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The Best of Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park is one of the wildest, remotest places on earth. Defined by deep, glacier-carved lakes and fathomless fiords ringed by near-vertical mountains, most of Fiordland is too extreme to access except by helicopter.

But you can still get a taste of the grandeur of Fiordland with these “best-of” experiences.

Fiordland is a place of extremes. While you’re there, you’ll not only have the chance to see the Fiordland superlatives—you’ll get to see the highest waterfall in New Zealand, the three deepest lakes in New Zealand, the largest national park in the country, and the “finest walk in the world.”

So go crazy with checking these superlatives off your must-see list!

And without further ado, here is the best of Fiordland.

Fiordland National Park Superlatives

milford sound tour Fiordland National Park
Milford Sound

Most Scenic Great Walk in New Zealand: Routeburn Track

Fiordland National Park encompasses not one but three of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks:

  • The Routeburn Track
  • The Milford Track
  • The Kepler Track

Though the Milford Track has been dubbed the “finest walk in the world,” and the Kepler Track offers stunning ridgeline views, the Routeburn Track wins this category for its sheer variety.

Starting in a beech forest, the track climbs to a low meadow surrounded by mountains, and then to an alpine bowl where you’ll find the stunning Lake Harris. As you pass over Harris Saddle, the scenery changes yet again, with sweeping views over the Hollyford Valley and the mountains of Fiordland. After you pass the brilliant Lake Mackenzie, it’s back into the forest, this time greener and mossier than ever.

Oh, and you get to experience two national parks along the way—Mt Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park!

Hike this 2-3-day track solo, or book a guided walk if you’d rather not carry a heavy pack.

Best Way to See the National Park: Southern Lakes Helicopters

Fiordland National park helicopter tour Queenstown to Milford Sound

The scale of Fiordland National Park is immense. On foot or by boat, you will never see more than a small sliver of the park.

Since you can’t access the most spectacular reaches of the park except by air, the best way to see Fiordland National Park is by taking the helicopter tour of a lifetime. Explore hidden valleys, vertical mountains, and spectacular coastlines as you take in the best of Fiordland National Park.

If you can’t afford the helicopter tour, the second-best option is to watch Ata Whenua – Shadowland at Fiordland Cinema (Te Anau), which was filmed by helicopters flying over the remotest reaches of the national park.

Most Unforgettable Experience: Overnight Cruise on Doubtful Sound

Real Journeys Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise

To get a true sense of the scale in Fiordland National Park, the best way is to spend the night within one of its vast fiords.

Milford Sound is the most famous fiord, of course, but nowhere will you get the same sense of isolation and awe as you will find in Doubtful Sound, the most majestic fiord in the park.

On your overnight cruise, watch out for wildlife—if you’re lucky, you could see dolphins, seals, or even penguins—and gaze at the uninterrupted galaxy of stars when the sun sets. You’ll get the chance to kayak on the fiord, and even to go swimming, if you’re very brave!

As a bonus, the best photos in Fiordland are taken at sunrise and sunset.

Deepest Lake in New Zealand: Lake Hauroko

Fiordland National Park has laid claim not just to the deepest lake in New Zealand, but to the top three. Lake Hauroko takes first place, followed by Lake Manapouri and Lake Te Anau.

These long, narrow lakes were carved by the mighty power of glaciers, which also left behind their evidence in both the form of fiords and the long, narrow fingers protruding from Lake Te Anau.

Lake Hauroko is a bit of a drive; if you’d rather take a short trip from Te Anau, Lake Manapouri is always worth a visit. From its shores, you can see straight into the vertical snow-capped mountains of Fiordland.

Best Place for Seeing Wildlife: Milford Sound

The sheltered waters of Milford Sound are teeming with wildlife. On board a Milford Sound cruise, you’re almost guaranteed to see fur seals lounging about the rocks you pass, and if you’re very lucky, you may see dolphins or even the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin.

While you’re driving to and from Milford Sound, you may also encounter a few mischievous keas—these green-and-red parrots are some of the most intelligent birds in the world. Watch out, or one may try to distract you while its accomplice steals your food!

Tallest Waterfall: Sutherland Falls (Milford Track)

While you’ll certainly see a few eye-popping waterfalls at Milford Sound (especially if it’s been raining), the tallest in New Zealand lies a bit farther inland—along the Milford Track.

For a long time, the Sutherland Falls were believed to be the tallest in the world! It no longer holds that honour (which belongs to Angel Falls, in Venezuela), but it’s still well worth a visit.

You can visit Sutherland Falls while hiking the 4-day Milford Track (book at least 6 months in advance!). If you would prefer not to carry your packs over the steep pass, try a guided walk.

Most Extreme Track in New Zealand: Dusky Sound

Known by Kiwis as the most extreme hike in the country, the Dusky Sound Track takes you deep within Fiordland National Park.

As you hike from Lake Hauroko to Lake Manapouri—crossing two mountain ranges and making a side trip to Dusky Sound along the way—you will get a true sense of the vast grandeur of the national park. Clocking in at 84 km (8-10 days of hiking), this track is not for the fainthearted!

But if you want to experience the true wilderness of Fiordland, there is no better way.

You’ll need some serious backcountry experience for this one!


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