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See Fiordland’s dramatic landscape to believe it

South Island
Jason Granville
Jason Granville
Tour Guide
March 30, 2023
minute read

Explore Fiordland’s vast wilderness & serene, jaw-dropping beauty and enter another world

Without a doubt, Fiordland is one of New Zealand’s most stunningly beautiful regions. Glaciers have carved out this spectacular landscape over thousands of years. A World Heritage Area and New Zealand's largest national park, here you experience a place suspended in time. One where ancient rainforest clings to sharp granite peaks threaded by waterfalls falling hundreds of metres into deep, dark fiords and shimmering lakes. If you have yet to explore this stunning area, you must. It truly is a place to see, experience and treasure.

Dense virgin beech and podocarp forests cover most of the National Park. Of the 14 fiords, only Milford Sound is accessible by road, so the best way to explore this remote and vast landscape is by boat, air or foot. The Milford Wanderer is a modern bespoke vessel built for navigating southern New Zealand whilst maintaining a traditional sailing scow charm. This recently refurbished vessel offers "twin-share" warm, comfy compartments for 32 passengers with shared bathroom facilities and hot showers. Fully catered, you can enjoy the delicious fresh food the onboard chef prepares. Each night, the boat anchors in a sheltered bay, where you can disembark to explore the coastline further by kayak or small boat. It is a perfect way to travel deep into the inlets’ remote beaches and bays as it re-traces Captain Cook’s historic 1773 voyage. 

Māori call Doubtful Sound ‘Patea’, meaning ‘Sound of Silence’. At 421m, it's our deepest and second longest fiord (40 km). Renowned for its compelling serenity, Doubtful Sound is home to our southernmost populations of bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, albatross and tawaki/Fiordland Crested Penguin. At the Hall Arm, the impressive Browne Falls cascade from 619m and Helena Falls at Deep Cove tumble down 220m. You can take the 2-hour return walk to the base of the falls in good weather. Another steep, challenging track takes you to the Hanging Valley, which provides incredible views of Deep Cove.

Milford Sound/Piopiotahi, famously described by Rudyard Kipling as the 'eighth wonder of the world', is breathtakingly beautiful regardless of the weather. With its sheer cliffs, the awe-inspiring Mitre Peak/Rahotu towers above the lush rainforest and cascading waterfalls. One of the wettest places on earth, Milford Sound, has rain for around 182 days yearly. As rainy days multiply the magnificence of waterfalls, there’s never a bad weather day down here. 

Fiordland’s dramatic landscape

Fresh water from the mountain surrounds forms the top few meters of the fiords with seawater below. The difference in the refractive index of these two layers makes it difficult for light to pass through, causing a phenomenon known as deep-water emergence. The top dark freshwater layer blocks light to creatures below, meaning deep-sea species, such as black coral, live a few metres below the surface. As a result, Fiordland’s ten marine reserves are home to a wealth of biodiversity, including some of the world’s most enormous black coral trees, some over 300 years old.

The southernmost fiord, Preservation Inlet, is as wild as it is remote. Once the site of NZ’s first shore-based whaling station at Cuttle Cove, it has a bloody history. You may spot Southern Right Whales, dolphins, and elephant seals resting on the shore. The historic Spit Island, connected to the mainland by a golden sandspit at low tide, was the site of two tragic Maori battles.

The Milford Wanderer - the ultimate voyage of discovery exploring Preservation Inlet

Initially built in 1889, the Puysegur Point lighthouse is on the South Island’s most south-westerly point. From this isolated position, you can enjoy incredible south coast views on a clear day extending from the Solander Islands to the edge of Cape Providence. In the 1890s, gold, silver, copper and lead were discovered in the area, leading to the establishment of Cromarty and Te Oneroa. Today, remnants of these townships include a long brick chimney of the old smelter, old mining machinery and even parts of an aerial cableway.

At Chalky Inlet, the wreck “Stella” lies partly submerged on Little Island. Once a steamship that purposely ran aground in the 1800s after becoming damaged on a reef. Other historical remains include McCallum’s sawmill boiler at South Port Cove.

One of Fiordland’s largest and most remote fiords, the 40km-long Dusky Sound is dotted with over 350 small islands. Few people experience its majesty, as this incredible place is only accessible by sea or air. Thick rainforest dominated by totara, rimu and rata rises out of the still waters teaming with wildlife. At Luncheon Cove, you’ll find the site of New Zealand’s first European house built by a sealing gang that Britannia’s Captain Raven left here in 1792. They also made the first European-designed ship, 16m Providence - thought to have launched a mound of boulders near the stream in 1795.

Anchor Island is one of the few predator-free sanctuaries for kākāpō—home to about half the world's population and a growing Little Spotted Kiwi population. Enjoy a gentle guided walk through the dense rainforest listening to the calls of saddleback, yellowhead, and NZ rock wren. 

There is much to see, so why not book a Fiordland trip today? Soak up this incredible wilderness with its awe-inspiring beauty, diverse wildlife and rich history. It will be a holiday to treasure always.