While you’re here, you won’t want to miss –
Fiordland is renowned for supremely beautiful and dramatic scenery. Steep granite cliffs, serene lakes and tumbling waterfalls combine to make this an extraordinary destination.
Until the early 20th century, the fiords of this extremely remote and rugged region of the lower west South Island, remained largely unvisited due to the difficulty in actually getting there. Today, thanks to the road from Te Anau, a cruise or scenic flight to Milford Sound – definitely one of the best things to do in Fiordland – is possible.
Fiordland is also home to many species of New Zealand’s native wildlife – you can visit Wildlife Centers as well as view wildlife in their natural habitats. The best time for viewing wildlife and visiting Milford Sound is in the summer, spring and fall. During winter, the Milford Road can become impassable with heavy snow falls, making access unpredictable.
Although limited accommodation is available in Milford Sound, most people use Te Anau as a base and take day trips – or an overnight cruise on a small ship – to explore this and other parts of Fiordland.
Lake Te Anau
The lakeside town of Te Anau is your introduction to Fiordland, and you’ll find everything you need for your stay – restaurants, cafés, gift shops, clothing stores, a cinema and more. Lake Te Anau is the largest lake in the South Island, so there are many choices for cruises, fishing, kayaking and swimming – not to mention sampling fresh seafood.
One of the highlights of the lake is twinkling glowworm caves on the western shore – tour them by boat or on foot. Another is the Te Anau Wildlife Center, with native and endangered birds including weka, takahe and kea. As well as being an incredibly scenic location, Lake Te Anau is a conservation area and dedicated to the preservation and breeding of many of New Zealand’s endangered species.
Fiordland’s scenic treasures became more accessible in the early 1900s, when the Milford Road was constructed from Te Anau into Milford Sound.
Today, State Highway 94 is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful alpine journeys. The road follows the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau through the Eglinton Valley and features waterfalls, rivers and tantalizing place names such as the “Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain” and the “Mirror Lakes.” At the last stage of the journey, before reaching Milford Sound, you’ll pass through the famous Homer Tunnel, a true engineering feat.
The entire journey takes around 2 hours nonstop, but do allow more time for stops on your drive. Although the road is a main highway, it is not the easiest to navigate. Taking the bus is a popular option – you’ll be able to enjoy the scenery and also listen to an entertaining commentary along the way. If you do decide to drive, make sure you fill up on gas in Te Anau as there are no gas stations along the way.
Milford and Doubtful Sounds
Once you reach Milford Sound, the true splendor of this region is revealed in all its rugged glory.
Journey through the glacier carved fiord with one of the cruise operators to fully appreciate the sights, especially spectacular Mitre Peak and Stirling Falls, in this, the most visited of all the Sounds. Cruises generally take from 1½ to 2 hours out to the open sea and back again. Take a rain jacket as the weather can be unpredictable. But if it does rain heavily, you’ll be impressed by the volley of waterfalls that spring forth.
On your journey through Milford Sound, look out for fur seals, crested penguins, bottlenose dolphins and native birds. Another, more unwelcome character – the mosquito – might make an appearance so insect repellent is advisable! A unique attraction at Milford Sound is the Milford Deep Underwater Observatory at Harrison Cove. Travel 30 feet underwater to see the range of marine life that exists beneath the surface of the fiord.
For a real treat on your vacation, board a scenic flight from Milford Sound to get an aerial view of the landscape. You can head further afield to other fiords, such as Dusky and Doubtful Sounds – or fly across stunning scenery and mountain peaks back to either Queenstown or Wanaka.
South of Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is the largest and deepest of all the fiords. It has been named the “Sound of Silence” due to the overwhelming sense of serenity it invokes. You can explore it via boat for a day or – if you have time, on an overnight cruise or kayak trip.
Another of the best things to do in Fiordland is hiking. Milford Sound is the end point for New Zealand’s most famous hike – The Milford Track. Starting at the northernmost tip of Lake Te Anau, this 34 mile hike is completed over 4 days and requires a reasonable level of fitness.
The array of incredible scenery includes valleys, mountains and forest, as well as New Zealand’s tallest waterfall, Sutherland Falls. Reservations are required and allow you to stay in comfortable huts along the way – camping on the track is not allowed.
The Kepler Track and Routeburn Track are also well-known walks in Fiordland. The Kepler Track is a custom-built 3 to 4-day loop between Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri. Walking this 37 mile track is relatively easy, due to the construction of boardwalks and bridges – and you’ll still be able to enjoy much of Fiordland’s best scenery.
The Routeburn is the shortest of these walks at only 20 miles, but has more steep climbs. Part of an old Māori walking route, it runs between Fiordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park. All of these walking tracks – and many more lesser known ones – can be experienced either on your own or by joining a guided walk.
Whether you explore magnificent Fiordland from the ground, water or air, you won’t run short of things to do. This is a part of New Zealand that will take your breath away.