The Scenic Highway 94 begins in Te Anau, a small town mainly used by tourists who are embarking on trips around the Fiordland National Park: on one of the three Great Walks in the area (the Milford Track, Routeburn Track and Kepler Track), or on tours or cruises in Doubtful or Milford Sound. The 120km-long road continues for 2 and a half hours, into the heart National Park. It winds around corners, traverses valleys, alongside rivers, through the incredible Homer Tunnel, and the beautiful Milford Sound is a rewarding sight at the end of the journey.
So, why have I decided to write a blog post about a highway?! Well, because most tourists speed along the road with their sights set on seeing Milford Sound, without stopping at any of the other great sights along the way. There are so many things to see and do along this route. If your itinerary allows it, spend a couple of days making your way along the sights of the highway, and stay in one of the cheap DOC campsites en route. Here’s a few highlights from the abundance of stop-offs along the SH94 – grab a leaflet at the DOC visitor centre in Te Anau for more info.
What to see
At their best on a still day, the Mirror Lakes offer reflective views of the Earl Mountains. The ideal time to visit is early in the morning or in the evening when the water is at its calmest.
10 min return. Easy.
A challenging but rewarding climb up to Lake Marian, which is situated in a hanging valley amongst the forest. Although the track is fully marked, some of it is loose underfoot and over tree roots and rocks.
3 hours return. Strenuous. Hiking boots or sturdy walking shoes are recommended.
Lake Marian Waterfalls
If you don’t want to hike up to the lake, it’s still well worth stopping off to see the huge, thunderous waterfall which cascades through the valley from the lake above. You’ll notice the water is a beautiful blue colour.
20 minute return. Easy. Disabled access.
The start of the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. The climb offers you spectacular views over Fiordland National Park – I wish we had had the time to do this!
3 hours return. Medium. Hiking boots or sturdy walking shoes recommended.
This incredible tunnel which passes through 1.2km of mountain and was completed in 1953. Originally, the tunnel was going to allow traffic to move between Milford Sound and Queenstown, however a walking track had already been begun from Te Anau to Milford, so it made more sense to construct the tunnel in this way. The tunnel only allows one lane of traffic to pass at a time, so traffic light controls are in operation and delays can be expected during busy periods.
This is an enormous waterfall with walkway access. The walkway leads you over the top of the falls, allowing you to peer below at the water crashing down away from you between the rocks. Although you aren’t able to see the falls from afar, they are worth visiting simply to hear the sheer volume of noise that’s generated.
20 mins return. Easy. Disabled access.
A drive down to the end of the unsealed (gravel) Hollyford Road brings you to a viewpoint for the Humboldt Falls; an enormous waterfall that cascades down the side of the mountain. Linger for a few minutes to see how quickly the fog and clouds move.
30 mins return. Easy.
The Hollyford Track
Keen trampers will enjoy the 4-8 day Hollyford Track, which begins in the mountains and follows the Hollyford River/ Whakatipu Kā Tuka to the sea at Martins Bay on the West Coast. It’s open year round and backcountry huts can be booked through DOC.
4-8 days / 56km. Medium.
The pioneer of the SH94 highway, Milford Sound is undeniably beautiful and will most likely render you speechless. You can kayak or cruise the Sound with a number of tour operators such as Go Orange and Real Journeys, who can also include transport from Te Anau as part of a package — but don’t do that; rent a car yourself and visit some of the other amazing sights outlined in this post! There are also a couple of short walks around Milford Sound: the Foreshore Walk (30 min, easy, disabled access) is through native bush to the rocky shore, and the Lookout Walk (10 mins, easy) ascends a set of stairs and offers breathtaking views of Mitre Peak and the entrance to the Sound.
A small waterfall where you can fill your water bottle with fresh drinking water. Watch out for the kea, New Zealand’s alpine parrot; they’re very inquisitive and love to scavenge for food, but please DO NOT feed them! (More info below*)
The perfect place for a picnic on a sunny day, an easy walk through the forest brings you to the lake.
45 mins return. Easy. Disabled access.
For more information on any of the above sights, see the DOC website.
Where to stay
There are eight campsites along the highway which maintained by the Department of Conservation. Fees are $6 per person per night and you pay in the self-registration honesty box at the entrance; rangers regularly check payments in the evening and/or morning. Facilities include a vault toilet and breathtaking views. Take your own drinking water.
Located about halfway down the highway, Knob’s Flat offers rooms as well as campsites. Unpowered sites $15pp per night, hot showers $5.
Located in the Hollyford Valley, the camp was constructed in 1938 as a Public Works Department camp. There’s a shop and a museum. Unpowered sites only. Prices per person per night: Camping $15, Dorm room $25, Cabin for one or two people $65 and an extra person $15.
Milford Sound Lodge
The most expensive place to camp along the highway, but with the best location; it’s only a couple of minutes walk to the main cruise terminal in Milford Sound. Unpowered or Powered sites $25pp per night. $8 hot shower for non-campers.
Why not linger a while in Te Anau?
Most tourists don’t spend long in Te Anau, mainly using the town as a base for exploring the surrounding area, the Fiordland. Although the town is small, it has an undeniable charm, with a stunning backdrop of Lake Te Anau. With everything you could need, from a supermarket, a laundrette, many cafés and restaurants (and a fantastic pie shop!), it’s worth lingering to relax a while.
Te Anau Bird Sanctuary/ Punanga Manu o Te Anau
Here you can see rare birds such as the Takahē and Kākā. You can also feed the Takahē at certain times! A gold coin donation is appreciated. 181-209 Manapouri-Te Anau Highway.
Showing new releases as well as an hourly broadcast of Ata Whenua (Shadowland), a film about the Fiordland ($10 per adult). Downing Lane, Te Anau.
A huge choice of fresh, homemade pies, as well as sweet treats and sandwiches. Pies cost $6.50. 2 Milford Road.
The Kepler Track
What better place for a day walk than along the track of one of New Zealand’s Great Walks? The day walks are relatively easy and flat; see the DOC website for more information. If you are seeking more of a challenge, why not hike the full Kepler Track circuit? I wrote a whole post on it here.
The Lakeside Walk
For those seeking a pleasant stroll on a sunny afternoon, you can walk along the lake, beginning near the visitor centre and finishing near the harbour. There are lots of information panels to advise you about your surroundings and the native land and marine wildlife en route.
For adrenaline seekers
If relaxing isn’t your thing, there’s heaps of activities to keep you busy – from skydiving to scenic helicopter flights, plus the very popular Glow Worm Caves. We went kayaking in Doubtful Sound – an unforgettable experience!
Have you been to Te Anau or Milford Sound? Did you stop at any other sights along the way?
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
- NOTE: Feeding the kea can harm them as they are unable to digest human foods. More importantly, it also encourages them to continue scavenging, meaning they stop hunting. This means they stop teaching their young how to hunt, and in turn this means that the kea come to rely on humans for food.
Note: All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.