Fiordland National Park is by far New Zealand's largest national park out of its 14 national parks. It is named for its world-famous fiords that slice into its coastline. It is full of utterly picturesque lakes both large and small. These lakes peel off down different mountain ranges valleys. They often have sandy beaches as well as mountains falling straight down into the lake. The two accessible fiords are Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. The entire park is mountainous and forested and it boasts three of New Zealand's 10 Great Walks and is likely to soon host a fourth; it's home to some of the best things to do in New Zealand.
Fiordland National Park In Brief
- Accessible Fiords: Milford Sound And Doubtful Sound
- Great Walks: Kepler Track, Milford Track, Routeburn Track
- Largest Lakes: Lake Te Anau And Lake Manapouri
- Main Settlement: Te Anau Town (Gateway To Fiordland)
- Size: 4,868 sq Miles
Fiordland is located down in the extreme southwest of the South Island. It is a truly unspoiled and pure corner of New Zealand. It is a refuge for some of New Zealand's most endangered species like the Takahe and its valleys are all U-shaped valleys carved by glaciers from the ice ages. The main activities here are hiking, camping, cruising the fiords, cruising the lakes, scenic flights, fishing, and hunting. With hunting, there are no licenses or bag limits to hunting deer, pigs, etc. Here as they are introduced and considered invasive. The government encourages people to hunt to control the numbers and prevent erosion.
- Tip: Bring Plenty Of Good Quality Mosquito Repellant
- Entrance Fee: New Zealand National Parks Are Free
Hiking In Fiordland
Fiordland is perfect for hiking and is a must for those visiting the national park. There are three popular hiking trails (in New Zealand the word "track" not "trail" is used). They are all multiday and have huts along the trail ("hut" is the word used for a shelter on the trail). To stay at these huts you need to buy tokens from the Department of Conservation (DOC - pronounced "dock").
- Milford Track: One Way Track. Accessed By Boat From Te Anau Ends At Milford Sound. Only Track In New Zealand To Need To Book - Bookings Are Often Filled A Year In Advance
- Kepler Track: 37 Mile Multiday Circular Track. Difficulty Medium Normally Completed In Three Or Four Days
- Routeburn Track: 20 Mile Track, Cuts Through The Southern Alps. Difficulty Medium
When To Go
Unless you are planning to go skiing in New Zealand, the best time to go is always late spring, summer, and early autumn. Remember New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere and so the seasons are inverted! Also, this part of New Zealand is very wet - much much wetter than Seattle and the rain falls year-round. The weather can change rapidly and the weather forecasts are often wrong. When hiking it is always important to go prepared. You must always be prepared for driving rain and howling gusty wind. Umbrellas are often useless in New Zealand as often the rain is accompanied by wind.
- Tip: Always Check The Weather Forcast And Be Prepared For Bad Weather
The Fiords Of Fiordland
The two accessible Fiords are Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. Most tours are from Te Anau and most are day trips, there is very little accommodation in the park. Mostly the huts and a few cruise boats in the fiords.
Milford Sound is one of the most well-known images of New Zealand with Mitre Peak often shown in the pictures. To get to Milford Sound you can drive or take the tour bus. The drive cuts right through the heart of Fiordland and is one of the most stunning drives anywhere in the world.
The cruises are normally a couple of hours and you may be able to see penguins and fur seals. If it is a sunny day you can enjoy the stunning picturesque views and if it is raining (and it often is) you can really see these waterfalls dramatically come to life.
- Milford Sound: Normally A Day Trip From Te Anau
Doubtful Sound is the more remote sound. It is less dramatic than Milford Sound but just as beautiful in another way. To get to it you need to take a cruise across the mesmerizing Lake Manapouri. The lake fills the forested mountain valleys and its many arms split off down the valleys. It's studded with islands and beaches. Once on the other side, you hop on a bus that goes through a tunnel in the mountain and you will arrive at Doubtful Sound. There is the option of taking an overnight cruise here.
- Doubtful Sound: Normally A Day Trip, Can Be Overnight
In short, Fiordland is certainly one of New Zealand's most picturesque locations.