Fiordland is a slice of nature at its best. This remote corner of New Zealand is the country’s finest national park and covers 1.2 million hectares of wilderness, with mountains, vast swaths of untouched rainforest, and towering coastal fiords that were carved out by receding glaciers. This is an ecological wonderland of the highest order and it sits at the forefront of New Zealand’s renowned conservation efforts with several rare and endangered endemic species calling the region home. Whether you set off on one of Fiordland’s lauded multi-day treks or just come to cruise the magnificent scenery of Milford Sound, this stunning national park will surely be the highlight of your New Zealand journey. Here’s a bucketlist of things to do in Fiordland National Park:
Milford Sound: Going to 1 of the sounds in Fiordland National Park is a New Zealand must-do, for sure. Milford Sound is the most popular for its easy access by road. The pointed-peak fiords are what remain from glacial carving. Seeing Milford Sound from the water makes it easier to really appreciate the magnificence of these huge steep fiords. For those with limited time at Milford Sound, a cruise is a quick way to travel down the sound, while seeing Sterling Falls and Mitre Peak along the way. By kayak, you can feel much smaller in your surroundings. Plus, you can get up, close and (maybe not) personal with the wildlife such as the fur seals.
There are two weather scenarios perfect for a Milford Sound trip. Either on a clear day, so everything can be seen, although a little bit of cloud hanging on the peak of a fiord looks pretty cool. Or just after some heavy rainfall, which creates temporary waterfalls cascading down the steep cliffs.
Te Anau: The town of Te Anau is the gateway to the Fiordland National Park. For booking or picking up tickets for the activities in the Fiordland National Park, it is likely you will have to make a stop in the town. Many backpackers use Te Anau as a base for doing 1 of the Great Walks or the Hollyford, Greenston, Caples and Dusky Tracks – there is a reason why Te Anau is the “Walking Capital of New Zealand”. The choice of cafes also give a good excuse for a coffee break and a bite to eat.
Rakiura Track: One of NZ’s nine Great Walks, the 39km, three-day Rakiura Track is a peaceful and leisurely loop that sidles around beautiful beaches before climbing over a 250m-high forested ridge and traversing the sheltered shores of Paterson Inlet/Whaka ā Te Wera. Rakiura Track is actually only 32km long, but adding in the road sections at either end bumps it up to 39km, conveniently forming a circuit from Oban. It’s a well-defined loop requiring a moderate level of fitness, suitable for tramping year-round. Being a Great Walk, it has been gravelled to eliminate most of the mud for which the island is infamous.
Lake Manapouri: Tiny Manapouri, on the shore of Lake Manapouri, lays claim to being the most westerly town in New Zealand. Although Manapouri is best known as the gateway to Doubtful Sound, the town itself is a nature-lover’s paradise with a vast amount of boating, kayaking, fishing, and day-hiking opportunities to explore. Staying here for a few days to just revel in the unhurried charm and soak up the lake views is a must-do for travelers looking for a get-away-from-it-all experience. The Manapouri Track is an excellent way to explore Fiordland’s knock-dead gorgeous native forest scenery with both day hikes and overnights possible. While film fans will want to spend some time here to visit the Waiau River and Kepler Mire, locations that were featured in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.
Ulva Island: A tiny paradise covering only 250 hectares, Ulva Island/Te Wharawhara is a great place to see lots of native NZ birds. Established as a bird sanctuary in 1922, it remains one of Stewart Island/Rakiura’s wildest corners – ‘a rare taste of how NZ once was and perhaps could be again’, according to DOC. The island was declared rat-free in 1997 and three years later was chosen as the site to release endangered South Island saddlebacks.
Redcliff Cafe: Housed in a replica settler’s cottage, relaxed Redcliff offers generous fine-dining in a convivial atmosphere backed by sharp service. The predominantly locally sourced food is truly terrific: try the wild venison or hare. Kick off or wind it up with a drink in the rustic front bar, which often hosts live music.
Wildlife: Firstly, let’s talk about New Zealand’s most devious bird: the kea. These alpine parrots, and the world’s only alpine parrot, are commonly found in car parks ripping rubber seals off cars and playing with windscreen wipers. When out on the water in the sounds, you are likely to see some fur seals lounging on the rocks. Bottlenose dolphins sometimes glide alongside the boats. And if you are really lucky, Fiordland crested penguins or little blue penguins can be seen coming to shore.