in the southwest corner of the South Island of New Zealand lies a sparsely populated wilderness that contains some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world. This land of mountains, lakes, waterfalls and calm fjords, which give the region its name, is Fiordland National Park.

At over 1.2 million hectares, Fiordland is by far the largest national park in New Zealand, in fact covering 5% of the country’s area. Most of the region is inaccessible by road, but Te Anau and Manapouri are the best bases to start with, as they have hotels and campsites. The small municipality 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 3,000 feet and can be affected by snow and avalanches in the winter months, although it is generally passable; snow chains may be required in severe conditions. While in Milford Sound, the underwater observatory known as Milford Deep is a fascinating place to visit. Many of Milford Sound’s cruise itineraries call in here, so combine a visit with a cruise across the strait to the Tasman Sea.

The other main tourist route is by boat from Manapouri via Lake Manapouri, where you can visit the underground hydroelectric power station before crossing Wilmot Pass by bus to Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound. Here a second ship joins to navigate the misty expanse of Doubtful Sound, the deepest of fjords. Here you have a good chance of seeing dolphins and the elusive fjord crested penguins.

There are back roads leading into the wilderness from north of Tuatapere, particularly those leading to Lake Hauroko and Lake Monowai, but further exploring will require walking. That is, if you don’t want to pay for a helicopter or travel by sea to the unpopulated west coast of the South Island, there are multi-day cruises provided by Real Journeys that do this.

One of the most popular activities in Fiordland is hiking, or wandering, as it is called in New Zealand. The best known route is probably the Milford Track, which covers the 54km from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound in typically a 4 day hike. The most popular tracks require reservation with DOC (department of conservation) to secure a place in the cabins, especially in high season. Other routes include the Routeburn Track which takes the walker to Fiordland from the east in 3 days via a spectacular high level route and the Dusky track which leads through wilderness to Supper Cove in remote Dusky Sound. Due to the challenging terrain, including river crossings, the Dusky Track should only be attempted by experienced wilderness hikers. 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 away from the motor roads. Some of these are not regular services and you will need to check locally; the tourist information can reserve them if necessary.

As for traditional activities – hunting and fishing – there are many places to venture. For both sports, a license must usually be obtained from the National Park Visitor Center in Te Anau or the DOC, but there are chances to catch brown and rainbow trout, as well as hunt red deer. Deer are an introduced species to New Zealand and numbers are kept in check this way: the animals have no natural predators.

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

Visiting New Zealand – Fiordland National Park

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