FIORDLAND NATIONAL PARK: ALPINE BEAUTY IN THE “EIGHTH WONDER FOR THE WORLD”

Fiordland National Park is attached to Mount Aspiring National Park on the southwest corner of the South Island of New Zealand.  In 1990, it was listed as a UN World Heritage Site.  With an area of 12,500 square-kilometres, it is the largest of the 14 national parks in the country.

Fiordland National Park

Fiordland makes up a large portion of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site.  Due to the steepness of the terrain, its very isolated location, and the fact that is has the wettest climate of anywhere in New Zealand, the land on which the park sits has been largely untouched by humans.

The Maori occasionally hunted and fished there and European settlers sheltered in the fjords, but few actual settlements were made in the area.

Like its Mount Aspiring National Park neighbor, the geology at Fiordland National park was created during a cooler past, when glaciers carved out the many deep fjords that now provide the park with its name.  In fact, such glacial activity was responsible for the creation of Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Dusky Sound, all three of which are key attractions within the park.   Glaciation and ice are also responsible for severing Secretary Island and Resolution Island from the mainland.  They now sit offshore, uninhabited and largely untouched.

 The park’s fjords run from the base of the Southern Alps and the northern portion of the park has several mountains that rise to a height of over 2,000m.  

the park is also home to several sizable lakes, including Lake Te Anau, Lake Manapouri, Lake Monowai, Lake Hauroko, and Lake Poreriteri.  Finally, Fiordland National Park is home to a wide range of flora and fauna.  Due to the fact that many of these plants and animals develop in such an isolated environment, many of them have evolved to be completely unique to the area.

What to Do

        Visit the fjords!  The park is called Fiordland National Park for a reason after all.  The southwest corner of the South Island on which the park sits has fourteen fjords.  While it took around 100,000 years to form these fjords, Mother Nature put the finishing touches on them only around 10,000 years ago.

They are truly beautiful sights to behold and many of them have wonderful waterfalls tumbling down their sides that are constantly fed by the region’s abundant rainfall.  The Maori legends attributed the formation of the fjords to a giant stonemason named Tute Rakiwhanoa.Fiordland National Park

        Visitors can also take trips out to any of the park’s three sounds.  Milford Sound is arguabley the most spectacular.  In fact Rudyard Kipling once described it as the, “Eighth Wonder of the World.”  Doubtful Sound, measuring 421m deep, is the deepest of the entire country’s sounds and fjords.

It is a haven for a variety of creatures, including resident bottlenosed dolphins, fur seals, and penguins.  There are daily scenic flights and cruises above and on the sounds that are perfect for visitors looking to take in their beauty and everything else they have to offer.

        Fiordland National Park is also a walker’s haven.  The park is home to a network of walking tracks that stretches for over 500 kilometres.  These trails allow visitors the chance to experience some of the parks most beautiful mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and moss-covered valleys.  The park is also home to three acclaimed longer walking tracks, the Kepler Track, the Routeburn Track, and the Milford Track.

Kepler Track

        The Kepler Track spans for 60 kilometres and will take the average walker around three to four days to complete.  It is an intermediate trail, but since it is one of the Great Walks, the condition of the trail is very good.  The track is a look and it starts and finishes at the Kepler Track carpark.  For those not interested in walking the full 60 kilometres, the track can be broken up into smaller sections.  Here is a suggested guide for those wishing to walk the whole trail.

Day 1: Kepler Carpark to Luxmore Hut: 13.8 kilometres.  The track begins with a walk through beech forest along the shore of Lake Te Anau all the way to Brod Bay.  At Brod Bay, there is a campsite where bookings are required.  From there, you will embark on a relatively difficult climb that will take you above the tree line.  From the top, walkers will be treated to stunning panoramic views of the Te Anau Basin and the surrounding mountains.  From the tree line, it is a 45-minute walk to Luxmore Hut.  Should you desire, from the hut, there is a 20-minute side trip to Luxmore Cave.

