Fiordland National Parks
The largest of all New Zealand’s national parks protects a vast, magnificent expanse of mountainous terrain covered by forests, penetrated by fiords and studded with glacially formed lakes. One of these lakes, Lake Te Anau, is surpassed in size only by Lake Taupo in the North Island. In view of all this, it is hardly surprising that Fiordland forms a vital part of the South-West New Zealand World Heritage Area, one of the few places on earth that have survived the onslaught of civilisation in a virtually unspoiled state.
Walking in Fiordland Park
There are many short day walks that can be started from Te Anau but the goal of most enthusiastic trampers is one of the big walks: the Kepler, the Hollyford, the Routeburn or the famous Milford Track. Vital equipment for all walkers on these tracks is good quality wet weather gear (Fiordland gets some of the highest rainfalls in New Zealand) and plenty of strong insect repellant to keep the sand-flies at bay. ‘Dimp’ is a well known local brand of repellant but it also helps to wear long sleeve shirts and trousers.
Of the tracks mentioned above it is only the Kepler that forms a circular route. The track starts at the Lake Te Anau outlet control gates, a 45 minute walk from the Te Anau park Visitor Centre. Those who wish can also catch a shuttle bus to the start of the track or take one of the boat services from Te Anau to Brod Bay, thus saving three hours walking. The tramp, which takes three to four days, features splendid views from alpine ridge tops, lovely beech forest and a U-shaped glacial valley. The huts along the way are quite comfortable but camping is also permitted at Brod Bay and Iris Burn.
The Hollyford Track is a very long walk (69 miles/112km total distance) from Hollyford Camp (formerly Gunn’s Camp) on the Hollyford Road to the Tasman Sea at Martins Bay. The outward journey and return trip along the same route would take roughly eight days. However the time required to walk the track can be greatly reduced (4 days) by taking a pre-arranged jet-boat across Lake McKerrow (the stretch of track along the lake is rather dull and difficult) and then flying out from Martins Bay. This can all be arranged through Hollyford Valley Walks in Te Anau. They also conduct guided walks along the Hollyford Valley which include the jet-boat trip and the flight out as an optional extra. At remote Martins Bay there is a seal colony and Fiordland crested penguins may also be spotted.
Last but certainly not least is the Milford Track. Often described as ‘the finest walk in the world, it is also New Zealand’s most strictly controlled. The number of people who can walk the track in any one season is limited, it must be done within four days (31 miles/50km) and can only be walked in one direction. These controls, and others, are necessary to protect the track from overcrowding and to ensure that the natural environment remains intact.
In spite of all the limitations the walk is worth it. Waterfalls, lakes, mountain valleys carved by glaciers, luxuriant rainforest and stunning alpine views are all ingredients that combine to make the Milford Track so exceptional. One of the walk’s most outstanding scenic highlights is the view of Sutherland Falls. With a drop of 1,900ft (580m) the falls are the highest in New Zealand and the fifth highest in the world. The only other way to see this spectacle is on one of the scenic flights from Te Anau or Queenstown – highly recommended if time is limited.
It is possible to do the Milford Track as an independent tramper or as part of a guided tour. Whereas the guided parties have everything provided, independent walkers must carry all the gear and supplies they need themselves. The track starts at Glade House which is usually reached by boat from Te Anau or Te Anau Downs. A launch picks walkers up at the other end for the trip to Milford Sound township. Everybody who wants to walk the Milford should book well in advance; this also applies to independent walkers as they require a permit for the track. These permits or accommodation passes can only be booked through the Park Visitor Centre at Te Anau. Note that the track is only open from November to mid-April and that December, January and February are the months when demand is highest.
I’m the founder and CEO of Travelwizard.com and an avid hiker and fisherman. Having traveled the world, I can tell you the Milford Tract is my all time favorite experience! This is truly a heavenly place!