Easily making the top of the list for incredible destinations in all of New Zealand is Fiordland national park, the most magical place in (middle) Earth.
If you’re travelling to New Zealand for the first time and finding it a little overwhelming trying to fit both South island and North Island together, the best advice we can give you is to focus on South island for your first adventure.
Amazing natural landscapes like Milford sound, Doubtful sound, Lake Te Anau and plenty of famous hiking trails and glacier carved valleys, we’ve created this epic guide to the best things to do in Fiordland national park.
We had not prepared ourselves for just how beautiful Fiordland national park was, in particular the drive from Te Anau to Milford sound alone is simply breathtaking, and that’s before you get to cruise along the Tasman sea on a Milford sound cruise.
Before you head off on your journey down south, be sure to take notes of the best things to do in Fiordland national park because there’s plenty of hidden stops and viewpoints along the way.
READ MORE: We’ve just published our new guide on the best things to do in Queenstown so you can check out the rest of South Island
About Fiordland national park
The most visited national park in all of New Zealand is also the wettest region of the country, receiving approximately 2800 mm of rain per year. The national park covers 12,000 square kilometres of pristine, mostly untouched alpine rainforest in the south west region of the island.
Having been carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago, the Fiords of the national park are sacred, spiritual land to the traditional custodians of the land, the Maori people, for which they call Fiordland national park, Te Wahipounamu.
15 best things to do in Fiordland national park
An overwhelmingly mountains range, shaped by tectonic, climatic and glacial processes that have created this lush rainforest, marine reserves and hidden alpine lakes that have awarded Fiordland national park (as well as 3 other national parks) a UNESCO World heritage listing in 1990.
1) Drive from Te-Anau to Milford Sound
The Milford -Te Anau road, or state highway 94 is considered the most scenic drive in New Zealand. The snow capped peaks, orange tussock valley floor and native forest is perfect for nature lovers.
Your journey to Milford Sound starts in Te-Anau at the visitor centre and winds through valleys and river systems. There’s plenty of opportunity for photos and short walks to hidden lakes like lake Gunn, Mirror lakes and the Hollyford valley lookout (Pop’s view)
Driving will take approximately 2.5- 3 hours over 118 km not allowing for stopping but we personally recommend breaking the journey up to take photos and rest.
In fact there are at least 15 stops and viewpoints along Milford road that will easily add several hours to your journey, like Key Summit track and the chasm walk.
If you don’t feel like doing the drive yourself there are plenty of guided coach day trips to choose from. Multiple departure times make the drive up easily accessible, with an expert local guide pointing out the most famous sights and attractions along the way.
There’s really nothing quite like the Fiordlands from the air, and plenty of ways to fly from both Queenstown and on a sea plane from Te Anau.
2) Mirror lakes
Easily one of the most popular attractions in fiordland national park is the reflections you will see off the famed Mirror lakes with Earl Mountains bouncing off below.
It’s a super easy viewpoint to access from the main highway about 56 km from Te Anau heading north. A short 400m boardwalk to this lake from the carpark makes this a short and sweet place to visit in Fiordland national park.
3) Cruise through Milford Sound
Undoubtedly the pinnacle of your Fiordland national park journey is joining a cruise and exploring the famous Milford sound.
The Maori word for Milford Sound is PioPiotahi so exploring here is one of the most popular things to do in Fiordlands national park. Mitre Peak is another famous mountain peak within the glacially carved Fiords that runs for 16 kms out to the Tasman Sea.
A cruise through Milford sound with one of the many tour companies is a fantastic way to spend the morning, where you’ll cruise for about an hour to the mouth of the Tasman sea at Dale Point, passing many waterfalls, peaks and of course cute wildlife.
Experience what it’s like to get up close and personal to Bowen Falls as the boat gets right under the spray of the falls, before making your way back to the port.
If you’re ever wondering what to do in Fiordland national park look no further than the deep north into Milford.
Plenty of New Zealand wildlife call Milford Sound home, like New Zealand fur seals, dolphins and the very cute Fiordland crested penguins.
If you’re coming from Queenstown you can easily book a Milford sound coach and nature cruise, that runs for 12 hours and drives along Milford road to the sounds.
