One trip isn’t enough to see the best of what Fiordland National Park has to offer – luckily we’ve done 7 or 8 trips over the last few years, and finally feel confident to write this post. Looking for the best things to do in Fiordland National Park, whether it’s your first trip or your 5th? This post is for you!
One of the most iconic Fiordland National Park experiences is viewing the wonders of the sounds (technically fiords) from the deck of a boat – the two most popular trips being at Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound.
Milford Sound Cruise
One of the best things to do in Fiordland National Park is also the most common – the Milford Sound cruise. There are a few different companies which do it, and prices are low for this kind of thing, so it’s easy and cheap to organise.
You’ll cruise through Milford Sound to the coast and then back, taking in some waterfalls, small islands and consistently beautiful views.
Doubtful Sound Cruise
The Doubtful Sound Cruise is longer and more expensive, but the views are just as good (if not better).
The journey there is part of the charm too – you need to catch a boat across Lake Manapouri and then a bus over Wilmost Pass. You’re pretty much in the middle of nowhere on this tour – quite a different experience to Milford Sound.
Lake Manapouri Cruise
You’ll cruise across Lake Manapouri if you’re doing the Doubtful Sound tour, but I’m sure you can do boat trips on it regardless. It wasn’t dubbed New Zealand’s most beautiful lake for no reason – it’s almost as scenic as the sounds!
Lake Te Anau Cruise
A cruise across Lake Te Anau is a great option if you’re staying in town and feel like hitting the water.
I’d go for a sunset one if possible – a great way to end any day in Fiordland National Park. We did a cruise across Lake Te Anau as part of the glow worm cave tour and again when we did the Milford Track, but there are plenty of other options.
Things to See on the Way to Milford Sound
The road from Te Anau to Milford Sound is full of stunning nature spots. I’ll mention the longer walks a little later – these are just easy places you can stop off at on the way to Milford Sound.
This is a very short and easy stop on the way to Milford Sound. It’ll take 5-10 minutes to see the Mirror Lakes, but I’d walk an hour or more for a view like this.
The tunnel itself isn’t that exciting (unless you’re an engineer or something) but it’s a bit of a Fiordland National Park icon, and the views at either end of it are awesome.
This is another very easy, short stop on the way to Milford Sound. The Chasm is a waterfall / set of rapids flowing through rocks – not the most amazing thing to do in Fiordland National Park but it’s worth a quick look.
There are heaps of roadside viewpoints on the way to Milford Sound, and some have a sign and a little car park. It’s viewpoints like these that make this one of the most scenic roads in New Zealand.
The view of Milford Sound from the car park / foreshore is nice, but you’ll want to head up to the viewpoint for the best spot. We missed this the first couple of times we visited – it’s just behind the car park (there should be a sign).
If you have the time, I highly recommend doing one of the day walks in Fiordland National Park. Some are found on the road to Milford Sound, while some are little off the beaten path.
The Gertrude Saddle Track currently sits at the top of my imaginary “Best Day Walks in New Zealand” list – you really can see the best of what Fiordland National Park has to offer on this walk. It’s a bit dangerous though and it only to be attempted in summer – check conditions before you go!
The Lake Marian Track is a great choice for people wanting to do a longer walk but who are also short on time. You could do it on a day trip to Milford Sound, while still having enough time to explore a bit and do the Milford Sound cruise. The track takes you up to Lake Marian, a very pretty lake surrounded by mountains. We went in winter and it was such a nice scene – so cold though and it was hard to walk on the icy rocks.
This detour at the very end (or start) of the Routeburn Track is a good option for people wanting a mid-level walk (two-three hours). Key Summit is one of the most scenic spots on the Routeburn Track (there are lots of those though) – with awesome views in every direction.
Lake Hauroko Lookout Track
Lake Hauroko is a long way from the road to Milford Sound – you’ll pass nearby when driving to Te Anau from Invercargill via Tuatapere. Most tourists wont’ visit, but those who do are treated to some amazing views over Lake Hauroko all the way the ocean.
The Circle Track
You’ll need to organise a short boat ride to the start of the Circle Track, which I’m sure puts a lot of people off. We had the track mostly to ourselves when we did it, and the sweeping views over Lake Manapouri were worth the hassle.
There are also three Great Walks in Fiordland National Park – we’ve done them all in the last year or so. A Great Walk is one of the best things to do in Fiordland National Park, but they do require some planning.
The Kepler Track starts and finishes in Te Anau, making it the easiest and cheapest Great Walk in the region to organise. I’d rate it as the hardest in terms of effort though – especially the first day where it’s a bit of a slog up to Luxmore Hut. You can also do the first day, or part of it, as a day walk from Te Anau.
The Routeburn Track straddles Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park and is, in my opinion, the best Great Walk to do first. It’s fairly easy and the variety of views on offer is special.
The Milford Track is the most iconic Great Walk in New Zealand. It takes you through the Clinton and Arthur Valleys and is packed full of stunning views, massive waterfalls and plenty of sandflies. I reckon if you’re only going to do one Great Walk in your lifetime, make it the Milford Track.
There are some stunning waterfalls in Fiordland National Park, especially after heavy rain. Some are seen on the longer walks, but some you can easily see on a day trip to Milford Sound.
The Humboldt Falls Track is located down a long gravel road, the short track taking you to a viewpoint. You can’t get too close, but it’s cool to see one of the tallest waterfalls in New Zealand without too much effort.
Lake Marian Falls
Another fun thing to do in Fiordland National Park is the short walk to Lake Marian Falls. You’ll pass by on the way to Lake Marian, but it’s worth visiting the falls even if you’re not continuing on to the lake.
Earland Falls is towards the end of the Routeburn Track – you can see it on a day walk as well (we combined it with Key Summit). It’s a very pretty spot, but I’d probably skip it if you think you’ll do the Routeburn Track at some point.
You’ll need to do the Milford Track (or a very expensive helicopter ride) to see Sutherland Falls, the tallest waterfall in New Zealand. The sidetrack takes you all the way to the base of the falls – it’s great to be this close to a giant!
Other Things to Do in Fiordland National Park
This is just a small selection of the other things to do in Fiordland National Park – it’s such a massive area and so much of it is inaccessible by road. I’ve only listed things that your average tourist could reasonably expect to do, but there’s heaps more including trips to Dusky Sound and other far-off places.
Te Anau Glow Worm Caves
If you’re looking for something fun to do in Fiordland at night, consider the Glow Worms Caves. We went at around 5 pm and were cruising back to Te Anau just as the sun was setting. The caves are fun to explore (no photos though) and the glow worms, while not being quite as impressive as in Waitomo, are always exciting to see.
There are lots of scenic flight options in Fiordland National Park. We’ve never done one so I’m no expert, but if I was going to do one it’d be the trip to see Sutherland Falls from above – I’ve seen some really nice photos from there.
Te Anau is the main town in Fiordland and is a good base if you’re spending a few days in the area. There are heaps of good places to eat and accommodation for all budgets. It’s a scenic little town too, located on the shores of Lake Te Anau.
READ MORE: 10 of the Best Things to Do in Te Anau
Manapouri is close to Te Anau but is a lot smaller. There are a few places to eat and sleep, but if you’re after a busier vibe you’re best served in Te Anau. You’ll visit Manapouri if you’re doing the Doubtful Sound tour or the Circle Track. There’s also a really nice beach (Frasers Beach) to relax at after all that walking.
READ MORE: 6 of the Best Things to Do in Manapouri
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