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Fiordland travel tips:

  • Fiordland region The Fiordland National Park is New Zealand's largest and a world heritage site as well - check out a map or satellite image and you'll see that Milford Sound is just one of a dozen fiords!
  • Milford Sound or not is the big question...if you have at least 48 hours then the answer should definitely be YES!
  • Sandflies are not a reason to stay away, but just a small price to pay, they are actually not always around and quite manageable
  • Te Anau is an ideal centre of exploration with its own pretty lake and the start of the Kepler Track
  • Unsurprisingly, some of New Zealand's great walks are in Fiordland: the Milford Track, Kepler Track, Routeburn Track and Hump Ridge Track

Fiordland travel tips - Key Summit

The eighth wonder of the world

The power of Fiordland’s scenery never fails to enthral travellers. Waterfalls tumble hundreds of metres into massive fiords; ancient rainforest clings impossibly to the mountains; shimmering lakes and granite peaks look the same today as they did a thousand years ago.

Fiordland was well known to Maori, who have many legends recounting its formation and naming. Demi-god Tute Rakiwhanoa is said to have carved the rugged landscape from formless rock, hewing out the steep sided valleys with his adzes.

From the lakeside townships of Te Anau and Manapouri, you can experience Fiordland in the way that suits your travelling style. Adventurers can embark on kayaking tours of the lakes and fiords; hikers have access to a choice of well known walking challenges; scenery lovers can catch a scenic flight or enjoy lake and fiord cruises; divers can discover rare black corals growing just beneath the water’s surface.

Described by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ Milford Sound is always spectacular. Feel the mist of the waterfalls, look for seals on the rocks and marvel at the steep sides of the fiord.

At 421 metres, Doubtful Sound is the deepest of New Zealand’s fiords. It’s a haven for nature, with resident bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and penguins. Kayak tours and eco-cruises reveal the mysteries of the fiord.

Some of New Zealand’s ‘great walks’ are found in Fiordland - for those with less time, a range of short walks lets you dip into the wilderness for a few hours.

See here for hotels in the Fiordland region.

