Top 15 things to do in Fiordland

Descend Scuba Diving

Doubtful Sound Kayak

Routeburn Track. Image: Stewart Nimmo

Lake2Lake Trail

Image: Miles Holden

Top 15 things to do in Fiordland

This World Heritage Site contains some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best untamed natural beauty. Fiordland is the perfect place to disconnect from busy modern life and soak in the soul-feeding wonders.

Get out on the water with a cruise, kayak or jet boating tour, or see it all from above on a scenic flight. Get up close to wildlife at a bird sanctuary, under the water, or even underground. And put on your hiking boots or cycling helmet to explore Fiordland on land – this is home to three of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

Get on the water and kayak the sounds

A kayaking journey allows you to explore the breathtaking beauty of Fiordland at a leisurely pace, with plenty of time for gazing around you in awe. Discover the quiet, undisturbed corners of Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound on trips ranging from one hour to a full day, or get the full wilderness experience with Go Orange Kayak’s Doubtful Overnighter, where you’ll make camp in a beautiful forest between two days of exploring the fiords.

Go beneath the surface at Milford Sound

Milford Sound is known as New Zealand’s coral capital, and you can see for yourself the truth of this title on a scuba diving expedition with Descend Scuba Diving. You’ll see incredible species that can usually only be found in the deep ocean, such as red coral and the legendary black coral trees. Keep an eye out for other inhabitants of this underwater kingdom such as dogfish sharks, crayfish, octopus, stingrays, sea dragons and seals.

See Fiordland on the big screen

Ata Whenua – Shadowland is a 32-minute film that puts Fiordland’s famous scenery front and centre, with helicopter footage showcasing the remote rivers, lakes, rainforests and mountains that can’t be accessed any other way. The film is always showing at Fiordland Cinema in Te Anau, and if you feel like catching a new release, the cinema has a good range of those playing as well.

Find underground magic at Te Anau glowworm caves

Cruise across Lake Te Anau and enter the network of incredible 12,000-year-old limestone caves, worn through by the force of the river that flows through them. On a Real Journeys guided tour, you’ll head through the fascinating sculpted passages, past whirlpools and an underground waterfall before you re-board a boat to get to the glowworm grotto – a magical underground night sky.

Hike a third of all New Zealand’s Great Walks

Smash a hole in your bucket list, rack up some massive bragging rights and see one of the best parts of the world. The fact that three of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks are in Fiordland attests to the majesty of this area’s landscapes. Tick the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler tracks off in one huge trip or in several successive visits to Fiordland. Each hike takes three to four days and can be walked independently or as part of a guided walk. Accommodation in DOC huts or campsites along the routes must be booked in advance.

Cycle the Lake2Lake trail

For a trail you can tick off in a single day under pedal power, check out the Lake2lake cycle trail, running alongside Lake Te Anau and down the Waiau River to Lake Manapouri. This scenic and easy-grade trail can be used in either direction, 32kms each way, or ridden as a loop. The Church in Manapouri is a great place to stop off and fuel up with lunch or a coffee.

Fly fish in world-class waters

The crystal-clear waters with abundant rainbow and brown trout are great for keen anglers and beginners alike – this is one of the world’s best regions for trout fishing. Hit up one of the knowledgeable local guides to tap the best spots and gear up to catch your own dinner.

Spin it up in a cinematic landscape on a jet boating adventure

See parts of Fiordland that you can’t get to by road with some exhilarating adventure into the bargain. Jet boating on the Waiau or Wairaurahiri Rivers and onto Lake Manapouri is a thrilling ride that will take you through stunning surrounds and teach you about the unique environment which made for the perfect setting for films such as The Lord of The Rings and Jurassic Park.

Get the horizon-to-horizon view from the air

For an experience that will leave you slack jawed and breathless, get yourself on a scenic flight to admire the unparalleled beauty of this World Heritage Site from the air. Southern Lakes Helicopters has several flights available, taking in highlights from the Hidden Lakes to remote alpine landings and the Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds.

Explore the fiords in style on a lake cruise

Kick back and watch some of the world’s most magnificent scenery glide by while you enjoy commentary from your guides and a hot or cold beverage. You could try the yachts on Lake Te Anau or a multi-day cruise exploring all the more isolated fiords, with many operators providing options to swim, dive, kayak or fish on your journey.

Get your native birdwatching on at Punanga Manu o Te Anau bird sanctuary

Don’t miss your opportunity to see the rare kākā and takahē, as well as lots of other melodious natives like ruru koukou, korimako, kererū and tūī at this family-friendly bird sanctuary. Take a guided tour and see some of the birds being fed, or explore the sanctuary on your own. Don’t forget the camera – this is a perfect place to practise your wildlife photography skills. The conservation efforts at the sanctuary support the recovery of kākā and takahē in the wild.

Cruise to the underwater observatory

Discover an entire underwater world without even getting wet! New Zealand’s only floating underwater observatory is located in the Piopiotahi Marine Reserve. You can observe life 10 metres under the surface, where you might see all manner of creatures from starfish and snake stars to black coral – but remember, the fish here are free to come and go as they please, so there is an element of luck involved. The observatory is only accessible by boat on a Discover More cruise with Southern Discoveries.

Carry your boat into the bush

A unique experience that’s part kayaking journey, part backpacking trip, packrafting is a unique and adventurous way to experience Fiordland. The great thing about packrafts is their portability – this is a small inflatable boat you can squash down and carry with you, which makes exploring the wilderness a breeze. Packrafting New Zealand offers three packrafting expeditions in Fiordland, from the entry level to the advanced.

Befriend alpacas at Kepler Mountain View Alpaca Farm

Meet and mingle with these fuzzy, friendly locals on an alapaca farm tour. You’ll get to hand-feed the alpacas and learn about how they are farmed in New Zealand and check out how their wool is used. Stop in at the Wild Wool Gallery on your way out and pick up a soft wool blanket or clothing item to snuggle up in back home.

Up your photography game

No doubt you’ll be extraordinarily snap happy in this land of jaw-dropping scenery, so why not brush up on your technical skills and take your holiday snaps to the next level? William Patino Photography has tours suitable for the novice through to the professional, and can take you to the highlights of Fiordland or trek into the wilderness to find more remote, unique landscapes. Southern Photography Adventures offers plenty of tips while out on your tour, and specialises in astrophotography, with a variety of longer workshops also available.

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