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Self Drive or Guided Tour to Milford Sound

Self Drive or Guided Tour to Milford Sound

One question our guests ask a lot is whether they should drive to Milford Sound to catch a coach. Sure, some have reasons why the self-drive option suits them but my personal preference it to climb into that coach first thing in the morning and skip the pressure of timelines and windy alpine roads.

The road to Milford Sound is equally as impressive as the sound itself but even the most experienced driver will miss a lot of the magnificent scenery. The drive truly requires so much concentration. You’re better off letting a knowledgeable local driver chauffeur you and your loved ones safely over the mountainous pass and around the blind bends that is Milford Road.

Driving Independently

I’ve driven independently and caught buses to Milford various times and managed to almost miss my connecting cruise each time I made the trip in my own vehicle! I’d planned my trip and stops and determined I would arrive with plenty of time to spare. To my embarrassment, the wait at the Homer tunnel took longer than expected and each stop demanded more time to get that perfect photo.

Next thing I know I’m hustling my “out of town” friends out of the car and racing towards the terminal. All the while, two lunches, and a drink bottle lay untouched on the back seat as we pounded the pavement. Luckily, I was aware of the extra time it would take us to find a park then make our way to check-in.

Catching a coach

In comparison, my coach experiences were much more stress-free. They still included my favorite stops and had the bonus of an in-depth commentary throughout (I’d trust their facts over my rusty Milford Knowledge any day!). Before we knew it, we had parked up outside the terminal’s front doors and were able to join our cruise at a much more leisurely pace.

The benefits of joining a coach and cruise package are year-round. During the winter the road can be very dangerous with snow and ice and chains are to be carried at all times. The thought of laying in the dirt and snow, prying on snow chains is enough to have me asking “where do I sign up for this coach?!”

During the summer the car parks full up causing a very stressful few moments as you get pushed to the secondary carpark further down the road with not enough time to get back for your expedition. During these months it is essential to allow up to an hour just for car parking! Stepping off the coach at the front door of the terminal has never sounded better.

The verdict?

From the friendly, knowledgeable drivers down to the luxury Mercedes coach with its comfy leather seats, this is an experience you don’t want to miss. Pick up was from Tasman’s Te Anau reception at 7.45 am ready to head out before the much bigger busses. The coach could only fit 18 people so we didn’t spend all morning picking up others.

The local driver knew of scenic stops for photo opportunities I wasn’t even aware of. From Eglington Valley to Mirror Lakes, Monkey Creek, The Chasm, and everywhere in between. He also had the inside expertise and knew which stop was best visited on the way in or out, eluding large buses that come with large crowds.

VIP Milford offers the choice of two different cruises both with delicious lunch options. We cruised so close to the glistening waterfalls we were practically underneath the water as it plummeted down onto the bow of our vessel. The viewing decks had plenty of space for everyone to sightsee hoping to spot seals, penguins, or dolphins.

As we disembarked the boat and headed towards the awaiting coach I couldn’t help but think how different this experience was compared to taking the wheel myself. When I drive, I’m constantly checking my watch, worried I’m running late. In fact, I even managed a short nap on the way home and arrived in Te Anau feeling pretty good about myself.

Whether you choose to self-drive or join a coach, the Milford Road is a beautiful part of Fiordland National Park. With over 400,000 people visiting the sound each year the road can become congested. It’s a challenging and, in places, narrow and winding drive so please take care.

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