Whilst you’re down here you might want to check out other fantastic hikes and day trips like Gertrude saddle route and the chasm walk.
4) Gertrude Saddle Route
A stunning 4-6 hour return hike across 3.5 km, gertrude saddle route is a challenging but rewarding route that requires hikers to have decent navigation and alpine skills.
Mostly rocks, streams and at times snow, this New Zealand tramp is one of the most fun things to do in Fiordland national park, but also one of the more serious hikes in the park.
Access to this track is via Gertrude Valley carpark about 98 km along the Milford highway from Te Anau.
4) Hike the popular Milford Track
One of the best hikes in New Zealand and dubbed one of the ‘finest walks in the world’, if you’re ever wondering what to do in Fiordland national park, the Milford track should be the first thing you consider.
Traversing cascading waterfalls, glacial valleys and rugged mountainous terrain of the rainforests, this 53.5 km hike 4 day hike is best attempted between October and April coinciding with the Great walks season.
The hike begins at Glade Wharf and ends at Sandfly point. You can book your transportation to and from the track but it must be done well in advance.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) operated by the New zealand government operate 3 huts on the track which must also be booked well in advance as camping is not permitted on the track.
Booking your tickets to the Milford sound track is essential as they sell out sometimes years in advance.
Some sections of this hike are a steep climb and get quite muddy and wet but the track is well sign posted and non-guided hikers will find this hike spectacular.
Day One – Glade wharf to Clinton hut – 1-15. hour, 5km
Everyone who attempts the hike start from Te Anau Downs, taking an hour and 15 minute cruise before having a leisurely stroll through the Beech forest before staying at Clinton Hut for the night.
Day two – Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut- 6 hours, 17.5km
A gradual climb follows the Clinton River to the base of Mackinnon Pass, where enormous rock walls tower beside you on your way through the Clinton Valley towards Mintaro hut.
Day three – Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut – 13km, 6-7 hours
Climb to Mackinnon Pass and arrive at the shelter before reaching the highest altitude of the track and the hut at 1154m. From here you will begin your descent through the alpine garden to the valley floor, passing Andersons cascade shelter, a few waterfalls along the burn river before getting to Quintin shelter.
Pass through Quintin shelter to Dumpling hut and along the way make a short detour to admire Sutherland falls. All of the shelters here have 40 bunks each so space should not be a problem.
Head south of Quintin shelter to see the tallest waterfall in all of New Zealand, Sutherland waterfalls.
Day four – Dumpling hut to Sandfly point, 5.5-6 hours, 18km
There’s a reason the Milford Track is one of the best trails in all of New Zealand, with the last day of your hike revealing the beauty of the fiordlands.
Follow the Arthur River to lake Ada, passing Bell Rock and Mackay falls before enjoying the last 3 km of a a wide, smooth track that was built by a prison labour gang between 1890 and 1892.
A short boat ride from Sandfly point takes you to fiordland national parks final destination of Milford Sound, known as Piopiotahi in Maori.
5) Enjoy the Milford foreshore walk
After ending your Milford hike you will arrive at the base of the Sounds and have access to the Milford foreshore walk.
A short 30 minute round trip that tracks east along the lake with beautiful views of the fiords and Bowen falls in the distance is definitely one of the best cheap things to do in Fiordland national park.
It’s also where Laura and I got engaged- spoiler alert we recorded the proposal right here.
There is a large car park at the base of Milford where most people park there car before joining one of the boat trips.
Parking here costs $10NZD per hour, so the most you will spend in a day is $25NZD for 2-5- 3 hours.
From here you can visit the Milford Sound cafe and information centre for a barista style coffee, snacks and souvenirs. You can also speak to one of the staff to help you plan your trip and bookings.
6) Experience the Te Anau Glowworm caves
One thing you’ll hear people raving about is the glow worm caves in Te Anau. Thousands of glowing worms scattered across the walls of this subterranean passage.
Jumping on a cruise through the glowworm caves is a fantastic way to spend the day.
Start by taking a 30 minute cruise on the western shores of Te Anau, where you’ll meet your guide for a 30 minute boat ride through the caves where the local inhabitants will come alive for you.
