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Auckland to Queenstown

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The drive from Auckland to Queenstown

One of the great things about Aotearoa New Zealand is the ease of travel. Being a small country nowhere is too far and everywhere is easy to reach. There are many ways to get from A to B, or in this case, from Auckland to Milford Sound Piopiotahi.

The quickest – and cheapest – is by air, with flights leaving Auckland daily for Queenstown, from where you can bus or fly to Milford Sound. Auckland to Queenstown takes a little under two hours, and the aerial views are wonderful, with the snow-capped Southern Alps bisecting the south and mountain ranges, lakes and our famed braided rivers adorning the green country New Zealand is famed for.

If you have time, it is a beautiful road trip, although driving the length of both islands is fairly time-consuming. One option, which provides a variety of modes of transport and allows you to see a good part of the country, is to combine air and road travel, and maybe a bit of rail too if you like! The ferry across Cook Strait takes around 3 ½ hours and is often considered a ‘mini-cruise’.

The Trip

A car or camper van can be hired at any point in the journey, giving you freedom and versatility. There are two main routes through the South Island. Taking the West Coast from Picton, through sunny Nelson, down to Greymouth and along the coast past the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers is possibly the preferred tourist route. You will see the remote beauty of the native forests, the wild coastal seas and the remarkable glaciers which have played such a prominent role in the shaping of this area.

The East Coast, however, is equally stunning with beautiful seascape, rolling plains and the incredible sunsets of the Kaikoura region. Christchurch city is worth a look as you pass through, as are the Moeraki Boulders near Timaru, the historical precinct in Oamaru, and the lush and lovely scenery travelling inland through Wanaka and Tekapo, past Queensland and into Fiordland. If you have time, a full circuit of the south is highly recommended as an itinerary item. The roads are easy to navigate, and a good map, available from any service station, or a GPS will aid you in getting to your destination.


Flights from Auckland to Queenstown take 1 hour 50 minutes; you will need to contact a travel agent or visit the Air New Zealand or Jetstar websites to confirm fares and availability as both are highly seasonal; both airlines also offer regular deals when you can get super-cheap fares. There are multiple flights daily, just go online and see what suits! The same applies for flights from Auckland to Wellington or Christchurch if you want a mix’n’match trip.

Airfares from Queenstown to Milford are dearer as only small operators do the run, and there is less demand for the service. It is worth it, though! The alps, Fiordland and the mountains are quite unbelievable by air. Also, it takes about 45 minutes to fly across, while the bus takes around three hours. Depending on your time and budget, you could mix and match or choose whatever suits you. Flights can be combined with lake cruises, and a wide range of options is available.

Scenic Railways

New Zealand Rail has passenger services from Auckland to Christchurch and across to Greymouth, crossing Cook Strait by ferry. Again, rail travel can be mixed with driving and/or flying to make the most of your experience. The TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth via Arthurs Pass is considered one of the world’s ‘top ten’ scenic rail journeys. Rail passes are usually available, allowing for unlimited rail travel within a set period, however, as at December 2016 these are not available due to the earthquake slips around Kaikoura.

Both the Bluebridge and The Interislander ferries offer comfortable, relaxing transport across Cook Strait. Ferries depart daily, can take vehicles and have a range of on-board services. They each offer different discounts for memberships such as Backpackers NZ, YHA and Top Ten Holiday Parks, so be sure to check if you are eligible when booking. Ferries travel between Wellington and Picton and take three to three-and-a-half hours.

Road travel by car or camper van

The total road trip from Auckland to Milford Sound Piopiotahi is around 1,900 kilometres and takes about 25 hours driving as well as a ferry crossing. As it is significantly longer and more expensive than flying, the road trip is a way to see the country and enjoy the sights along the way. Planning your route and booking ahead, particularly in the busy summer season, will make your trip more comfortable and ensure you get to see everything you want to along the way. Cars can be hired at all large towns and can be picked up and dropped off at most airports.

By Road Queenstown to Milford

The Milford Road is a true Kiwi beauty, making the decision to fly or drive a difficult one. While the road can be challenging and takes a few hours, it is also incredibly scenic and has many striking rest areas. It’s really down to what you want to see, where you want to go, how long you want to take and how much you want to spend whether you take the road or fly into Milford Sound Piopiotahi; maybe consider driving or taking the coach one way and flying the other? However, you get there, be sure to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

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