With the snowy-peaked Southern Alps sloping down into deep blue waters and lushly forested shores bursting with wildlife, the spectacular Fiordland National Park area in the south-western corner of the South Island is known for its stunning vistas.
The star of the show, is undoubtedly Milford Sound, with its spectacular 1692m-high Mitre Peak (Rahotu in Maori). However, no photograph quite does justice to this majestic range of peaks or conveys the stillness and grandeur of the surrounding national park. Cruise, paddle or sail its untouched flooded valleys, or take to the well-marked trails by foot or bicycle where you can connect with this truly magical corner of the world.
While Milford Sound is the most well-known of the 12 major fiords on the west coast, the larger Doubtful Sound is also a highlight. It is only accessible via a boat trip over Lake Manapouri and then a trip across Wilmot Pass, but it’s well worth the journey, as the surrounding slopes are covered in lush rainforests and the fjord itself is home to bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, penguins and even Southern right and humpback whales.
One of the larger towns in the region, Te Anau, is set on the eastern shore of the largest lake in the South Island. It’s the ideal place from which to explore the national park, or set out on popular hiking trails like the Milford Track which takes you past Giant Gate waterfall, and the Kepler Track which offers you a unique look at the area’s native fauna and flora. There are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy water sports like kayaking, jet boat riding and fishing on Lake Te Anau itself.
Head into the neighbouring Mt Inspiring National Park and you’ll be able to embark on the Routeburn Track, rated among the world’s top classic hikes. The hike takes you along the Routeburn River gorge and through magical forests that date back 130 million years.
I thoroughly recommend staying in Te Anu for a few days as this gives you access to not just Milford Sound but the much larger and lesser visited Doubtful Sound. Staying overnight on a boat gives you an even more intimate experience once everyone else has gone home.
When to go
Fiordland National Park is a year-round destination, however there will be snow in the winter months of June to August.