves, home to hundreds of glowworms. Unlike the Clifden Caves, you won’t need to get on your hands and knees to experience them. As a matter of fact, you’ll be taken there by boat across the beautiful Lake Te Anau, worth the price of admission alone. Once there, you’ll get to explore the caves and see all the fascinating features it has like the streams, whirlpools and impressive underground waterfall, not to mention the glowworms themselves!

3Te Anau to Milford Sound Return (236km – 3 hours 23 mins)

Day 3 is an epic day on your road trip so you’ll want to set out early to make the most of it. Heading North on State Highway 94 for 118kms (taking around 1 hour and 45 mins) until you reach the idyllic Milford Sound and idyllic it certainly is.

Milford Sound (118kms – 1 hour 45 mins from Te Anau)

What can you say about Milford Sound that hasn’t already been said so well by those who have been before? The most noted quote comes from British writer Rudyard Kipling who described it as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. It’s about a glowing statement as one can make and when you arrive you’ll come to realise why he chose those words and chose them so well.

Milford Sound was formed by the process of glaciation which carved out the incredible landscapes you see there today. Fiords that include peaks that tower into the clouds with the pristine waters of the beautiful Sounds around. As strange as it is to say, the best time to see them is during or after a bit of rain as that brings the waterfalls. Hundreds of waterfalls appear and descend from the unseen peaks all around. The scene as a whole is breathtaking and if you make it for sunrise (or stay for sunset) you’ll be completely transfixed by its natural beauty.

Milford Sound Cruise

While appreciating the Sounds from the harbour is an amazing experience in itself, you’ll really enjoy seeing it from the waters on one of the many cruise boat options that are available. The Sounds themselves are bigger than you might think, some 15km in fact, so hopping aboard a boat makes a lot of sense. You’ll get taken to all the great spots and vantage points that can’t be seen from shore where you’ll be able to line up some great shots and create even better memories.

Getting up close to the waterfalls around Milford Sound with Southern Discoveries
Getting up close to the waterfalls around Milford Sound with Southern Discoveries

Milford Sound Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory

Another great way to experience Milford Sound is from below its waters at the Milford Sound Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory. It is actually New Zealand’s only floating underwater observatory which you can visit via Southern Discoveries’ Discover More Cruise. Once there, you’ll not only see all the colourful forms of marine life of the Sounds and learn all about the unique underwater environment that exists there. It’s one of the highest-rated attractions to do in the area, outside the sight of the Sounds themselves and is definitely one to make time for.

Te Anau (123km – 1 hour 43 mins from Milford Sound)

It’s easy to spend a full day in Milford Sound and you’ll probably be tempted to wait until you’ve captured the picturesque sunset before departing. It’s a fairly decent drive south down State Highway 94 to Te Anau but this time you’ll at least be familiar with the road (though don’t leave it too late). Having stayed here the previous night, we think it makes sense to keep your accommodation for the night of Day 3 as it’s a great place to be (as we’ve already discussed in detail) with lots of nice places to eat too (didn’t mention this the first time but definitely true).

4Te Anau to Queenstown (171km – 2 hours 4 mins)

Early starts are the theme of this itinerary but every one of them is worth it and Day 4 is no exception because it’s the day that belongs to Queenstown!

From Te Anau, you’ll take State Highway 94 to Mossburn where you’ll turn left onto State Highway 97 for a short while until it turns left again into State Highway 6 where you’ll follow the signs to Queenstown. It’s a very pleasant drive with plenty of scenery along the way which will hopefully keep you at peace which is important because extreme excitement awaits!

Queenstown is without a doubt the adventure capital of NZ, if not the world. Adrenaline junkies have a smorgasbord of thrills to choose from all of which are specifically designed for one thing. To get your pulse racing!

Here are just a few of the highlights:

AJ Hackett Nevis Bungy

The legendary AJ Hackett was the pioneer of Bungy in New Zealand and across the world. The Kawarau Bungy (also in Queenstown) was the first commercial bungy in the world, however, it’s the Nevis Bungy that we’re talking about here. The Nevis Bungy is the highest bungy in Australasia with a jaw-dropping 134m (440 feet) drop. The freefall itself takes 8.5 seconds (a very long time for a freefall) and is the purest rush you can find. The view across the valley is incredible too which makes the leap that much more challenging. The good news is you’ll be just as legendary as AJ Hackett himself if you’re able to find the courage yourself to do it.AJ Hackett The Nevis Bungy

Skippers Canyon Jet

Another great Kiwi invention is the Jet Boat and Queenstown is definitely the right place to get your Jet Boat fix. We’ve picked New Zealand’s world-famous Skipper Canyon Jet as our pick for this road trip and it’s one that doesn’t disappoint. Reaching speeds of up to 85mph, you’ll feel your adrenaline surge in ways you weren’t thought were possible as you accelerate towards the imposing Shotover River Canyons. The experience drivers will be out to show you their skills, but rest assured, those skills are sound and he’ll have you skimming over the shallows, doing 360-degree spins and flying by canyon walls without any problems at all.

