Top 6 most interesting trails when visiting Fjordland. New Zealand

Fjordland – New Zealand

Fiordland is a New Zealand national park with relict nature and Maori sacred sites.

General information on Fiordland

  • Full name: Fiordland National Park.
  • Region: Southland, New Zealand.
  • Official website – fiordland. nz
  • IUCN category: II (national park).
  • Foundation date: 1952.
  • Area: 12,500 km2.
  • Relief: granite plateau, dissected by gorges, river valleys and lake hollows, smoothly passing into highlands, the coastline is very indented, with lots of fjords.
  • You have to pay to visit.
  • Climate: maritime, temperate.
  • Purpose of creation: preservation of unique natural landscape with relict flora and fauna from the times of ancient continent Gondwana, and also sacred place for natives of New Zealand.

For visitors to Fjordland.

Fjordland - park photo

At the mountainous northwest corner of South Island sits the largest national park on the islands of New Zealand, Fiordland. There is a fee to visit the park. Its administrative center is in the small town of Te Anau, on the southeastern shore of the lake of the same name. Here you can stay and relax in small comfortable hotels and taste traditional New Zealand cuisine. The town has everything you need to welcome tourists and have a comfortable holiday, for a visit to the amazing places “Fjordland” you can rent a car. A special stand in the visitor’s center has information about the history of the region, the peculiarities of its nature, and friendly staff will help you choose various souvenirs. From Te Anau you can take the highway in 2.5 hours to Milford Sound Fjord, 120 km north of the town, or in 20 minutes by bus to Lake Manapouri, where one of the excursion routes to Dusky Fjord begins. Park staff can offer more than 10 excursion routes of different lengths and durations, the most famous of them – Milford, Holliford and Kepler. You can explore the beauties of Fjordland on your own or take a guide. On the protected area for overnight stays specially equipped campsites are provided, but in summer it is recommended to book in advance, and in autumn it is freer. Park visitors can choose from a variety of entertainment and recreation, including sightseeing flights on a jet plane, pleasure boat cruises, sea kayaking, scuba diving, bike rides and safaris, fishing, wildlife watching, visiting an underwater research observatory. Fjordland can be accessed from the town of Dunedin by sea or by bus on the highway. There is an international airport in Dunedin, which receives flights from Australia, and a small airfield at Glenorchy, near the park’s northeastern border, receives domestic and charter flights.

History of Fjordland National Park

River in Fjordland National Park New Zealand photo

The Maori people are considered to be the pioneers of New Zealand. These natives from the islands of East Polynesia began exploring the islands in the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. They fished here, hunted birds, practiced slash-and-burn farming and mined Punama (jade) in the rivers. The name of the people means “normal” or “ordinary. In Maori mythology, these words distinguish humans from spirits. The first European to see the shores of the islands of New Zealand in 1642 was Abel Tasman, and in 1768 they were surveyed by James Cook. Soon ships with settlers and whalers reached this part of Oceania and began to build their settlements and forts on the coast. Since 1840, after the signing of the treaty between the Maori and England, the territory is owned by the British Crown while maintaining all the rights of indigenous New Zealanders. In 1907 New Zealand became an independent dominion. The government tries to protect the unique nature of the islands, and in 1952 created the national park “Fjordland”. In 1986 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Walking through Fjordland

Fog on Fjordland park photo

Fjordland National Park combines the incongruous. Here, humid rainforests rub shoulders with glaciers and snowfields, and colorful parrots and fluffy kiwis rub shoulders with nimble penguins. Ocean coast ecosystems transition sharply to mountain ranges and sheltered valleys. Rudyard Kipling called this area the eighth wonder of the world. The reason for the pristine preservation of nature in this area is too mountainous terrain. The peaks of the Durran Massif, which surrounds the protected area, rise to 2,746 meters and are almost all covered by snowfields or glaciers. This array is one of the oldest in New Zealand, it appeared as a result of volcanic processes 450 million years ago. The role of bedrock are granite, gneiss and partly diorite with remnants of Tertiary limestone, so the mountains are resistant to erosion. On their slopes even now visible traces of the last ice age, then there was a solid ice field.

