Our favorite things to do in Fiordland National Park
Fiordland is one of the most special places in New Zealand, but it’s also one of the more challenging areas to explore. You can drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound, and don’t worry–the drive is a spectacular one. But there’s a lot more to Fiordland National Park than that one road.
The Southern Alps are tall, and many of the fiords along the southwest coast are only accessible by boat. Cruises are popular here since they allow you to access places you can’t get to by car. Another great way to see it all is by taking to the air. Numerous operators offer “flightseeing” trips via plane or chopper.
The best places to base your explorations are Te Anau or Manapouri. These two towns are as far southwest as you can easily get by car, and they are the closest towns to the park. From either, you can hop in your car, take off on some walks, and finds loads of adventure while having a base to come back to each night. Here’s a look at five fabulous things to do in Fiordland National Park.
5 Great Things To Do In Fiordland
1. Take a Scenic Drive to Milford Sound
Everyone will tell you that the place to go to see Fiordland is Milford Sound. The little town and the fiord by the same name lie at the end of the road from Te Anau. It’s roughly an hour and a half of driving if you don’t stop, but what would be the fun in that?
There are two ways you can get to Milford Sound. If you want to set out on your own adventure, hop on the road and get going. Stop by the Park Visitor Center in Te Anau for road conditions and more information about the trip.
Another popular way to get there is on a tour coach. These luxurious buses shuttle you back and forth to Milford, and most tour operators combine the trip with a boat outing on the Sound when you get there. It’s a full-day tour, but since you’re not driving, the time just flies by.
The route is a visual feast. Don’t forget to pack your camera and a picnic lunch. There are lots of places to pull off and lots to see and do along the way.
One spot worth a stop is Mirror Lakes. There’s a short walking track, but the observation deck is the favorite picture stop. If you happen to arrive with a tour bus, just wait for a few minutes until they’ve finished and you’ll have the place to yourself.
When you get to Milford Sound, the choices begin. Do you hop on one of the many sightseeing cruises to look for waterfalls and dolphins? If the weather is nice, you might consider renting a sea kayak and heading out on your own. Or maybe after sitting in the car for so long, you’d like to stretch your legs and take a scenic walk. The choice is yours because it’s all there in Milford Sound.
2. Pick a Scenic Walking Track
Fiordland is also an excellent place to explore on foot. You don’t have to hit the track for days on end of rustic tramping, either. There are plenty of short walks you can do off of the road to Milford Sound.
One example is the Lake Gunn Nature Walk. This is an easy 45-minute loop that is suitable for all ages. You’ll walk through a beautiful beech forest and see some stunning scenery of the Alps across Lake Gunn. There are little beaches along the way and some fishing spots if you’d like to catch lunch, too.
Another quick walk from the road is the Humboldt Falls Track. This is a 1.2-kilometer out and back trail that leads to an impressive waterfall vista. It’s an easy walk that starts from the Hollyfield Road area on the way to Milford.
The tracks around Lake Manapouri range from quick and easy, like the Frasers Beach Track in town, to multiday tramping tracks leading into the Southern Alps. For a spectacular day hike close to town, check out the 6.9-kilometer Manapouri Circle Track.
The trick to walking in Manapouri is to arrange a water taxi to take you across the river. Most walking tracks lead away from town on the south bank of the Waiau River.
3. Take a Day Cruise or Boat Tour of Milford Sound
The drive into Milford Sound is beautiful, but there’s only one way to truly appreciate the beauty of this coastline–from the water. Milford Sound is bustling with tour operators anxious to take you out.
Once you’re on the water, you’re likely to see marine life like dolphins, penguins, seals, and whales. Your captain will guide the boat around the fiord so you can get the best pictures of the stunning scenery, from the glacier-carved mountains and steep cliffs to the dramatic waterfalls and coastline.
Most operators offer specialty cruises to suit your interests. Pick between scenic, nature, or wildlife cruises. You’ll see the same stuff on each, but the difference is in the professional narration and how long your spend at each opportunity. The fiord’s deepwater allows the captain to get very close spots like Seal Rock, so expect to come home with some great photos.
For a spectacular view of the sound, check out the Underwater Observatory. Accessible only by boat, the observatory is ten meters below the surface. You’ll see the rare black coral that is unique to Milford Sound, and you’ll have an unparalleled, up-close view of life under the sea.
You can also pick from small tour boat operators with smaller groups or large boats. There’s also a jet boat tour operator in Milford Sound if you need to see the sights in a hurry!
4. Go Flightseeing and Get a Bird’s Eye View
The portion of Fiordlands National Park that you can view from your car or walking from the road is a tiny fraction of the park’s land area.
The best way to see the most territory is from the air. Tour operators depart from both the Te Anau/Manapouri Airport as well as from Queenstown.
Fixed-wing airplane tours cover a lot of ground, but they also move quicker. Most helicopter tours have options for stopping somewhere in the park and walking around glaciers and remote streams. These are places you can’t get to any other way.
There’s an airport in Milford Sound, and many flights connect Te Anau and Queenstown with the seaside port. For some, it saves the drive into Milford while affording a completely different vantage point. If you have time during your stay, try the trip from both land and air and see which you like best.
You can also hop on one of the helicopter or seaplane operators that take off right in downtown Te Anau.
5. See Doubtful Sound
No roads lead to Doubtful Sound, and unlike Milford Sound, there are no towns or hubs of activity. The terrain is steep and unforgiving here. But enterprising tour operators have found a way to get you there and back again.
The base of operations for Doubtful Sound tours is Manapouri. From town on the east side of the lake, hop on a boat that takes you across to the west side. A coach will then take you over the steep mountain passes and down to Doubtful Sound, where another tour boat will give you an up-close view of this beautiful wilderness.
Ready to explore Fiordland? Bachcare has many fabulous rentals in Te Anau and Manapouri. Book your stay today and visit the splendor of Fiordland National Park.