Coronet Peak Ski Resort

If you’re lucky enough to be travelling during ski season then you’ll definitely want to stop by Coronet Peak, one of New Zealand’s top Ski Resorts. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a happy valley novice, you’re guaranteed a good time here. It’s only a 25-minute drive from the heart of Queenstown too so getting there is nice and easy. Regulars also enjoy the apres-ski too if you are partial to that sort of thing.

Ben Lomond

If all the driving has given you the need to stretch your legs then Ben Lomond Summit Walk is a great one to try. Starting from the Town Centre, the walk is a 4+ hour adventure to the top of Ben Lomond. With great views of Lake Wakatipu, the surrounding mountains as well as the famous Mount Aspiring, it’s the perfect place to be to admire the best of everything around. Just don’t forget the camera!

Skyline Gondola

For those who want the view with a little less effort, the Skyline Gondola is your best bet. Not only will you get the amazing views but you’ll also be able to experience a few other things while you’re there like stargazing, mountain biking and the super fun luge! It’s another great little adrenaline activity and a fun thing to do for young and old, so make sure you give it a go!Image showing the view from the top of the Skyline Gondola in Queenstown with snowcapped peaks in the background

Arrowtown (20km – 22 mins from Queenstown)

If you’re interested in a cool little excursion just out of Queenstown then the historic town of Arrowtown is a great one to venture to. It was the heart of the gold rush era during the days of the pioneers and is a great little time capsule. The main street of Arrowtown is Buckingham Street, a tree-lined beauty with shops, bars and great places to eat. There are also some fantastic walks and historic sites like the Chinese Settlement that will give you a great snapshot of its past.


Does Queenstown have a nightlife? You bet it does with literally hundreds of pubs, taverns, bars, restaurants and late-night cafes to suit everyone. It’s definitely a fun place to be when the lights go out and during the winter, you’ll be able to cosy up in front of big roaring fires in most of these establishments too.

There’s also no more picturesque sight than the sunset here across Lake Wakatipu which has to be seen to be believed.

5Queenstown to Dunedin (286kms – 3 hours 51 mins)

You’ll start Day 5 with a bit of a heavy heart knowing that it’s the last day of your awesome little road trip.

The good news is we’ve still got some awesome things lined up for you on this final day of adventuring.

Cromwell (60km – 49 mins from Queenstown)

Cromwell is another relic of a bygone era (in the good sense of course) as an important town during the Gold Rush Era. It’s a great place to stop by to take a look and experience some of this not-too-distant history.

An awesome thing to do here is to visit the Goldfields Mining Centre which is a historic reserve but also allows you the chance to pan for gold. Another is to take a stroll through Cromwell’s Heritage Precinct which is a great recreation of buildings and shops from the town in its prime. Finally, Cromwell is also known as a great place for stone fruits and there are a number of orchards you can stop by for tours and/or stock up!

I nice photo of Cromwell

Alexandra (90km – 1 hour 10 mins from Queenstown)

Another great place to stop on your journey back to Dunedin is the beautiful Central Otago town of Alexandra. The town shares many similarities with Cromwell in some respects given it was a town founded in the gold rush era and has been important in terms of the stone fruit industry in New Zealand. What’s unique about Alexandra is that because of its geographical surroundings, it’s known as the area in New Zealand that has the most distinct seasons with hot summers, frosty winters, golden autumns and beautiful springs. Some of the best things to do in Alexandra include visiting one of its many local wineries, playing golf, checking out its thriving arts scene and walking (or biking) the old Otago Central Rail Trail.

Brighton Beach (268km – 3 hours 33 mins from Queenstown)

The final stop before you drop off your GO Rentals car is one where you’ll be able to sit back, relax and think about all the amazing places you’ve visited over the last 5 days. Brighton Beach is in the beautiful seaside town of Brighton. The beach itself, like many in New Zealand, is easy on the eyes which has made it a popular spot for local artists to reside and find inspiration. It’s also a great place to do the most quintessential of Kiwi traditions which is to have fish and chips on the beach! It’s a great spot for fishing incidentally and Blue Cod is the speciality of the area.

From Brighton Beach, your journey is less than 20km and a 21-minute drive back to Dunedin. We hope you’ve enjoyed this itinerary with our suggestions and recommendations. It’s a great area of the country to visit and one that will stay strong in the memory for years to come.