Lake in Fjordland national park photo

To the south, the altitude of the mountain range gradually decreases to 1,000-1,200 meters above sea level. Flowing down from the highlands, glacier tongues in the western and eastern parts of the park almost symmetrically carve out the majestic fjords of the Tasman Sea and numerous lakes, more than 400 m deep. The bottoms of some of the lakes are even below sea level. The largest lakes in the park are Te Anau, Manapouri, Hauroko, Monovey and Losseri. Te Anau is the second largest in New Zealand, its length is 65 km. Most sightseeing trails start from it. Lake Manapouri was formed about 20 thousand years ago, it is the second deepest lake in the country. In translation from the Maori language its name means the Lake of the Sorrowful Heart. The Maori also call it “Rotoau” – “Rainy Lake” and “Moturau” – “Lake of a Thousand Islands”, which characterizes the territory of the lake: its water area has 34 islands, 22 of them are densely forested. In total, there are about 15 large and many small fjords in the territory of “Fjordland”. Among the largest and most beautiful are Milford, Dautful, George, Brexie, and Dusky. The longest is considered to be Dautful, that is, “Doubtful Cove. So it was named by James Cook, who thought it was a strait after all, but could not verify his hypothesis. You can get to the fjord only by boat. Only two boats ply between the fjords in the park, always trying to stay out of each other’s line of sight. This allows visitors to merge with nature as much as possible, feel its grandeur and absorb the beauty of unique places. By the way, every year the national park is visited by about 450,000 people. Fjordland has two permanent waterfalls: Sterling and Lady Bowen, and on the Arthur River is the park’s highest waterfall – Sutherland. You can see it by walking along the path that leads to Milford. Many small waterfalls form during the rains, but their water is blown by the wind and does not always reach the ground. Travelers will also be interested in the archaeological sites, especially the ancient Maori road that runs through the protected area.

Natural Wonders of Fjordland Park

The park’s most beautiful and majestic fjord, Milford Sound, is about 3 kilometers wide at its confluence with the Tasman Sea in the northwest of Fjordland. Before the sea waters flooded this place, there was a valley formed by a glacier with steep granite cliffs. The average height of the mountains surrounding the fjord is about 1220 m. In the center is the highest of them – Mitre Peak. Peak Elephant outline resembles the head of the animal, and the peak of the Lion looks like the king of beasts crouching on his hind legs. The natives call the fjord Piopiotahi after the extinct Piopio (New Zealand thrush). According to legend, the half-god-half-man Maui tried to win immortality for all humans in an unequal battle, but died in a battle with the mistress of the sea. His faithful companion, the piopio bird, flew for a long time across the bay, mourning the death of the hero and friend.

  • 1695 meters – Mitre Peak
  • 1,517 meters – Elephant Peak
  • 1302 meters – Lion Peak
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Some more interesting things:

  • Maori ancestors came to the islands from their ancestral homeland of Hawaika. Each of the seven boats, according to legend, contained a tribe with a chief
  • Male southern sea elephants have a skin pouch on their noses that inflates during fighting or mating games
  • Kea is an endangered species, inhabiting mountain valleys with beech forests, endemic of New Zealand, included in the IUCN Red List
  • Milford Sound Fjord, the crown jewel of the west coast of South Island
  • Land of the Fjords – so the name of the park is translated

The flora of Fjordland

Fjordland forest flora photo

The flora of Fjordland is almost unaffected by human activity. Thanks to the humid climate there is an abundance of vegetation: over 7000 species in total. Wet evergreen forests cover almost the entire territory of Fjordland, from the valleys to the mountains up to a kilometer above sea level. These are mostly beech forests, in which the subantarctic beech (Nothofagus menziesii) up to 800 years old can be found. There are many laurels (Laurus spp.), mugwort (Podocarpus spp.), Rosaceae, and Myrtaceae. In the wet parts of the park, the forest has dense undergrowth consisting of numerous lianas, shrubs, tree ferns, mosses, and lichens. Above the forest zone is the mountain steppe, or tussock. Here grows mostly turfgrass signs. In “Fjordland” 35 species of plants (mountain plants) are referred to its endemics, most of them are found in the tussock zones. These are representatives of such genera as Aciphylla (Aciphylla), Olearia (Olearia), Chionochloa (Chionochloa), Fescue (Festuca), Celmisia (Celmisia), Poa (Poa) and Buttercup (Ranunculus). The main feature of “Fjordland” is that nowhere else on the planet do glaciers descend so close to the border of evergreen rainforests. The contrast of the bluish-white glacial tongue with the dense thickets of laurel (Laurus sp.), myrtle (Myrtoideae) and southern beech (Nothofagus menziesii) fringing its base is striking. The valleys of the park are full of marshes with their inherent vegetation.