Relax at the cavern house afterwards for a short 15 minute nature presentation before returning to Te Anau for 30 minutes.
Te Anau is the only major township between Queenstown and Milford sound so you will be using Te Anau as your mid-way point to re-fuel and rest before setting off on your Milford journey.
The visitor information centre at the roundabout in front of the lake is a great resource to use if you want to spend more time in town and go on a kayaking tour, scenic cruise or a small boat tour of the lake and beyond.
7) Immerse yourself amongst true nature in Doubtful Sound
One of the most popular things to do in all of Fiordland national park is a day trip into Doubtful Sound.
Dubbed the ‘sound of silence’, these fiords definitely don’t attract the attention of most tourists and visitors that come to visit the south island, which is a very good thing for you.
Patea, as it’s known in Maori is rich in wildlife and untouched beauty. You are often the only cruise on the water
It is the second largest fiord in all the national park, and is only accessible by a 3 hour boat ride from Manapouri across Lake Manapouri.
You have two options to exploring the sounds, take an overnight cruise or a day trip from Lake Manapouri.
Your wilderness day trip will take 7.5 hours from start to finish, including a 2 hour boat/coach trip across the lake and a coach trip over Wilcott Pass.
Explore the silence of Fiordland national park in a 3 hour boat journey where you will get to encounter wildlife such as a Fiordland crested penguin, dolphins and albatrosses.
Getting here is only 30 minutes by road from Te Anau to Manapouri, as there is no road access into Doubtful sound so doing this yourself is a no go.
You can book your tours here in advance as they tend to sell out very quickly.
If you plan on doing more exploring whilst your deep south in Fiordland national park we’d recommend a trip to lake Hauroko, attempting the Kepler track and even the hanging valley trail.
8) Walk the Key Summit hike
Time: 3 hour return, 7 km
Start: The Divide carpark
A must-do activity in Fiordland national park is Key Summit hike, located at the Divide carpark between Lake Gunn and Lake Marian on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound.
Key Summit is a part of the 10 Great Walks in New Zealand and follows the Routeburn track for roughly an hour, zig-zagging your way up before branching off for a 20 minute climb through native rainforest, past alpine lakes and shrub land until you reach the summit.
From here you will be able to see both the Hollyford, Eglinton and Greenstone valleys, as well as sweeping panoramic views of the Darran mountains.
If you’re feeling up to it you can take a short 1 hour walk to Humboldt falls from the Key Summit trail head.
9) Lake Marian
The best day trip we never went on but one we very much regret not doing. One of the more beautiful hikes and incredible lakes in all of Fiordland national park, you can access Lake Marian from Hollyford road just off SH94.
If you don’t have time and the weather isn’t great you can opt to do a short 20 minute return along boardwalks to a series of waterfalls, or the 3 hour return hike to lake marian and back.
From the carpark, cross a cable suspension bridge to the other side as you start a steady climb up the forest through beech trees to a series of cascading waterfalls.
The track itself is very easy, but can be a little slippery when wet.
10) Hike the Routeburn track
Time: 2-4 day, 33 km
Start: Routeburn shelter and car park
Difficulty: Easy- Medium
One of the best hiking trails in Fiordland national park as well as forming part of the 10 Great walks season in New Zealand (as mentioned by Lonely Planet), begin your Routeburn track hike from an unsealed road 25 km from the small town of Glenorchy or the Divide Shelter; 1 hour 30 minutes from Te Anau.
The best time of year to attempt the Routeburn track is between 1st November and April 30th when the weather is the driest all year.
There are three huts and 2 campsites along the track that must be booked well in advance to secure your spot, the Routeburn falls hut, Lake Mackenzie hut and the Routeburn flats hut.
Destination Fiordland is a great resource for further Routeburn track information as well as the DOC website for track closures and hazards.
11) Go searching for Kea
One of the few alpine parrots in the world and native to Fiordland national park on the south island, Kea’s are large, mostly green parrot protected by the New Zealand government and conservation department.
Mischievous, cute and cheeky, these birds have lived in Fiordland national park for long time and have very little fear towards humans – so remember not to feed them.
