Fiordland National Park – Guide for Backpackers
Cruise the fiords and get harassed by a kea in Fiordland!
Once again, the New Zealand scenery dramatically changes. For many, their favourite NZ landscape is the fiords of Fiordland National Park! Glacial erosion has left spectacular landforms in the area, most famous of which are Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. In this backpacker guide to Fiordland National Park, we’ll go through some of the main attractions to give you an idea of what travelling Fiordland is like.
You can’t drive anywhere without wanting to stop every five minutes to take photos of the huge valleys and lakes, so it’s no surprise that Fiordland National Park is one of the few that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This remote area of New Zealand is protected partially due to wildlife, which provide immense entertainment for backpackers, especially kea. Fiordland National Park is a paradise for anyone who has legs and likes to use them. Three of the Great Walks are in the national park.
Things you can’t miss in Fiordland national Park
- Milford Sound!
- And if you have more time, Doubtful Sound!
- Do part or all of a Great Walk.
- Visit Te Anau.
- Witness the cheekiness of a kea parrot.
Going to one 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 (learn more about the Milford Sound road here). The pointed-peak fiords are what remains 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 Stirling Falls and Mitre Peak along the way. Check out what sights you’re likely to see along the way on 11 Stunning Sights Seen From a Milford Sound Cruise. 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. Either way, both will show a contrasting but impressive sight of the surrounding landscape.
The journey to Milford Sound is just a bit spectacular itself, so make sure to do some stop offs along the way. See the Mirror Lakes, Lake Gunn, the Chasm, and a stream so clean you can fill up your water bottle in it. All lookout points and attractions are well sign posted on the road. If you are going with a bus company, they often stop for photographs. For more information, check out Guide to Milford Sound and the Milford Road.
Milford Sound is often described as a natural wonder of New Zealand. We have listed some more natural wonders here: Natural Wonders of New Zealand.
Milford Sounds’ big brother is lesser known but is twice as long! The only way to reach Doubtful Sound is by the water, across Lake Manapouri, then a bus ride to the foreshore but this is great if you want to make an adventure out of it.
There are day trips, overnight cruises or multiple day kayaking trips starting from Lake Manapouri. Doubtful Sound is often described as a quieter version of Milford Sound and is a good option if you have time to spend in Fiordland.
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 one 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.
For those staying longer in Te Anau, go to Bluegum Point for a choice of water activities. Boat rides, trout and salmon fishing, water skiing and swimming are good ways to take advantage of Lake Te Anau.
To go off the beaten track and explore the southern end of the Fiordland National Park, consider basing yourself in the town of Tuatapere. Activity providers can connect you to the Humpridge Track, a multi-day excursion of the Fiordland coastline with more luxurious accommodations than what’s available on Great Walks.
Tuatapere is also in proximity to Lake Hauroko, which provides many walks around the placid and sacred lake to the local Moari iwi (tribe). Plus, multiple jet boat tours depart from Lake Hauroko taking you to secluded and wild locations in the Fiordland National Park.
Three Great Walks
As New Zealand’s largest national park, it encompasses three of the 10 Great Walks. These tracks have been chosen for their outstanding beauty. Just remember, it likes to rain in Fiordland so be prepared! For more information on how to book accommodation for a Great Walk, see our Guide to the 10 Great Walks of New Zealand.
The Kepler Track is a circuit walk starting and ending in Te Anau. It is a 3 to 4-day walk encompassing beech forests, mountain peaks, river and lake shores.
The Milford Track is a 1-way route starting from Lake Te Anau and with a grand finale of Milford Sound. This 4-day journey takes you along the Clinton River and through valleys carved by glaciers. Reaching Arthur Valley, you will see New Zealand’s longest waterfall, Sutherland Falls. The journey continues through rainforest and past Lake Ada, finally getting a boat to Milford Sound.
The Routeburn Track is the perfect track to surround yourself in alpine scenery. The 3-day track gives stunning views of glacial lakes, while you stand on tussock and herb fields. You can either begin the track from the Routeburn Shelter at the top of Lake Wakatipu or from The Divide, 85km northwest of Te Anau.
Learn more about multi-day hikes in our 5 Incredible Multi-day Hikes in the Fiordland National Park.
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.
If you haven’t had the chance to see a cave ceiling lit up like Christmas, then take a trip to the Te Anau Glowworm Caves or pop into the free wildlife sanctuary on the shores of Lake Te Anau, about 20 minutes walk from the town.
See what other wildlife is native to New Zealand: 11 Animals and Birds Unique to New Zealand.
If you have more time in Fiordland national Park…
- Watch some native birds at the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary.
- Climb Mitre Peak for the view of Milford Sound to open up beneath you!
- Visit Lake Manapouri for some more wonderful walks.
- Visit Gunn Country in the isolated Gunn’s Camp.
- Do more walking!
Where to stay in Fiordland national Park?
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