Animals of Fjordland

The fauna of the national park is amazing. First of all, “Fiordland” is a kingdom of birds. It is home to the largest number of New Zealand’s birds, including some of their rarest representatives, such as the takahe (Porphyrio hochstetteri) and the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus). Endemics include the southern kiwi (Apteryx australis), yellow-breasted jumping scarecrow (Cyanoramphus auriceps), rocky New Zealand wren (Xenicus gilviventris), shepherd’s weck (Gallirallus australis), crooked-necked sandpiper (Anarhynchus frontalis), arrowhead (Acanthisitta chloris), yellow-headed mohua (Mohoua ochrocephala), kea (Nestor notabilis). Near the foothills live several species of penguins (Spheniscidae), such as thick-billed (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus), great crested (Eudyptes sclateri) and small (Eudyptes minor). Albatrosses (Diomedea sp.) and about five species of petrels (Procellariidae) can sometimes be seen over the ocean. Near the coast of the island in the sea you can admire orcas (Orcinus ogsa), sperm whales (Physeter catodon), humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and southern right whales (Eubalaena australis). Along the coast lie large colonies of New Zealand harbor seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) and the relatively rare New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri). Occasionally sea leopards (Hydrurga leptonyx) and southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) appear here. Flocks of Australian bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops australis), dark dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus), bottlenose dolphins (Delphinus delphis) and Hector’s porpoises (Cephalorhynchus hectori) come into Doutful Sound and Milford Sound. There are about 3,000 species of insects in the national park, of which 10% are endemics. Very interesting are fireflies, such as mushroom mosquitoes (Arachnocampa luminosa). Do not leave indifferent and the underwater world of the fjords. Layers of fresh water are above the sea, they scatter light, so deep-sea fish live almost on the surface, and visitors can admire them from the boat. It is also worth mentioning a variety of tropical sponges (Porifera), mollusks (Mollusca), corals (Anthozoa). In the park there is the largest colony of black corals (Antipatharia). In “Fjordland” once brought red deer (Cervus elaphus), couscous (Phalanger spp.) and rats (Rattus spp.). They have a very negative impact on the native fauna of the national park.

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New Zealand islands are full of beautiful places, and Fjordland Park is one of the best.

New Zealand. Day Hikes in Fjordland

trekking new zealand fjordland

We are currently camping in Glenorch, very close to a huge lake. There are picturesque mountain ranges all around that are slowly being covered by clouds, the wind is picking up, and the weather is deteriorating.

Our first post on New Zealand will be about the short hikes we took in Fjordland National Park. This law-protected area is larger than American Yosemite and Yellowstone combined, and most of the area has never been set foot in.

(In fact, it is very uncomfortable to set foot there, because there are impassable forests on the steep slopes of mountains, flowing raging rivers and other inconveniences.)


Key Summit and Howden Hut hike

alpine trekking in new zealand

This week we hiked Key Summit and Howden Hut, the start of the Routeburn trek (a 3-4 day hike), which is on the Great Walks list of New Zealand’s best treks. The ascent is a little over 400 meters, the trail is easy, and it takes 4 hours to walk at a normal pace with rest stops.

The hike begins at The Divide. There are signs, restrooms, a shelter, and a huge parking lot. Major tour companies arrange transfers there from Te Anau and Queenstown. This will be handy if you are going Ruteburn, as the end of the trek is on the other side of the mountain system, and it is about 170 km by road to get there. Alternatively, you can hitchhike or take a rental car, as we did.

Just in case, let us also add that in New Zealand it is not recommended to leave the car at the beginning of the trek, leaving for a few days, as it can be broken into. But everyone leaves it.

The hike begins with a long climb through a very beautiful forest. The vegetation is unusual, lots of tall ferns and huge trees braided with vines and thick moss.

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If the jungles of Madagascar, Borneo and Peru unadvanced botanist can not particularly distinguish, as well as pines in Yosemite and Zhitomir region (except maybe by cones), then this is really something special. Remotely similar to the mossy forest in the Cameron Highlands (Malaysia). Very distantly.

I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it anywhere else. There’s a reason New Zealand decided to film Lord of the Rings. Still, most of the population of the planet had never been to the middle of nowhere and had never seen such landscapes. Therefore, they may well pass for fantastic. The photo is not a good impression.

forest in new zealand

The trail is very comfortable and gently sloping, and we even had the impression that New Zealand, like the States, have done a great job of making hiking accessible to everyone. In the afternoon we realized that we were wrong :)

After climbing out of the forested area, the view of the neighboring ridges opens up.