Source: Tourism New Zealand

Highlights of the Fiordland region

  • Te Anau: This lake village is the perfect place to get informed about what the Fiordland National Park has to offer. The Department of Conservation with its visitor centre runs the National Park Museum where you can read up about the history of this region. DOC offers another modest attraction with its Te Anau Wildlife Centre, on the lake shore just south of town, where you'll get a good chance to see Takahe, Kea and Kaka. A bit more touristic is the popular cruise to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves, just 20 minutes away. Many people take a short walk at the Control Gates car park, either along the Kepler Track to Brod Bay or south towards Manapouri and Rainbow Reach, which is considerably further.
  • The road to Milford Sound: This is definitely one of the great roads of tFiordland travel tips - Road to Milford Soundhe world, the views inside this world heritage area are spectacular no matter what the weather. Either the wet rock faces are glistening in the sunshine or hundreds of waterfalls are tumbling down the mountains. It's a magic alpine environment, apart from the road it feels completely untouched and special. Milford Sound is the indisputed gem waiting at the end of the road, but there are enough stops and walks on the way to fill three days of travel. The 120 kilometre long road first follows Lake Te Anau (at which end the Milford Track begins), then heads up into Eglington Valley where the scenery starts to be more dramatic. The Mirror Lakes and the Lake Gunn Nature Walk are short walks into the lush green environment, then the alps start to pile up high at the beginning of the Routeburn Track with Fiordland's most popular day walk to the Key Summit, 400 metres up the mountain shoulder. The wide views on top across lovely mirroring tarns towards the other Fiordland travel tips - nuclear bomb in Gunn Campmountains is spectacular. Next you can detour into the remote Hollyford Valley, once envisioned to connect all the way with the West Coast but in the end it was a hopeless project, as the quirky Gunn's Camp Museum will be able to relate to you. The cabins on this campground are the original road builder's huts! Also at the beginning of the Hollyford Valley is a short walk to 'The Gantry', a balcony that overlooks a wild piece of river. Further on towards Milford, you can detour into the Gertrude Valley for some truly alpine impressions, but the track all the way to Gertrude Saddle would take you at least half a day, and you haven't even reached the Homer Tunnel yet! The tunnel from 1953 was quite a revolution for tourism, funnily it still feels like a museum item with its pot holes, insufficient lighting and one way traffic. You can probably play with Kea parrots while you're waiting for the green light, or in early summer explore the leftover ice wall next door. The road then emerges from the cliff face into a beautiful valley and descends towards Milford, with 'The Chasm' being the last popular stop on the side, a roaring river eating its way into the rocks.
  • Fiordland travel tips - Milford SoundMilford Sound: Why would you want to visit a remote sandfly infested spot overrun with tourists, where it rains two out of three days? Because it could well be the highlight of your trip to New Zealand! From the seashore you'll already take in that famous panorama with Mitre Peak and other summits that break up the sky in such perfect proportions, to the right you can see the Lady Bowen Falls rushing down the mountain - it's at least as good as the postcards promised. A cruise though is a must, it would be a pity to have come so far and not experience this wonderworld by boat. You'll glide above the path of ancient 2 kilometre thick glaciers which took millions of years to carve this fiord (it's actually not a sound), which in the end filled up with water. On a cruise you'll get close to Mitre Peak, one of the tallest mountains in the world to emerge from the sea (1692 metres). Sinbad Gully next to it is a sort of jurassic park, it was in this valley that the Kakapo was rediscovered after 50 years of imagined extinction. You'll look down to Seal Rock with its little seal colony and there are also many more waterfalls to be seen, especially the 146 metre tall Stirling Falls where the captain will make sure you can get wet. At Harrisons Cove you'll get the option of visiting an underwater observatory, for those interested in the special marine environment of the dark fiords. Most boats will take you all the way to the Tasman Sea and back. Close to the modern Milford Wharf Terminal you'll get close to the impressive 160 metre tall Lady Bowen Falls.
  • Fiordland travel tips - Milford SoundManapouri and Doubtful Sound: Manapouri is a very quiet settlement south of Te Anau, not many travellers find the time to visit this moody lake or Fiordland's second most well known fiord, the Doubtful Sound. Tours are more expensive than to Milford Sound and the scenery is less dramatic, but it feels at least as remote, even more untouched, the chances to see wildlife (dolphins, penguins and seals) are greater and the journey there is quite an experience. First you'll cruise along Lake Manapouri, visit the Underground Manapouri Power Station two kilometres below ground, then take a bus over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove before the Doubtful Sound cruise itself begins - a journey into the heart of Fiordland! There are lots more trip options, as well as kayaking and walking tracks, especially the 3 hour Circle Track to a viewpoint over the lake.

The best Fiordland walks

  • Lake Gunn Nature Walk (45 min return), Cascade Creek car park, Te Anau-Milford Highway
  • Key Summit - start of the Routeburn Track, wonderful views from top (3 h return), The Divide car park, Te Anau-Milford Highway
  • Gertrude Saddle Route (4-6 h return or less), Te Anau-Milford Highway
  • East Homer Nature Walk - next to the Homer Tunnel (20 min return), Te Anau-Milford Highway
  • The Chasm (20 min return), Te Anau-Milford Highway
  • Lake Marian Falls - short walk to 'The Gantry' (30 min return), Lake Marian car park, Hollyford Road    
  • Humbolt Falls (30 min return), end of Hollyford Road
  • Control Gates to Brod Bay - start of the Kepler Track (3 h return), Golf Course Road, Te Anau
  • Circle Track - with viewpoint (3 h return), from Pearl Harbour, Manapouri
  • There are of course also multi-day walks like the Milford Track (53.5 kms), Kepler Track (60 kms), Dusky Track (84 kms) and Hollyford Track (56 kms)

The best Fiordland lookouts

  • Piopiotahi Milford Foreshore Walk - the famous view towards Milford Sound (30 min return), Milford
  • Piopiotahi Milford Lookout Walk (10 min one way), via 'Donald Sutherland's Grave', Milford
  • Pop's View Lookout, south of the Hollyford Road, Te Anau-Milford Highway
  • Key Summit (3 h return), The Divide car park, Te Anau-Milford Highway
  • The Monument Summit (2 h return), water taxi to the walking track from Pearl Harbour, Manapouri
  • Wilderness Lookout (10 min return), Wilderness Reserve on State Highway 94, 21 kms east of Te Anau

The best Fiordland museums

  • Fiordland Museum, Lake Front Drive, Te Anau

Map of the Fiordland region

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