Nothing summarizes the beauty of New Zealand more than majestic Fiordland where these 11 unforgettable moments will take your breath away!
An area with jagged misty peaks, endless rainforest, and glacier-carved valleys, Fiordland is New Zealand’s last great wilderness. If you want to get away from it all, hike one of the three multi-day Great Walks or kayak in stillness at Doubtful Sound. We have rounded up 11 unforgettable moments in Fiordland that will, sometimes literally, take your breath away (and make you wish for a much better camera)!
Under the “Starry Skies”of Bioluminicent Caves
On the western shores of Lake Te Anau, a mysterious underground world carved out over 12,000 years awaits. After a cruise on the lake, you’ll venture into deep and dark caves filled with limestone formations, whirlpools, and a subterranean waterfall. Beyond the roar of the water, take by a small boat into a hidden grotto filled with the luminous shimmer of thousands of glowworms overhead. In the darkness with the tiny creatures above, the glittering display will make you feel like you’re standing under the night sky.
Hike and Explore Milford Track
You don’t mind braving the elements, think 33 miles across mountainous terrain is a walk in the park and have four days to spare? For over 150 years, the famous Milford Track has been challenging hikers from around the world, and it’s so popular that bookings need to be made months in advance. 33 miles across mountainous terrain and have four days will reward you with stunning scenery such as New Zealand’s tallest waterfall, the 1,900ft high Sunderland Falls and gorgeous MacKinnon Pass. Be aware that this area gets 200 rainy days on average, though some would argue that only rain, with spontaneous waterfalls sprouting down the mountainsides, reveals the true beauty of the Milford Track.
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No matter if you’re into freshwater or saltwater, the open Tasman Sea and Fiordland’s rivers make any angler’s heart beat faster. The Waiau River is teeming with rainbow and brown trout, while blue cod from the sea is the most sought-after catch in this area. Mostly National Park, the region is untouched by commercial fisherman, so if you happen to come across another angler, it’s an amateur just like you. Blue fin tuna and yellowtail kingies are ready to be caught and if you’re having a bad day, the stunning landscape will make up for it.
Spot the Parrots
The world’s only alpine parrot, the olive-green kea, is a minor celebrity in Fiordland because of their intelligence and cheekiness. You can encounter them, lying in wait for unsuspecting travelers, at Homer Tunnel on the way to Milford Sound. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam (the tunnel is one lane only), keas will take utter delight in pulling wiper blades and seals off your rental car in seconds. It’s just part of their daily entertainment–where else in the world can you play tug-of-war with a wild parrot?!
Explore the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’
Nothing will make you feel smaller and more insignificant than a scenic flight over New Zealand’s largest National Park. A landscape carved by glaciers over 100,000 years and overgrown with ancient rainforest, it’s inaccessible for the most part, but from the air you can marvel at deep fiords, cascading waterfalls, shimmering lakes, sheer cliffs, and granite peaks. Rudyard Kipling once called Milford Sound, Fiordland’s crowning jewel, the eight Wonder of the World.
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Ride the Rivers
It’s not all just hiking, bird watching, and kayaking in Fiordland. A ride in one of New Zealand’s iconic jetboats will get your adrenaline pumping! Jetboats were invented in the 1950s by a local farmer to navigate shallow and fast flowing rivers like the Waiau and Wairarahiri in Fiordland. Traveling on both these rivers leads through dense rainforest and areas otherwise not accessible by foot or other modes of transport. While the landscape is stunning as everywhere, the biggest thrill is when the jet boats spin 360 degrees amid large sprays of water and screams from the backseats.
Drive the Long Way
One of the most beautiful drives in the world, a journey on the Milford Road between the small town of Te Anau and the mighty Milford Sound, is an unforgettable scenic experience like no other. The road passes glacier-carved Eglington Valley, which is covered in golden tussock floor, and the famed Mirror Lakes, which perfectly display the Earl Mountains on a clear day. The four-hour drive also passes Homer Tunnel, a marvel of engineering which took 20 years to build opening the sound to cars in 1954. The road finishes at picture-perfect Milford Sound with towering 5,560 feet Mitre Peak at its center.
Take a Cruise on the Doubtful Sound
If you want to get away from it all, then an overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound, the deepest and some say most beautiful of the park’s fiords, is a must-do activity. You’ll see wildlife like dolphins, fur seals, and penguins in close proximity to the boat and, after nightfall, the Milky Way, free from light pollution. Once the engines are turned off, you’re surrounded by an indescribable, powerful solitude in one of the most remote places on earth. Captain Cook named the fiord “Doubtful Sound” because he wasn’t sure he could navigate his way out, but unlike the English explorer, you might not want to leave.
Bird Watch the Kiwis and More
New Zealand is known for its unique birds, most famously the national icon, the kiwi. And just like the kiwi, other birds felt safe on their islands due to the lack of predators too and lost their will (and ability) to fly a long time ago. To peek at some of Fiordland’s special birds, the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary is a great starting point as many of these feathery friends are rare in the wild. It’s a humbling sight to see the colorful flightless takahē, thought to have died out and brought back from extinction by human conservation efforts to the current population of 347.
Hold Your Breath
Jacques Cousteau once called diving in Fiordland “the last frontier” of underwater exploration, and rightly so. Exploring the Milford Sound marine reserve is an encounter with sheer cliff faces that provide breathtaking (don’t hold your breath for too long) fiord wall diving with rare black coral trees, usually only found in deepwater trenches. More than 150 species of fish like sharks and eels as well as crayfish, octopus, and stingray can be found here. For all non-divers, the Underwater Observatory, some 30ft below the surface, enables views of the underwater scenery and colorful sea creatures.
Become One with Nature
Kayaking gets you really close up with mother nature in the quietest corners of both Milford and Doubtful Sound. Ranging from 1hr to multi-day trips, you can even choose to go camping in the wilderness. But don’t worry, New Zealand’s most dangerous animal is the white-tailed spider whose bite might make your skin itch for a bit. Glide past massive vertical cliffs, take selfies with rugged snow-capped peaks and see cascading waterfalls while lazy seals sunbathe and rare penguins navigate the waters around you.