We ran into these adorable creatures at the entrance to the homer tunnel, Pops eye and Milford Sound but they can be found flying almost anywhere.
Each Kea has a leg tag to identify individual names and ages of each bird that you can look up here if you see one.
12) Try a scenic flight over Fiordland national park
What better way to experience the South Island than by seeing it from high above the clouds.
If you have the money to lash out we’d personally recommend taking a scenic flight from Queenstown across Fiordland national park into Milford Sound with this tour here.
It’s one of the most popular activities to do in Queenstown and is for sure a trip to remember.
Another fantastic option is to take a helicopter flight in Milford and land on a real ice glacier. Tickets go for around $800NZD but it’s an experience like no other.
Before you drive north to Milford Sound, why not try a seaplane flight that takes off from Lake Te Anau and explores Dusky sound and Doubtful sound for around $600NZD.
13) Discover the Eglinton valley
Of all the incredible places to visit in Fiordland national park, Eglinton Valley is a yellow tussock grass valley that was once carved by glaciers.
Many of the mountains and forest floor here were filming locations for Lord of the Rings so if you know your trivia you can easily spot the Misty Mountain peaks.
For a challenging but rewarding hike the East Eglinton valley track is one of the best day hikes in the national park, but a high level of backcountry experience is required.
14) Tramp the Hollyford track
Time: 4-8 days, 56 km one way
Start: Lower Hollyford Road, turn off from SH94 Milford road just after The Divide
Difficulty: Hard, tramping track
This well formed valley track is one of the few tramping tracks in Fiordland national park but also one of the more challenging hikes.
Whilst the elevation gain on the Hollyford track isn’t insane and it doesn’t sit high enough to attract tons of snow it is prone to flooding and becoming quite muddy in certain sections hence previous hiking and remote backcountry experience is necessary for this track.
As you wind through the sheer rock walls of the Darran mountains, incredible lakes such as Lake Alabaster and Lake McKerrow you will traverse your way to the sea at Martins Bay on the west coast with spectacular views.
From here at Martins bay you may be fortunate enough to come across New Zealand fur seals and even the rare crested penguins frollicking on the rocks of the shoreline.
All of the huts on this track operate on a first come, first served basis hence no bookings for accommodation is required.
During summer you can even book a jet boat service that runs from Martins Bay to the pike river confluence.
15) Try the Kepler track
Time: 60.1 km, 3-4 days
Start: Kepler track car park
Without a doubt in our mind one of the best things to do in Fiordland national park is to complete the full or shorter versions of the Kepler Track.
The Kepler track follows a circular route surrounded by both Lake Manapouri and Lake te Anau within Fiordland national park and can be started in either direction as it is a loop track.
The Kepler track car park is the trailhead for this hike and easily accessible just 5 km from Te Anau township. Alternatively you could walk along Te Anau lake for 50 minutes starting at the visitor centre.
The Kepler track is also one of New Zealand’s 10 great walks.
New Zealand Travel Guide
We’ve created this mini guide to help answer the most pertinent, most relevant questions to travelling down south-west for any length of time.
Best time of year to visit Fiordland national park
December to February are the warmest months of the year with rainfall being at a minimum, and the winter months between June and August usually producing the coolest weather, with high rainfall and and snow capped peaks.
Despite all the rain Fiordlands receives, high rainfall transforms the mountain peaks and produces at times over 10,000 cascading waterfalls that make for some truly spectacular scenery.
Do I need to pay to enter the national park?
No, entry into Fiordland national park is free on entry. There is only one road in and out (Milford -Te Anau highway/New Zealand state highway 94)
Is there accomodation in the national park?
Yes there is, just outside of Milford Sound there is one place to stay called Milford Sound Lodge, where they offer beautiful mountain and garden view chalets, powered/non-powered sites for vans in the stunning rainforest, as well as a common kitchen and lounge area with a delicious restaurant on-site.
Te-Anau and Manapouri are two small towns on the outskirts that most visitors use as a home base to explore Milford sound, doubtful sound and explore all of the hikes during the great walks season.
There’s a variety of beautiful accommodation to stay at in Te Anau with incredible views.