Roteburn hike

It’s nice to have a bridge built over the slightest ditch. And on the sides of the path ditches are dug to prevent water from wetting tourists’ delicate feet and new sneakers.

bridge over the creek

Presumably, these bridges are built on particularly popular tracks, not only to increase the comfort of tourists, but also to ensure that they shoes less spread harmful bacteria that are found in freshwater reservoirs.

Next we went up to Key Summit.

Over the bridges we walked to the observation deck overlooking Marian Lake.

If it weren’t for the arrow signs, only attentive tourists with exemplary eyesight would have been able to spot this lake. You can see it in the photo:

The lake is in a beautiful cirque formed by the movement of a glacier. The local mountains owe their beautiful and unusual shape to the glacier: the upper part is flatter and topped with steep cliffs, while the lower wooded part is almost steep.

The white spots in the photo are small glaciers, which are still preserved at a relatively low altitude (about 2,000 meters) in the sun-protected area.

Next we returned to the forest, first passing through small groves in the alpine zone:

We descended to the Howden Hut tourist shelter. It was very civilized, there was a flush toilet and drinking water in the taps.

Nearby is a beautiful lake:

Unfortunately, this and the other tour shelters on Great Walks have very few spots and yet are super advertised. Places need to be booked about six months in advance. And they cost a lot (NZD 65 per person at the shelter or NZD 15 per person in a tent). To put up a tent in other places is not allowed.

In New Zealand they usually fine you $200 for illegal camping.

In one day from the parking lot it is realistic to go further along the Rourebourn trail to Lake Mackenzie, but we didn’t have time. Later, near Glenorchy, we passed the other end of the track, we’ll tell you about it separately.

Humboldt Falls.

To rest before heading up to Lake Marian, we drove to Humboldt Falls. We drove about 16 km up a dirt road (passable by any car).

The waterfalls (there are two next to each other) are very high, but they are far away from the observation point, a little bit covered by branches, and seem to be thin.

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Humboldt waterfalls new zealand

Then we ate our lunch, and we were eaten by the local “sand” gnats (sand flies). They are fierce, you need to stock up on repellent and remember to use it. But we haven’t seen any regular mosquitoes yet.

Marian Cascade and Marian Lake

Marian Cascade is a rapids, rough and strong and pretty, especially when surrounded by mossy forest. The trail is short and comfortable.

Marian Lake is difficult to walk, the trail is full of rocks and roots: you have to climb, slide, or climb over it most of the time. You can go to Key Summit in sandals and without poles and with kids, but here you have to have good shoes and poles, and better without kids. And not after the rain.

The trek ends on the shore of the lake. The water is beautifully colored, streams descend from the slopes of the mountains, forming small waterfalls.

Despite the proximity of the glacier, the water is not very cold.

Gunn Lake.

In the evening at the campsite we bathed in the creek. Where it flows out of Lake Gunn, there’s a good run in, and it’s waist-deep.

The view is from the middle of the river:

Insurance for hiking up to 6,000 feet

Regular policies do not cover mountain hikes of any difficulty category. You need a separate sports insurance. The best option is to buy an insurance policy from Worldnomads for active days – it is an international insurance, takes out online even if you are already on the trip, and covers hiking up to 6,000 meters.

Unfortunately, for Ukrainians and Belarusians Worldnomads is not sold (but you can buy if you are a resident of another country that is on their list).

For Ukraine there is a site with different insurance – you can pick up a policy with a sports option there. Just do not take Providna and insurance companies with Balt Assistance – we had a very bad experience with them!

Where to sleep in Fjordland

Hotels and hotels

The nearest large settlement is Te Anau. From there it’s about 1.5 hours by car to the start of the Roteburn Track. There are many hotels, motels, and campgrounds in Te Anau. Civic campers are usually based there.

But most hotels had “No Vacancy” signs on them, so if you want comfort, book in advance :)


For those of you who are willing to stay overnight at a campsite with basic living conditions, like us, you can camp next to The Divide. It’s a much more convenient location to explore the surrounding area. There are several campgrounds, we chose the largest one, Cascade Creek. There is no water, no electricity at the campground. There are a few country style latrines (they are called long drop toilets here :), and they are in good condition.

Tents are pitched in the woods away from the cars, making for a much more welcoming atmosphere. Just up ahead from the clearing in the middle of the site, you can see the mountains and a little waterfall. The campsite is really, really big, with just 150 pitches, and it’s really spacious.

From the same campsite we took a cruise around Milford Sound.

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