Fiordland National Park | A Complete Guide
Fiordland National Park is the largest and most famous of the New Zealand National Parks. It is one of few places left in the world where you can find vast untouched wild spaces, with 1.25 million hectares (3 million acres) of protected natural wonderland. Here you’ll find some of the most amazing fjords in New Zealand and some of the best hiking in the world. Home to three of our Great Walks, our iconic native bird species like the kiwi and takahe, and breath-taking landscape, you simply have to put Fiordland National Park on your bucket list.
Fun facts about Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is aptly named after the 14 fjords in its vicinity, the most famous of which is Milford Sound.
The park was established in 1952 and declared a World Heritage Area in 1986.
The Māori legend credits the demigod Tuterakiwhanoa with carving out the rugged landscape. Māori regularly ventured into Fiordland National Park on food-gathering and greenstone missions.
The first Europeans to enter Fiordland were Captain Cook and his crew back in 1773. Sealers and whalers came after using Cook’s maps and so began the first European settlements of New Zealand.
The Milford Track was opened up in 1889 by Quintin McKinnon and Donald Sutherland.
Some of the oldest rocks in New Zealand can be found in Fiordland National Park. The area lies close to the Alpine Fault.
The park gets a lot of rain – about seven metres per year!
Fjords in New Zealand
New Zealand’s most iconic fjord is Milford Sound. Tucked away in the depths of Fiordland National Park, this fjord New Zealand is part of Te Wahipounamu, the UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the unofficial ‘eighth wonder of the world’ and a favourite amongst visitors to the country.
For a more adventurous experience of one of the fjords in New Zealand, Doubtful Sound is equally spectacular with half of the visitors. Teeming with life, you’ll see an abundance of native flora blooming, New Zealand fur seals and Fiordland crested penguins going about their day.
If time allows, then the more remote fjords in New Zealand worth visiting are Dusky Sound, Breaksea Sound and Preservation Inlet.
Best hikes in Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is home to three of our Great Walks and many hidden gems.
The Milford Track is a 53.5 km multi-day hike. As one of the country’s most popular long-distance walking tracks, it needs to be booked over a year in advance to secure your spot. For those who don’t have the time or desire to take on a long distance tramp, a section of the Milford Track has been dubbed one of the ‘finest day walks in the world’.
The 32 km Routeburn Track is another of Fiordland’s walking tracks. The route weaves through enchanting rainforests, over mountain passes, and past majestic waterfalls and clear flowing rivers.
The 60 km Kepler Track is the last of our Great Walks in Fiordland National Park. This three to four day hike takes you across scenic ridgelines, through lush native beech forest and along serene lakes.
The Hollyford Track is not of Great Walk status, which means there’s less crowds! This four to eight day hike takes you from the mountains all the way to the sea.
Best time to visit Fiordland National Park
The weather in Fiordland National Park is highly changeable. Our key piece of advice is to be prepared for every eventuality! The park is open year round – however, due to high avalanche risk, the chances of you getting there are much lower in winter. Therefore, we recommend planning your trip to coincide with the Great Walks season (October through to May).
Visiting Fiordland National Park with New Zealand Trails
Guests on our World Heritage Walking Tour get to partake in our Fiordland Experience. This trip within a trip, is a three day all-encompassing experience in the heart of Fiordland National Park. On the first day, you will hike one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Kepler Track. On day two, you’ll start the day with a morning cruise on Milford Sound before enjoying Fiordland from a different perspective as you take a helicopter flight over the rugged backcountry into Martins Bay. You’ll finish the day’s activities off with a hike to Martins Bay seal colony where you’ll get an up-close view of the New Zealand fur seal in an untouched and secluded environment – the ultimate wildlife experience before dining and bedding down in the exclusive Martins Bay Lodge on the Hollyford Track. The final day of your Fiordland Experiencewill see you board a jetboat up the Hollyford River and across Lake McKerrow to enjoy a full-day guided hike on the superb Hollyford Track.
On our Masterpiece, Kiwi Classic and Pure South tours, you’ll spend the morning cruising on the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, before heading off to discover a gem on one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Routeburn Track (Key Summit). You’ll also spend one morning hiking a section of the Kepler Track.
If you want to find out more about the incredible 5-14 day hiking tours we run in New Zealand, you can request a free copy of our brochure here.