The road to Milford Sound - one of New Zealand’s most dramatic scenic drives through an alpine pass – is a much travelled route as visitors flow in to view “the eighth wonder of the world”.
But that doesn’t stop some people from wanting to do it the hard way – at least once a year when the fifth ever Meridian Energy Milford Mountain Classic takes off.
Resisting the urge to stop and admire the view could prove the hardest thing about racing through a World Heritage area – and the Milford Mountain Classic, New Zealand’s only true ‘Alpine Style’ cycle race, poses that very dilemma.
With the peaks of Milford Sound looming in the background, race competitors will embark on a 120km journey to Te Anau leaving Milford and making their way through an area that has long been described as the "eighth wonder of the world".
The spectacular scenery won't be the only thing taking the competitors breath away as belying the innocence of its postcard-like exterior, the Milford Mountain Classic is a tough race that will test the fittest of riders.
"It's 120km but we warn people it's more like a 160km ride because of the two hill climbs," Race Director Matt Sillars, of Sport Southland, said.
The race initially climbs 620m over the first 18km before steepening to scale an additional 320m in just 3kms, including the 1.2km stretch through the iconic Homer Tunnel; the location of the King of the Mountain title.
Another steady climb looms from the Hollyford turnoff at the 29km mark, ascending to The Divide.
From there, the race follows the Eglinton Valley downstream to the Te Anau finish.
There are also two other races on this iconic and scenic road, the Homer Hundred and the Eglinton Challenge starting at different points along the road.
The Ricoh Homer Hundred
Starting at 4.30pm the Homer Hundred is a 101km road cycle race from the Te Anau side of the Homer Tunnel to Te Anau.
This ride starts in the high mountains with the scenery of the upper Hollyford and Eglinton Valleys, but without the initial climb between Milford Sound and the Homer Tunnel.
Fiordland Lobster Company Eglinton Challenge
Starting at 5pm, the Eglinton Challenge begins at Knobs Flat and covers the last 65 kilometres of the race course.
The only serious hill climb commences at Te Anau Downs Station where competitors face the Retford Hill before easing to a gentle downhill into Te Anau Downs.
Te Anau - the small picturesque town on the shores of Lake Te Anau - is the gateway to the southern wilderness area of Fiordland National Park, Milford and Doubtful Sounds, and departure point for many walking trails. Fiordland National Park is New Zealand largest conservation area.
Of the 14 fiords in the Fiordland region, Milford Sound is the only one accessible by road. From the head of the fiord, regular cruises take visitors past majestic Mitre Peak and 16km out to the open sea.
With its stunning landscape, abundant marine wildlife, dramatic waterfalls and various outdoor pursuits, iconic Milford Sound is the prize at the end of the road. Described by storyteller Rudyard Kipling as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ which has made the region a bucket list destination for thousands of international travellers annually.
The Milford Track in Fiordland - New Zealand’s largest national park - is the most famous of New Zealand’s Great Walk network. Visitors spend four days / three nights following historic Maori routes through a dramatic landscape of forest-covered valleys, mountains and steep fiords from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound. For this much demanded route, bookings are necessary well in advance, for both independent and guided walks.
Adventure South Milford Sound Cycle
The spectacular journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound doesn’t get any better than doing it on a bike.
Adventure South guides take guests from Queenstown, into the Fiordland National Park, through Te Anau before arriving at Milford Sound. Towering peaks, rich rainforests and jaw dropping rock faces are all features along the route. On day 3 riders take a coach through the 1.2km Homer Tunnel before hopping back on the bike for a 15km descent into the Milford Sound. A floating hotel waits at the bottom of the hill for an incredible overnight experience amidst the peaks of the Milford Sound. The five-day journey ends with a transfer back to Queenstown aboard the lake steamer TSS Earnslaw following a visit to the hidden Mavora Lakes site featured in The Lord of the Rings.
The Milford Road is much more than a way to get to Milford Sound. It’s an unforgettable journey into the heart of Fiordland National Park. Approximately 2.5 hours’ drive from Te Anau. Be sure to fuel up in Te Anau as it is the last place to get petrol on the way to Milford Sound. Day coach trips can be organised from Te Anau or Queenstown. Real Journeys offer scenic flight options from Te Anau or Queenstown.