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Fiordland and Milford Sound

Travel to Fiordland and you will be visiting one of the most awe-inspiring parts of New Zealand.

The extraordinary scenic beauty has earned the Fiordland region recognition as a significant sightseeing and walking destination, and a ‘must see’ for anyone who travels to New Zealand. Fiordland was recognized by the United Nations in 1986 when it was made a World Heritage Area.

A growing range of activities ensures travelers can find plenty of things to do, whether they seek relaxed solitude in an untouched fiord or the challenge of hunting wapiti through untamed forest. Farm tours provide a slice of Kiwi farm life and horse treks, 4WD farm bikes and a number of walking options allow visitors to explore mixed terrain and outstanding vistas of the lake, farmland and mountains. Boat trips explore the beautiful waters of the fiords, lakes and rivers, and also provide excellent fishing opportunities.

Fiordland earned its reputation as the “walking capital of the world”, with many excellent walking tracks that traverse its dramatic landscape. Coach and boat transfers access the major tracks, including the Great Walks: the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler Tracks. Known to New Zealanders as “tramping”, the endless hiking and walking opportunities on other tracks within Fiordland National Park, such as the Hollyford, the Tuatapere Hump Ridge and Dusky Tracks, can also be explored independently or as part of a guided group.

The hub of the Fiordland region is the attractive town of Te Anau. From here it’s just 2 1/2 hours drive to Milford Sound and 20 minutes by coach to Lake Manapouri and the start of a Doubtful Sound excursion. Te Anau has a range of activity options, fine restaurants, seven days a week shopping and can cater for all levels of accommodations. If you want to spend some time here, we recommend the Distinction Te Anau Hotel and Villas.

The Milford Road to and from the Sound is a stunning alpine drive through vast glacial valleys and mountain tunnels. Visitors need to allow plenty of time to stop at the numerous viewing points or short walking opportunities en route, just to get out of the car and drink in the spectacular scenery and the sheer scale of the landscape. At about 74 miles from Te Anau to Milford Sound, the sealed road takes a minimum of 2 hours driving without photo stops.

Milford is by far the best known of all of the fiords and the only one that can be accessed by road. It is approximately 10 miles from the head of the fiord to the open sea, which means visitors can comfortably travel the length of the fiord to open ocean and return on one of the many cruise options available in about two hours time. However, a more complete Milford experience can be had by spending one night aboard a vessel that anchors in Harrison Cove. The expert nature guides will take you kayaking, swimming and exploring in zodiacs to remote parts of the Sound.

Yet another unique feature of the Fiordland environment is life under the fiord. Beneath the water, the mountains continue to plunge down as steep rock walls until they reach the floor of the fiord at depths of over 1,400 ft.  Few visitors are aware that below the tide line there exists a fascinating and unique world. A fresh water layer that sits on top of the seawater filters light to allow normally deep water dwelling species to exist very close to the surface. A visit to the Milford Deep Underwater Observatory or a guided dive tour allows access to these rarely revealed sights. 

Sometimes called “the Sound of Silence”, there is a quiet serenity within Doubtful Sound that contrasts with Milford Sound. The fiord is rich in flora and fauna, New Zealand fur seals and Fiordland crested penguins can be seen on many of the small islets at the entrance of the fiord. At 1,381 ft. deep, Doubtful is the deepest of the fiords and has three distinct “arms”. 

Established in 1952, Fiordland National Park is now over 1.2 million hectares in size, and encompasses mountain, lake, fiord and rainforest environments. Fiordland was also the final refuge for the world’s only flightless parrot, the kakapo.

In short, Fiordland and the Sounds are awe-inspiring places and ones not be missed on your travels to the South Island.

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