Easy adventures and secret spots: Why it's the perfect time to visit Fiordland
Date 23 Jul 2020
Seeing the sights found in our backyard is a hot topic right now. Great deals, quiet times and winter's stunning beauty are enticing kiwis to get out and explore. And here in the southwest of the South Island, kiwis are hearing the call to visit a place which represents the very essence of exploration - Fiordland.
A visit to Fiordland is more than a "must-do"
It's an experience which connects with all the things kiwis hold dear - adventure, exploration and preservation. Fiordland and its many treasures like Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are ancient guardians of our most valuable assets. Here, within a World-Heritage protected landscape, mighty forest species and unique native species connect us back to ice age times. The vast network of valleys and peaks safeguard the stories of Maori hunters and traders who came in search of prized tangiwai pounamu.
A place beyond belief!
Is it time to move Fiordland off your wish list and onto your to-do list? With fewer cars on the Milford road, there has never been a better time to capture those iconic photos without the crowds and tick off this kiwi institution. To head out on an adventure and share a moment with your children, your family or your friends.
Whether it's your first time to Fiordland or you’re curious to visit again after many years, here's the inside knowledge on why this winter is a great time to visit Fiordland and Te Anau.
It's winter, but Fiordland is open (including walking trails)
Yes, it's winter, but that's no reason to put off visiting the south. Fiordland is always open and the best tip for visiting at this time of year is to follow the local motto of, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing".
The rewards are well worth the effort of packing an extra layer or two of clothing in your suitcase. There's nothing quite like the sight of the Southern Alps with a fresh layer of snow on the tops, or the green forests glistening on a misty morning. Te Anau, nestled on the shore of Lake Te Anau, is an easy vantage point for winning views of the Kepler and Murchison mountain ranges, all visible without having to leave town.
The stunning Kepler Track is conveniently located on the doorstep of Te Anau and is an ideal option for anyone looking for a taste of hiking in Fiordland. Ask any local for a recommendation, and they will tell you to head to the Control Gates (a 5-minute drive from the centre of town) for a day walk on the Kepler. After just a few minute's walking, you will find yourself immersed in a sea of green, from the tiniest mosses and lichens to the carpet of crown ferns and the mighty beech trees. A fun option is to take the water taxi from the Te Anau pier to Brod Bay and start partway along the Kepler Track. Find a beach for a picnic stop or challenge yourself to hike Mt Luxmore. This summit offers spectacular views of Lake Te Anau and the township below.
High-profile walks like the Milford Track and the Routeburn Track run between October and April. Hikers are advised to stay off the tracks during winter as cold temperatures bring the chance of snow and ice on the trails. But these tracks are ideal day walk options and offer an incredible experience for anyone wanting to see why these world-famous walks have Great Walks status.
An easier option is a gentle stroll along the lakefront in Te Anau. There's always something going on along the foreshore whether it's watching the flocks of geese or the comings and goings of helicopters, the floatplane and scenic cruise boats.
Bike tracks for young and old
A relatively recent addition to Te Anau's list of things to do is the Lake2Lake Cycle Trail. This gentle bike ride follows the Waiau River as it flows from the outlet of Lake Te Anau into Lake Manapouri. The track is around 19km long and offers stunning views of the powerful Waiau, as well as Fiordland which sits on the other side of the river. Bikes hire is available in Te Anau.
If you're looking for something less strenuous, it's hard to beat a ride along the lakefront in the centre of Te Anau. Start from the DOC Information Centre and cruise into town for a coffee. Or head out past the Boat Harbour and ride along the well-formed path to where the Upukerora River flows into Lake Te Anau. Enjoy uninterrupted views of the lake and the stunning mountain ranges beyond, as well as the chance to check out the houses occupying their enviable positions along the lakefront.
And if dirt and downhill is your thing, you'll be happy to hear the mountain bike craze hasn't spared Te Anau. Just out of central Te Anau, you'll find Perenuka Mountain Bike Park with a range of downhill tracks. Not far from town, local bike enthusiasts have created a fun jump park at the Waterpark which caters to all ages and abilities. And in the centre of town, the ever-popular pump track is the place to be whether you’re on a skateboard, scooter or bike.
Milford Sound - more than cruise boats
We all know the absolute must-do in Milford Sound is a stunning scenic cruise along the fiord. But there are other options for exploring Milford Sound which will appeal to anyone keen to see the fiord from a different perspective.
Kayaking in Milford Sound is one of those activities you will remember for a lifetime. Nothing quite compares to the experience of sitting on the surface of the water as the ocean swells underneath and feeling the enormity of the fiord's giant cliffs towering above. Kayaking is a chance to take it slow and soak in the most famous of Milford's landmarks like Mitre Peak or Bowen Falls. If you're lucky, Milford Sound's dolphins may pay a visit. Kayaking trips range in length and offer options for beginners or experts.
If sitting on the surface of the water isn't enough, you can always take a dive beneath it. In the dark waters of Milford Sound, adventurers will discover a unique dive experience. Diving in Milford Sound takes place within Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) Marine Reserve, a 690-hectare area of protected marine environment on the northern side of the fiord. In this underwater wonderland, divers get an up-close look at the fiord's famous black coral. Black coral (which is actually white) is typically found at depths of over 100 metres, but here in Milford's inky black water, it is found at shallower depths. A dive in Milford Sound is a memorable experience for even the most experienced of divers.
The Milford Swing
There are many (many) reasons to visit Milford Sound. But sometimes, you need something a bit different. And the Milford Swing gives you the perfect reason to head out on a treasure hunt.
The Milford Swing is an unofficial landmark in Milford Sound and a great excuse to head out on a hunt for a secret spot. Thanks to social media, the swing has become famous, but that doesn't necessarily make it easy to find.
There are no signposts to the swing so you may have to ask a friendly local. As a rough guide, start from the Milford Sound car park and take the Milford Foreshore walking track. After you have crossed the wooden bridge, keep an eye out to your right-hand side, and you should soon find the swing located between two trees on a sandy patch of beach.
While the swing has become an Instagram sensation of late, you may just be lucky enough to have an incredible view of Mitre Peak and the entrance to the fiord all to yourself.
Find a full list of Fiordland activities here. And click here for a directory of all of Te Anau’s businesses which are open throughout the winter season.
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