The best Fiordland National Park hiking trails
Fiordland National Park may be one of the wettest places in New Zealand, yet it’s one of the most stunning as well. The massive fjords are the major tourist attraction down here, however it also has a large variety of amazing hikes. As a matter of fact, some of the most amazing hikes that I’ve done in New Zealand, were in fact in Fiordland National Park. And I must say that overall, I’ve been quite lucky with the weather. I’ve had my fair share of rain but then again when the sun shines, the true beauty of Fiordland appears and you will most likely fall in love with it as head over heels as I did. So whether you are looking for a gentle family stroll, an amazing (half) day hike or a multi-day trek, in this article is all you need in preparation for hiking in New Zealand’s far south. These are the Fiordland National Park hiking trails, starting with the short strolls and slowly building towards the more serious work.
Fiordland National Park map and day walks guide
All information about the day walks (+ more than I’ve done in fact) are in the brochure Fiordland Day Walks by Department of Conservation. I picked mine up for a couple of dollars at the Te Anau DOC Center or you can download it here. Unless you are really heading into the backcountry, there’s no need to get a detailed hiking map as all hikes are well marked and can easily be done without trouble navigating.
Fiordland National Park short walks
The walks below can be done within a few minutes and a few hours. I mentioned all that can be done in let’s say two hours or less. Most of them can easily be done by anyone who is wearing good footwear. There are some Milford Sound walks as well as some trails along the Milford Road and a few Fiordland walks out of Te Anau.
Mirror Lakes, Milford Road
About half way down the Milford Road from Te Anau to Milford Sound, you will find the Mirror Lakes, a chain of small lakes that with a bit of luck reflect the Earl Mountains in the distance. Your best bet will be to check these out in the morning when driving up to Milford Sound as that is usually the best time for little wind. There’s a boardwalk and interpretive signs along the way and from the parking lot this walk should take you no more than a few minutes. Unfortunately, during my most recent visits I did not get the reflection, however during my visit back in 2002 (and before my digital era) I did get the reflection I hoped for.
Milford Sound Lookout Walk, Milford Sound
The best spot for a look of Milford Sound from a bit higher up is definitely the Milford Sound Lookout Walk. This short walk takes you up on a small hill behind the cafe and will give you a great view of Mitre Peak. Along the way you will run into Donald Sutherland’s grave as well. The walk will take you some 10 minutes return and is quite easy.
Milford Foreshore Walk, Milford Sound
The best walk in Milford Sound is the Foreshore Walk, which will get you amazing views of Mitre Peak and its surrounding mountains. Most of the trail is across a boardwalk and when the tide is low you may also be able to access the washout for a bit, where you can have a picnic on one of the logs or rocks. Most of the track is along a boardwalk and parts of it will lead you through a native forest with quite a few interpretive signs panels along the way. If you only have little time in Milford Sound, make sure to do this walk, it should take you no more than 20 minutes if you’re quick.
The Chasm, Milford Road
Another great short walk along the Milford Road is The Chasm, just behind the Homer Tunnel. Here you will find a series of powerful waterfalls in the Cleddau River finding its way through the gorge. The Chasm is a great place to appreciate the large amount of rainfall that Fiordland National Park gets on a yearly basis. The walk takes about 20 minutes only.
Lake Marian Falls, Hollyford Road
If you want to see more waterfalls then make sure to visit the Lake Marian Falls, 1 km down the unpaved Hollyford Road. You will find an incredible series of waterfalls here, coming from the alpine same name lake, way up high in the mountains. Various boardwalks make the walk super nice and easy. Those of you wanting to hike up to Lake Marian (described further down in this blog) will start their trek up from the end of this walk. The falls are just a 20 minute return hike from the carpark.
Humboldt Falls, Hollyford Road
Another waterfall hike along the Hollyford Road is the one leading you to the Humboldt Falls. However, it starts all the way at the end of the Hollyford Road, a 17 km drive along an unsealed road so make sure you car is insured for driving unpaved roads. The Humboldt Falls are among the highest in New Zealand and can only be seen from the viewing platform at the end of the track, a 30 minute return walk from the car park. Although they will remain far away, they are truly spectacular nonetheless.
The Hollyford Track, Hollyford Road
Before I start my description about the walk I did here I must say that I only walked a tiny bit of this backcountry hike. I had sprained my ankle a few days before my most recent visit to Fiordland National Park and didn’t feel well enough to make the trek all the way down to the ocean. However, in order to get a feeling of the Hollyford Track, I hiked the first few kilometers of it and I loved every minute of it. If you want to get a sense of what it’s like to do an easy backcountry hike, give this a bit of a try.
Lake Gunn Nature Walk, Milford Road
This walk is done from the Cascade Creek Car Park and those of you who are in search for a nice place to camp along the Milford Road, look no further, this is your spot! Lake Gunn is one of the largest lakes along the road and offers great views and on hot days the possibility of a swim. The trail is accessible for wheelchairs as well and along the way there are many interpretive signs to tell you more about this part of the forest and the national park. A great hike out when the sun is low and before you are going to bed … it’s a 45 minute returnwalk only.
Fiordland National Park half day hikes
Those looking for a few longer walks can opt to choose for one of the half day Fiordland tracks. For these make sure to bring water, some snacks, decent footwear and raingear!
