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Visiting New Zealand – Fiordland National Park

Visiting New Zealand – Fiordland National Park

In the south western corner of New Zealand’s South Island lies a sparsely populated wilderness region which contains some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the World. This land of mountains, lakes, waterfalls and tranquil fiords – that give the region its name – is Fiordland National Park.

At over 1.2 million hectares, Fiordland is far and away the largest national park in New Zealand and in fact covers 5{4962d8e2c73ee88aad7125033d5658fd247043cd5a624d71ac5e800504586b0b} of the area of the country. Most of the region is inaccessible by road but Te Anau and Manapouri are the best bases to start from, having both hotels and campsites. The small township of Tuatapere in the south also borders the national park.

The most popular route into Fiordland from the east is the Milford Road from Te Anau to Milford Sound. The road reaches an altitude of over 3000 feet and can be affected by snow and avalanches in the winter months though is usually passable – snow chains may be required in severe conditions. While you’re at Milford Sound, the underwater observatory known as  Milford Deep is a fascinating place to visit. Many of the Milford Sound cruise itineraries call here so combine a visit with a cruise down the sound as far as the Tasman sea.

The other main tourist route is by boat from Manapouri across Lake Manapouri where you can visit the underground hydro electric power station before crossing the Wilmot Pass by bus to Deep Cove on Doubtful Sound. Here a second boat is joined to cruise the misty length of Doubtful Sound – the deepest of the fiords. You’ve a good chance here of seeing dolphins and the elusive fiordland crested penguins.

There are minor roads which head into the wilderness from just north of Tuatapere – notably those to Lake Hauroko and Lake  Monowai but for further exploration you’re going to have to walk. That is if you don’t want to pay out for a helicopter or to travel by sea round to the unpopulated west coast of South Island – there are multi-day cruises that do this provided by the firm Real Journeys.   

One of the most popular activities in Fiordland is hiking or tramping as it’s called in New Zealand. The most well known route is probably the Milford Track which covers the 54km from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound in – normally – a walk of 4 days. The most popular tracks do require reservation with DOC (department of conservation) to ensure a place in the huts especially in high season. Other routes include the Routeburn Track which brings the walker into Fiordland from the East in 3 days over a spectacular high level route and the Dusky track which leads through the wilderness to Supper Cove on the remote Dusky Sound. Because of the challenging terrain – including river crossings – the Dusky Track is really only to be attempted by experienced wilderness trekkers. There are many more hiking opportunities in Fiordland National Park from easy to challenging and from coastal to alpine.

The mountain biker will find plenty to do – the Hauroko and Borland Roads offer access to the park’s wild interior and there are boat services where you can be picked up or dropped off far from motor roads. Some of these are not regular services and you will need to check locally – tourist information can book these for you if required.

As for the traditional activities – hunting and fishing – there are many places to venture. For both sports a licence must generally be obtained from the National Park Visitor Centre in Te Anau or from DOC but there are chances to catch brown and rainbow trout as well as to hunt red deer. The deer are an introduced species in New Zealand and numbers are kept under control in this way – the animals having no natural predators.

Whether you drive the spectacular Milford Road, take the boat to Doubtful Sound or venture deeper into the remote back country of Fiordland National Park, your visit will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of your trip to New Zealand.