Fiordland National Park , covering over 1.2 million hectares, is New Zealand's largest National Park and one of the largest in the world. The park, together with the adjoining Mount Aspiring National Park, occupies the south west corner of the South Island and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Fiordland is one of the least explored areas of New Zealand. Although the park has about 500 km of formed walking tracks, these barely scratch the surface.
Like all of the New Zealand National Parks, it is managed by the Department of Conservation. The department aims to keep development to a minimum, consistent with protecting the environment and managing human activities to minimise conflicting needs. There are relatively few restrictions on individual visitors, though commercial activity is carefully, (some might say strictly), controlled.
The main visitor information centre is in Te Anau. There are Park Ranger outposts at major visitor locations. Visitors intending to stay in the park overnight are advised to inform the park rangers of their intentions. In the event of an emergency, these intentions will be used as part of any Search and Rescue operation.
Flora and fauna
The area is so remote and unexplored that some speculate that species thought extinct in New Zealand may still live in the park. The Takahe, a flightless bird previously thought extinct, was discovered in a remote part of the park in 1948.
Additionally, the kākāpo, the world's only flightless parrot, was found in to have survived by retreating into the fiordland. Since its re-discovery, a recovery project has been started using offshore islands that do not have any of the pests that have threatened its survival.
Sandflies, or namu, are an obvious (and annoying) demonstration of the insect life that inhabits the area.
The weather in the park can change dramatically over the space of a few hours and over a few kilometres. Visitors should always be prepared for rain. The park has over 200 rain days per year, though different parts of the park receive widely different rainfalls. Te Anau, with 1200mm (40 inches) annual rainfall is almost as dry as much of the eastern South Island, while Milford Sound, with 8000mm (320 inches) annual rainfall, is truly rainforest and waterfall territory.
- State Highway 94. Drive or bus in to Te Anau, the park's "gateway", from Queenstown or Invercargill. You can also fly into Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound from Queenstown Glenorchy or Te Anau.
- Manapouri (15 min drive from Te Anau) is another place to start exploring Fiordland. Daily departures to Doubtful Sound (also within Fiordland National Park).
Fly, bus or boat
- Homer Tunnel
- Hollyford Valley
- Lake Te Anau and Te Ana-au cave
- Lake Manapouri, especially the West Arm and Manapouri Power Station - Take a bus trip over the Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove. The power station, one of New Zealand's largest, has been carved out of solid rock below the lake and two tailrace tunnels take the water that passes through the power station to Deep Cove, 10 km away. The only evidence that there is a power station nearby is the power lines that disappear into the ground!
- Walk. Take a trip through the amazing wilderness on either a day trip or overnight. The Department of Conservation (DOC) maintains and, part of the year, staffs the park's tracks.
- Hollyford Track. Guided walks are available.
- Hump Ridge Track. Guided walks are available.
- Kepler Track. Walk the Manapouri end of the track for a nice day hike, or dive all the way into the backcountry for an overnight.
- Milford Track. One of the DOC's "Great Walks" and considered by many to be one of the best walks in the world. Guided walks are available. A four day/three night 53.5km track that starts at the head of Lake Te Anau and ends at Milford Sound.
- Routeburn. Take the Routeburn for a overnight trip and cross into the neighboring Mount Aspiring National Park. Guided walks are available.
- The Dusky track. A harder longer tramp in fiordland joins lake Hauroko to lake Manapouri.
- Hunting for the introduced species of red deer, wapiti and possums is permitted and a permit can be obtained from the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre. These introduced species are considered pests and there is an ongoing eradication programme to control these animal populations and eventually eliminate them. You may also want to hunt for the introduce Moose, though none have been see recently, and they are thought to be extinct in New Zealand, though you never know...
- Fishing for brown and rainbow trout requires a licence and compliance with regulations.
- Cruises. Variety of cruise option within Fiordland - Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound
While in Fiordland you may notice aircraft. Aircraft are an essential part of the Fiordland National Park scene. The main way in which DOC carrys out its duties in the park including pest control is with the use of aircraft. If you are walking one of the tracks The only reason you are able to walk the track is because the aircraft service the track and remove every bit of waste you generate including toilet waste. As there are no roads all lodge, track maintenance and building is enabled by aircraft and all supplies to the lodges are flown in. If you injure yourself so you can't continue or you go missing aircraft are the only practical method to carry out search and rescue. For many people the only way they can access the park is by aircraft either because of lack of time, age or infirmity. The other important consideration is that aircraft make the least real environmental impact of any of the users of the park.
- Campsites - There are a number of areas designated as campsites.
- Back-country Huts - Huts are provided for trampers (hikers) at a number of remote locations. Advance booking of these is essential to ensure that your stay will not conflict with others. Otherwise you will find yourself sleeping on the floor, or worse, needing to camp outside. All huts offer basic accommodation such as a fire place, a roof and a place to sleep. Visitors are expected to provide their own bedding, food and entertainment.
You could, of course, choose more luxurious (and managed) accommodation in Te Anau, Manapouri or Milford Sound
- Exploring Fiordland by boat - There are a number of different options if you wish to explore Fiordland's many fiords or rugged coastline. There are overnight cruises available at both Milford and Doubtful Sounds, plus extended Discovery Cruises (5 - 7 days) along the Fiordland coast (also operated by Real Journeys). There are other cruise options, including a cruise along the Fiordland coast with researchers.