Fiordland National Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrTucked away at the southwestern tip of the South Island, Fiordland National Park is the largest of New Zealand’s 14 national parks. From snow-capped peaks and glistening fiords to icy lakes in tussock and sheer, ice-carved valleys, the park offers some of New Zealand’s best and most famous scenery.
GeologyOver the last 2 million years, glaciers have at times covered the area, carving many deep fiords. Fourteen fiords, some stretching up to 25 miles inland, extend from Milford Sound in the north to Preservation Inland in the south.
Fiordland’s coast is steep and crenellated, with the fiords running from the valleys of the southern ranges of the Southern Alps, including the Kepler and Murchison Mountains. At the northern end of the park, several peaks rise to over 6,562 feet. Mitre Peak is perhaps the park’s most famous, a 1,692-meter mountain rising sharply out of Milford Sound.
Fiordland has some of the oldest rocks in New Zealand, predominantly comprised of hard crystalline metamorphic rocks such as gneiss and schist, and volcanic rocks like granite. Lying close to the alpine fault where two plates of the Earth’s crust meet, the area has been folded, faulted, uplifted and submerged many times.
Periods of submersion under the seabed have created areas of sandstone, mudstone and limestone, seen today at the Te Ana-au Caves and on the Hump Ridge.
Ice has carved islands from the mainland, leaving two large, uninhabited offshore islands, Secretary Island and Resolution Island. Several large lakes lie wholly or partly within the park’s boundaries, including Lake Te Anau, Lake Manapouri, Lake Monowai, and Lake Poteriteri. Lake Hauroko is New Zealand’s deepest at 1,516 feet.
The Sutherland Falls, to the southwest of Milford Sound on the Milford Track, are among the world’s highest waterfalls.
Prevailing westerly winds blow moist air from the Tasman Sea onto the mountains; the cooling of this air as it rises produces a prodigious amount of rainfall, exceeding seven meters in many parts of the park. This supports the lush temperate rainforests of the Fiordland temperate forests ecoregion.
HistoryFiordland was well-known to the indigenous Maori people, and many of their legends recount the area’s formation and naming. Demigod Tuterakiwhanoa is said to have carved the rugged landscape from formless rock. Few Maori were permanent residents of the region, but seasonal food-gathering camps were linked by well-worn trails. Takiwai, a translucent greenstone (jade), was sourced from Anita Bay and other areas near the mouth of Milford Sound.
The first Europeans to visit Fiordland were explorer Captain James Cook and his crew in 1773. Spending five weeks in Dusky Sound, Cook’s detailed maps and descriptions later attracted sealers and whalers who made up the first European settlements of New Zealand.
From the mid-19th century, surveyors, explorers, and prospectors began to delve into the previously unexplored interior of Fiordland. Gold was found in Preservation Inlet in the 1890s, and the area experienced a short-lived gold boom. Difficulties in establishing mines, timber mills and farms in Fiordland have proven difficult, and have traditionally not lasted.
Early settlers Quintin McKinnon and Donald Sutherland opened up the Milford Track in 1889 and began guiding tourists through the now world-famous route. Richard Henry, one of the pioneers of threatened species work, transferred kakapo and kiwi to islands in Dusky Sound in the late 1890s and early 1900s.
Fiordland National Park was officially constituted in 1952. Today it covers over 1.2 million hectares (4,826 square miles). The park occupies major part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site, declared in 1986. The park is administered by the New Zealand Government’s Department of Conservation.
FloraThe park is heavily forested with Nothofagus (southern beech) trees, with red mountain beech growing around the eastern lakes and in the Eglinton Valley. Silver beech is widespread, sometimes growing in association with podocarps such as Hall’s Totara, Rimu and Miro.
In the wetter areas, this forest type has luxuriant shrubs, tree ferns, mosses and lichens. Above the 100-meter bushline, snow tussocks dominate with showy alpine daisies, buttercups, and other herbs.
WildlifeFiordland is home to a vast array of wildlife, both native and introduced. You may be lucky enough to spy the Kakapo, the only flightless parrot in the world. The Kiwi, New Zealand’s national icon, is another native bird you may find in the park.
Fiordland is also home of the Takahe Recovery Programme. The Takahe is a unique bird, as the largest living member of the rail family, and was once thought to be extinct. After the rediscovery of the Takahe in the Murchison Mountains in 1948, a special area of 193 square miles was set aside in the national park for its conservation.
The most common forest birds include Tomtits, Brown Creepers, Grey Warblers, Fantails, Tui, Bellbirds and Woodpigeons. The cheeky mountain parrot, the Kea, is a regular entertainer at high altitudes.
