If you have ever watched a documentary about New Zealand, chances are you will have seen the natural beauty of Fiordland National Park. Scenes of moody rain clouds pummeling lush, green forests? Slow motion videos of dolphin pods jumping out of the water? How about those waterfalls shooting over massive rocks into stunning fiords? Yes – these are the impressions left by Fiordland National Park.
At over 1.2 million hectares in size, Fiordland National Park is by far the largest national park in New Zealand. It’s beautiful, dramatic and the epitome of the great outdoors.
If you are heading to this region for some adventure, you are going to need a good base. Look no further than Te Anau. This little town serves as the gateway to the national park and is a perfect place to take in what the region has to offer. Te Anau is no more than a couple hours from any of the major highlights and means very little backtracking needed if you are driving yourself through the South Island. During our stay, we booked a room at the centrally located Distinction Te Anau Hotel & Villas. While the town itself is not large, ensuring you stay within walking distance of Main Street will make your life easier.
With so much to see and do, you could easily spend your whole trip in and around the park. Here are some things that you shouldn’t miss when heading to Fiordland National Park.
You can’t come to Fiordland without checking out the Fiords (and Sounds) – right? Right. (Quick geology lesson: Fiords and sounds are similar but differ in the way in which they are created. The former by slow moving glaciers and the latter by sea flooded river valleys that carve and create this landscape.) There are many fiords that span the 215km coast of Fiordland National Park. The one you have probably heard most about is Milford Sound. It’s the only fiord that is accessible by car and is therefore the most visited. Milford Highway from Te Anau to Milford Sound is one of the most scenic routes in New Zealand. We made our way to Milford very early for our cruise to avoid the coaches coming in from Queenstown. Given the sheer numbers of tour busses coming in on our departure, I am very glad we did.
Coming Soon: Destinations //Milford Sound
Want a less touristy and more authentic sound experience? Check out Doubtful Sound. Doubtful is a tad more difficult to get to as it requires a short ride to Manapouri, a boat ride across Manapouri Lake and then another drive to get to the actual sound itself. It’s why most tourists make their way to Milford instead. We joined Doubtful Sound Kayak for a full day out paddling through and exploring the sounds. What a contrast! Best part? We had the whole of the sounds to ourselves! If you have time on your side, be sure to make the extra trip and get both perspectives.
Be sure to check out Destinations // Doubtful Sound for a closer look at this adventure.
The two main towns you’ll find in Fiordland National Park are Te Anau and Manapouri. Both just so happen to sit on beautiful lakes and offer plenty of scenic cruises and water-based activities.
Lake Te Anau carries the title of the South Island’s largest lake and after Taupo, (Destinations // Taupo) is second largest in New Zealand. It’s hard to miss the lake as the town of Te Anau practically sits on the bankside. A popular outing on the lake includes a scenic cruise with Real Journeys to visit the Te Anau Glowworm Caves. The outing takes you across the lake to the western banks of Lake Te Anau. You also get to learn about glowworms as you board a smaller boat and float deep into the underground caves. Sitting in silence as thousands of luminating glowworms flicker overhead was a magical experience. Throw in the fact that your journey in and out is backdropped by the snowcapped Mt. Luxmore and the Murchison range – and you have got yourself a great day out.
If you head further south, you’ll be able to experience one of New Zealand’s most beautiful lakes – Lake Manapouri. Nestled in the mountains, this lake has multiple small islands and plenty of sandy beaches. In the 1950’s there were plans to flood this lake for power generation. An environmental movement took place in New Zealand to prevent this from happening. The result? The creation of the West Arm Power Station – the largest underground power station in the southern hemisphere. While most people who come to Manapouri are passing through for their Doubtful Sound excursions, tours of the power station are also sometimes available (maintenance is currently taking place so station tours are not available until September 2017).
If you love to hike (or tramp as it’s known in New Zealand), then you are probably aware that New Zealand is known for having some of the best trails in the world. In fact, the country has 9 “Great Walks” that are world renowned and draw in tons of local and international tourists every year. Fiordland National Park is lucky enough to have three of these famous multi-day treks – the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn Tracks. There are plenty of options to hit the trails on your own or with a guide. As we were travelling long term and were not carrying all the necessary gear, we opted to book the Routeburn Track with Ultimate Hikes. They handled securing our permits and all the logistics for our 3Day/2Night trek.
Coming Soon: Destinations //Routeburn Track
Regardless of your preferred hiking style, one thing is true – booking a permit in advance is a must (especially during peak season of October – April) to avoid disappointment. The New Zealand Department of Conservation Website is the best resource to get up to date information on your Great Walk options and availability. Making a trip out to Fiordland National Park means you are heading to the “Walking Capital of The World” – don’t miss the opportunity see what the fuss is all about.
When it comes to things to do in Fiordland National Park – the possibilities are endless. I’d suggest popping into the Fiordland i-SITE Visitor Information Centre in Te Aanu to see what special events are going on and what additional activities may interest you.
Fiordland i-SITE Visitor Information Centre
Address: 19 Town Centre Te Anau 9600
Phone: +64 3-249 8900
TIP: Don’t forget your bug spray. There is a reason why this area has so few people living in it. The sandflies in Fiordland National Park are notoriously pesky and their bites can put a damper on your trip.