Things to Do in Fiordland & Milford Sound
Fiordland is picture postcard New Zealand: all soaring mountains, rugged landscapes and stunning lakes. Within Fiordland you will find some of New Zealand’s finest attractions like the fiord hewn sounds, including the popular and impressive Milford Sound and the less accessible, but breathtaking, Doubtful Sound.
This is some of the most dramatic landscape in New Zealand and since it is almost uninhabited by humans, the area is a haven for wildlife. The mountains house forest birds while the lakes and sounds are home to penguins, seals, sea lions, dolphins and the occasional whale. There are many great walks in the area; the best-known is the Milford Walk which takes you, over four days, from the head of Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound. Other walks include the Routeburn and Keplar tracks. Other activities include fishing, kayaking, diving and horse riding.
Set smack in the middle of Milford Sound, Mitre Peak is the undisputed star in an already impressive show. Craggy, lonely and often shrouded in mist, this iconic spire thrusts a mile upwards from the placid waters of the Sound. When you arrive in Milford Sound after the serpentine road through the mountains, Mitre Peak rises before you like a sentinel to congratulate you on making the journey. This is easily one of the most oft-photographed sites in New Zealand—and when you stare at its stoic profile against the water you can immediately understand why.
To get a closer view of Mitre Peak, crane your neck upwards at the 5,500-foot summit during a cruise of Milford Sound. Or, paddle beneath its alpine shadow as you kayak in search of marine life.
When it comes to the dreamlike landscape of Fiordland, the mountainous peaks might provide the drama, but it’s the shimmering lakes that provide the contour. In the case of Lake Te Anau, this massive, deep, glacially carved lake wraps its arms around Fiordland’s mountains in a geological embrace. This is the second largest lake in New Zealand—but the largest in total volume—and it forms the backdrop for the town of Te Anau and the road toward Milford Sound.
Of all of the activities to take part in on Lake Te Anau, touring the glowworm caves is undoubtedly the most popular. These luminescent critters inhabit the ceilings of dark caves on the shoreline, and the ride to the other side of the lake offers sweeping views of the surroundings. The lake also provides a stunning backdrop for hikers tackling the Kepler Track, and there are small beaches that dot the lake, perfect for a cold dip.
Stunning Lake Manapouri surrounded by the majestic Cathedral Ranges and dotted with thirty-four islands, is beautiful and impressive. The mountains, which make up the north, south and west sides of the lake, descend into the water creating lovely waterfalls and isolated sandy coves perfect for swimming and picnics.
The small town of Manapouri (pop. 300) lies on the east coast and is the major jumping off point for people heading to Doubtful Sound as it can be reached by boat from the Waiau River which feeds the lake. There are a number of walking tracks around the lake, including the well known Manapouri Track which leads you up Mt. Titiroa to take in the beautiful lake views before finishing with a swim in the lake. Lesser known walks include Percy’s Pass and Dusky Track. Fishing is also popular on the lake and suits the experienced and novices alike. If you’re after a workout then kayaks are available depending on the weather.
Breathtaking Doubtful Sound is one of the most pristine wilderness areas in the world. A striking place of soaring peaks and still, calm waters it is nick-named "Sound of Silence" because of the incredible stillness and peace that fills the sound. One minute it might be all sunshine and bright skies and the next it will be shrouded in fog and mystery.
The sound is a long fingered fiord gouged by glaciers between 15,000 and 75,000 years ago it is three times longer and ten times bigger than the more popular and accessible nearby Milford Sound. The sound comprises of three fingers and is full of stunning waterfalls and islets. The islets are prime spots to view Fiordland Crested Penguins and New Zealand Fur Seals.
Lush, rugged and impossibly scenic, the Milford Track is the gold standard of all of New Zealand’s hiking trails. In a country already known for its hiking, this famous track through the heart of Fiordland has been known to trump all others. Tramp your way through alpine scenery where mountains thrust upwards from the lakeshore, and walk beneath the famous Sutherland Falls that spill 1,900 feet down the mountainside. Delve through forests that are brilliantly painted in nearly every shade of green, and then finally emerge at the placid waters of famous Milford Sound.