Fiordland is home to 10 marine reserves, home to some very special species. In the waters around Fiordland, the underwater beauty of black coral can be seen at shallower depths than elsewhere, due to freshwater sitting on top of the seawater underneath. Bottlenose Dolphins, New Zealand Fur Seals, Fiordland Crested Penguins, and little penguins are also resident in the fiords.
HikingThe park is a popular destination for alpine climbers and hikers, with the Milford, Kepler, Hollyford and Routeburn Tracks all in, or close to, the park. Fiordland is a challenging hiking destination, and hikers are advised to be well prepared. Flooding and poor weather can be a common hazard.
Kepler TrackAt 60km long, the Kepler Track is a circuit track taking 3-4 days. The track has a long section above the bush line, offering panoramic views. The track also passes through beech-forested lakesides and wetlands. The start point is located 5km from Te Anau (approximately 50-minute walk). Campsites and huts are available, and bus or boat transfers are also available.
Milford TrackThe Milford Track is a majestic experience, with some describing it as the finest walk in the world. The hike encompasses a short mountain pass walk, steep-sided glacial valleys, as well as sights of superb waterfalls. The track is one direction, and at 53.5km long, takes 4 days (one way). Te Anau is the nearest town, located 27km from the start, and 120km from the end. Huts are available along the route, but camping is not permitted. Bus or boat transfers are available. Expect to see other parties along the track, and be sure to book well ahead in peak season.
Routeburn TrackThe Routeburn Track offers a slightly shorter hike: at 32km it takes 2-4 days (one way). It has a long section above the bush line, and crosses Alps, forested valleys, alpine meadows and tarns. Hikers can walk either direction. The nearest towns are Queenstown (68km to track end) and Te Anau (85km to track end). Campsites and huts are available, and bus transport is also available.
How to Get ThereRoad access to Fiordland is restricted to the Milford Road (State Highway 94), which runs north from Te Anau, skirting the edge of the park before entering it close to the headwaters of the Eglinton River. From there it crosses the northwest corner of the park, reaching its end at Milford Sound. South of Te Anau a smaller road links to Manapouri. A minor road links Doubtful Sound with the western edge of Lake Manapouri via the Wilmot Pass.
Driving times for common distances are as follows:
- Queenstown to Te Anau – (197km) 2 hours
- Invercargill to Te Anau – (158km) 2 hours
- Dunedin to Te Anau – (290km) 4 hours
- Christchurch to Te Anau – (640km) 8 hours
- Te Anau to Milford Sound – (120km) 2 hours
- Te Anau to Manapouri – (21km) 20 minutes
- Te Anau to Tuatapere – (101km) 1 hour 15 minutes
There are airports in Te Anau, Manapouri and Milford Sound, offering some commercial flights and private aviation services.
To access parts of Fiordland by sea, boat launching is available at Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and on the southern coast, including the port of Bluff near Invercargill. To access Doubtful Sound, trailer boats can be barged across Lake Manapouri to West Arm and driven over the Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound (contact Real Journeys for barge bookings). There is a charge for using the Wilmot Pass Road (contact Fiordland National Park Visitor Center for details).
For freshwater access, boat launching is available at most lakes accessible by road, including Lake Te Anau, Lake Manapouri, Lake Monowai, and Lake Hauroko. To prevent the spread of the invasive weed Didymo, take care to check, clean and dry all items before entering and moving between waterways.
Walking access to the park is available from either Te Anau or Manapouri, or from further destinations (such as from the Queenstown area via the Routeburn Track).
Other InformationFiordland weather can be highly changeable, so be sure to prepare for all conditions. Cold temperatures, snow, strong winds and heavy rain can occur at any time of year. January and February are the warmest months of the year, with temperatures between 10 - 64 °F. July is the coldest month, with temperatures between 1 – 48 °F. Be sure to pack plenty of wet weather gear.
If you’re planning to hike in alpine areas, be aware that high and gusty winds, as well as snow, are possible, so take care and be aware of the risk of wind chill. Avalanche risk is also high in Fiordland given the steepness of the mountains and the high snowfall. Avalanche risk exists mainly over winter and spring, especially between late August and early November.
Sandflies can also be a problem, so be sure to pack plenty of insect repellent.
For more information on the National Park and its walks (including bookings and permits), check out the Department of Conservation website at www.doc.govt.nz.
The Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre is located on Lakefront Drive in Te Anau. If you have any queries email them at email@example.com, or phone on +64 3 249 7924.
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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Mar 14, 2016