Day 2: Luxmore Hut to Iris Burn Hut. 14.6 kilometres.  From Luxmore hut, you will continue climbing to a ridge situated just below Mount Luxmore.  From here, you will be treated to wonderful views of Lake Te Anau all the way to the Murchison Mountains.  Iris Burn Hut is located on the top of the ridge in a large tussock clearing.

Day 3: Iris Burn Hut to Moturau Hut, 16.2 kilometres.  This portion of the walk boasts diverse scenery before winding through a gorge and lowland beech and podocarp forest.  After passing through the forest, you will arrive on the shores of Lake Manapouri.  The Moturau Hut has wonderful views of the lake.

Day 4: Moturau Hut to Kepler Track Carpark, 15.5 kilometres.  The final day is a long, but easy walk along a fragile wetland.  You will then follow the Walau river terrace to a swing bridge at Rainbow Reach.  The track will then continue along the Walau River to the Kepler Track carpark.

Walkers wishing to complete the Kepler Track should be aware of the following things:

1)   During the Great Walks Season, late-October to early-May, the huts are fully operational with water supply, flushing toilets, washbasins, and cold, running water.  There is also heating with fuel available and normally a common area with solar lighting.  Finally, there will be fuel cooking facilities, but no cooking utensils.  You must have a booking to stay in a hut during this season.

2)   Outside the Great Walks Season, late-April to late-October, the huts have a limited array of services.  There is no gas provided, flush toilets are replaced with self-containment toilets, running water is turned off inside the huts, and beds are first come, first served.

3)   Outside the Great Walks season, the weather can be poor and change very quickly.  Also, there is an avalanche risk.

Fiordland National Park: Routeburn Track

        Arguably the most well known trail in the Fiordland National ParkMount Aspiring National Park area is the Routeburn Track.  This 32 kilomertre track will take the average walker around three days to complete.  The track is an intermediate grade and it is best traversed between late October and late April.  The track boasts soaring mountain peaks, stunning valleys, waterfalls, and lakes with striking, clear water.

The highest point on the track is 1,255m above sea level, thus allowing for wonderful views.  The track also links the Mount Aspiring National Park with Fiordland National Park.  The area that the track runs through was created by successive periods of glaciation, leaving behind fjords, rocky coasts, huge cliffs, glacial lakes, and beautiful waterfalls.

The track is also filled with an abundance of birdlife, including native tomits, robins, fantails, wood pigeons, bellbirds, and cheeky Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot.  The track is not a loop track and as such, it can be walked in either direction.  Here is a quick guide for hiking the track.

Day 1: Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Falls Hut, 8.8 kilometres.  After leaving the car park, you will cross a swing bridge before passing through stunning beech forest and walking along the Routeburn Gorge.  A second swing bridge will take visitors to open, grassy flats, prior to climbing up through more beech forest.  Walkers will cross over two more swing bridges prior to ending at the Routeburn Falls Hut.Fiordland National Park

Day 2: Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake McKenzie Hut, 11.3 kilometres.  Day 2 starts with a steady climb to the outlet of the river at Lake Harris.  While it is a long climb to the top of Harris Saddle, the highest point on the track, it is worth every step as the views are absolutely stunning.  The top of the saddle is surrounded by the Darren Range, Mount Madeline, and Mount Tutoko, among others.  The track then heads down towards the Hollyford Valley, eventually ending at the Lake McKenzie Hut.

Day 3: Lake McKenzie Hut to The Divide, 12 kilometres.  After leaving the Lake McKenzie hut, walkers will wind through a grassy region dotted with a few trees prior to arriving at the 174m high Earland Falls.  The track then begins a slow descent down to the Lake Howden Hut, which is a great lunch spot.

From there, the track climbs up to the Key Summit Track turnoff.  From here, walkers can enjoy wonderful, panoramic views of the surrounding area.  Walkers then pass through one more beech forest prior to reaching the divide on Milford Road.

