If you drive non-stop it takes at least two hours to get from Te Anau to Milford Sound (120km) and six to seven hours from Queenstown to Milford Sound (300km).
It’s the only road link to one of New Zealand’s major tourist attractions – Milford Sound. This road climbs to heights unmatched by any other highway in this country and its highest point is 940 metres above sea level.
The Transport Agency manages the Milford Road, which is especially important in winter season (May to September) when snow, ice and risk of avalanches make safe driving critical. To keep the road safely open as much as possible during the avalanche season, an internationally recognised avalanche control programme is in place that predicts and controls avalanches. A specialist team, contracted by the Transport Agency, uses high-tech equipment to manage avalanches. Specialised weather and condition monitoring equipment at both road and mountain level are all monitored around the clock to optimise safety and minimise road closures.
Besides predicting avalanches, the Transport Agency also controls the avalanche hazard by either not allowing traffic to stop inside the avalanche area, or closing the road and using controlled explosives to release avalanches before they occur naturally.
It operates during winter when vehicles using the road need to be fitted with chains, which is usually around 20 days times a year, between June and November.
The Kiosk team provides free information on safe driving during winter and also check vehicles are carrying the rights chains and their drivers know how to correctly fit them.
E very road user needs to go through the kiosk when it’s operating. However, the kiosk has two lanes, with one exclusively for accredited drivers who completed the Bus and Coach Association Programme to improve bus safety on the Milford Road. They have to show an accreditation pass then pass through, while other road users are checked to ensure that vehicles are carrying chains and the driver can fit them.
There are around 20 days a year between June and November when vehicles need to carry chains. Road condition information signs let road users know when they need to have chains with them or fit the chains. These signs are located 1km north of Te Anau Knobs Flat (65 km north of Te Anau) and Milford Sound (5km east of Milford Sound).
You endanger yourself and other road users if your vehicle skids on ice or snow because wasn’t fitted with the correct chains, or not using them at all. Driving past warning signs requiring chains further down the Milford Road could prove costly, as the police could fine you $750.
On average about eight days a year, mainly in winter, when treacherous weather and the high avalanche risk make driving on the road unsafe.
If you are not comfortable driving in winter conditions or do not have the right experience, taking a coach from Te Anau is a good option. Before you choose a coach, make sure they use Milford Road accredited drivers who are trained on how to drive this route in winter conditions.
Find the most up-to-date information at www.highwayinfo.govt.nz (external link) or ring 0800 4 HIGHWAYS (0800 444 449). This phone service is available 24/7.