Walkers can stay at any of the four public huts along the way.  All four are run by the Department of Conservation.  There are also an additional two huts that are run by Ultimate Hikes, a private organization.  The DOC huts are equipped with mattresses, flushing toilets, running water, and cooking facilities.  During the offseason, cooking facilities and running water is not present, so if you are walking during this time, plan accordingly.

        As the trial is not a loop, walkers must arrange transport at both the beginning and the end of the trail.  Shuttles and buses are easy to book in advance.  One end begins near Queenstown, which is filled with accommodation and transportation options.

Milford Track

        The Milford Track is 53.5 kilometres, one way, on an intermediate trail.  However, as it is a Great Walk, the quality of the trail is quite high.  The trail starts at Glade Wharf at the head of Lake Te Anau and finishes at the Sandfly Point in Milford Sound.  Walkers are only allowed to walk the track in one direction and it takes around 4 days to complete the whole track for the average walker.  

There are a few stages of the walk where there are very ascents and descents.  Here is a quick guide to walking the Milford Trail.

Day 1: Glade Wharf to Clinton Hut, 5 kilometres.  You start by walking through stunning beech forest along the banks of the Clifton River until you reach the Clinton Hut.  Pretty much all walkers stay at Clinton Hut their first night.  The hut is surrounded with wonderful swimming holes and a wetland boardwalk.

Day 2: Clinton Hut to Mintaro Hut, 16.5 kilometres.  You start the day with a gradual climb along the Clinton River to its source, Lake Mintaro.  You will pass Hirere Falls, where you will be treated with your first views of Mackinnon Pass and the unique and beautiful Pompolona ice field.  As you continue up the Clinton Valley, you will be dwarfed by giant rock walls towering above on either side of the trail.  You will continue climbing until you reach  the Mintaro Hut.

Day 3: Mintaro Hut to Dumpling Hut, 14 kilometres.  You will start by climbing to Mackinnon Pass where you will find a memorial to Quintin Mackinnon.  There are stunning views of Lake Mintaro and the Clinton Canyon below from the memorial.  Not long after the memorial, you will reach the highest point along the trail, 1,154m, at the Mackinnon Pass Shelter.  From there, you will descend through an alpine garden all the way down to the valley floor, passing several beautiful waterfalls along the way.  As you approach Dumpling Hut, you will be able to spot the majestic Sutherland Falls in the distance.

Day 4: Dumpling Hut to Sandfly Point, 18 kilometres.  From the Dumpling Hut, you will follow the Arthur River to the historic Boatshed.  As you continue, you will stumble across Mackay Falls and the unique and interesting Bell Rock.

There are a collection of fascinating man-made rock cuttings alongside the Arthur River and Lake Ada as well that walkers should stop to enjoy.  The final 3 kilometres of the track is smooth and wide and was constructed by a prison labour gang between 1890-1892.  A short boat ride will take you to the trail’s end where you can enjoy the world-renown views of Milford Sound.

Walkers should be aware of the following before embarking on their journey.

1)   Camping is not permitted on the Milford Track.

2)   During the Great Walks season, the huts are fully equipped with water supply, flushing toilets, wash basins, cold running water, heating with fuel, solar lighting in the common area, cooking facilities with fuel (but no cooking utensils), and a resident DOC ranger.  You require a booking to stay in a hut as well.

3)   Outside of the Great Walks season, the huts don’t have as many amenities.  Gas is not provided, flush toilets are replaced with pit toilets, runnin water is turned off inside the huts, and there are no DOC rangers on site.  Additionally, beds are on a first come, first served basis.   

4)   Due to the elevation gained on the walk, walking the track should only be attempted by fit, experienced, and well equipped walkers.

Accommodation

        In addition to the huts located within the park, Fiordlands is also in relatively close proximity to Queensland.  Queensland is filled with a variety of different accommodation options that are sure to fit any taste and budget.

Travelling from Abroad?

        The closest international airport to Fiordsland National Park is located in Queensland, which is a reasonable drive away.  Queensland is serviced from a number of locations in New Zealand as well as Sydney, Gold Coast, Melbourne, and Brisbane.   

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