Key Summit Track, The Divide
Found along the Milford Road as well, The Divide is the starting point of the popular Routeburn Track which I’ve hiked twice in my life so far. The Divide is the lowest pass in this part of Fiordland National Park and offers a shelter as well as a large parking lot, toilet and drinking water. The Key Summit hike will take you some 3 hours return, first through a green forest and later through alpine meadows towards the top. From here you will have stunning views over Humboldt and Darran Mountains as well as Marian Lake in the opposite valley. If you have just a few hours to spend, make sure this is your number one priority. Even though it’s a little steep in places, the track is never difficult and can be done by anyone willing to walk for three hours. Once at the top, you will not be disappointed. If you feel like it, you may add a visit to Lake Howden Hut a bit further up as well, adding about half an hour to your hike.
The Circle Track, Manapouri
Manapouri is just a twenty minute drive down south from Te Anau and totally worth a visit. I drove down here to do the Circle Track hike, a 3.5 hour walk through a much overlooked part of Fiordland National Park. You will have to take a watertaxi from the shore or you can hire a rowing boat to get you across the channel, more information about this is available in the Manapouri General Store. The Circle Track is a great walk but it’s rather steep and slippery as well. Once on the ridgeline you will have stunning views of Hope Arm and the surrounding mountains. The way down is much more gentle and eventually you’ll hike along the lakeshore of Lake Manapouri. It’s a great half day hike with very few people and will show you some of the quieter parts of Fiordland New Zealand.
Lake Marian, Hollyford Road
When on Key Summit you can see Lake Marian and up until my most recent visit to New Zealand, I had no idea that I could actually hike up to this lake. It’s not an easy hike though, it’s steep and slippery in many places and it should only be done by experienced hikers. As I hiked it on a very warm day the trail seemed neverending, yet once up at the lake I knew it was well worth the effort. This alpine lake is definitely one of the most stunning ones I have seen in New Zealand. The total walk should take anywhere between 3-4 hours, including a visit to the Lake Marian Falls.
Rainbow Reach to Moturau Hut, Manapouri – Te Anau Road
Being a part of the Kepler Track Great Walk, this 3-4 hour return walk will take you to the Kepler Mire where the Dead Marshes scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed. Boardwalks will lead you across this bog. The Moturau Hut is the last hut for overnight trampers on the Kepler Track and a great spot for a lunch, before heading back to Rainbow Reach and the carpark. The views from the hut across Lake Manapouri are worth a million!
Fiordland National Park day walks
Below you will find some of the best Fiordland day walks, both of them a part of either larger walk. Before you set off always make sure to carry enough drinking water, snacks, sturdy footwear and appropriate clothing!
Earland Falls, The Divide
Those wanting to do a longer hike from The Divide may hike all the way up to the Earland Falls, the half way point between The Divide and the Lake Mackenzie Hut. The hike is part of the Routeburn Track and along the way you will have awesome views of the Hollyford Valley below. The Earland Falls are 174 meters high and originate from Lake Roberts way above. You can easily combine this into a long day tramp with Key Summit. The return walking time to the Earland Falls from The Divide will be some 6 hours, including Key Summit will add another hour or two.
Te Anau – Luxmore Hut, Control Gates
This amazing one of the Fiordland National Park day hikes will take a full day but it’s well worth your time, especially when it’s a sunny day. The return time will be some 8-10 hours however you can shave off 1.5 hrs each way by taking a water taxi from Te Anau to Brod Bay, skipping the first part of the hike that leads you along the shores of Lake Te Anau. The hikes climbs steeply up through a beech forest and eventually reaches the bushline. From here you will climb all the way up to Luxmore Hut, offering great views of the area around the lakes and the mountains in the distance. With a bit of luck kea can be seen at Luxmore Hut, so keep an eye out on your belongings. This is definitely my favorite dayhike in the area!
Fiordland Tramping Tracks
The following section will include my favorite multi-day hikes in Fiordland National Park. There are plenty of multi-day treks in this region and you will miss the major one: the Milford Track. Unfortunately both times I wanted to hike the Milford Track, it was already fulled booked by the time I had set a possible date. From what I’ve heard, the Milford Track is usually fully booked for the whole season a few minutes after the online booking system opens up so unfortunately, I never was lucky enough to get a spot. I’ve heard various stories about this hike, from being incredibly amazing to being incredibly overrated. One day I’ll found out for myself …
The Routeburn Track
Hiking The Routeburn Track had always been a dream of mine and so I have not just hiked it once but twice over the past couple of years. This 32 km tramping track takes you from the Routeburn Shelter near Queenstown to The Divide on the Milford Road. It crosses amazing alpine landscapes and is not to be taken lightly, however it’s not much of a challenge for experienced hikers though. All huts must be booked in advance as they are part of the Great Walks of New Zealand and bookings can be made on the DOC website.
The Kepler Track
Having done most of New Zealand’s Great Walks, I’ve often received the question which of them is the best. I always have difficulties choosing between The Routeburn Track and The Kepler Track and I loved them both. The Kepler is a 4 day 60 km roundtrip hike from Te Anau and will lead you across some of the most stunning mountain ranges in Fiordland National Park. The second day especially is amazing, you will be above the treeline most of the time and the views into the wild are truly stunning. As well as the Routeburn Track, huts for the Kepler Track must be booked in advance. More on hiking the Kepler Track and my experience can be found here.
The Hump Ridge Track
Last but not least is the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track, officially not a Great Walk but it certainly has all qualities to be one. In three days you will hike some 62 kms from ocean to bushline which can be a bit of a challenge but once you’re on the ridge, it will be well worth the effort. The lodges along the track are a bit more fancy than the ones on the Great Walk and you don’t have to bring your cooking gear is this is provided. Meals and drinks can be bought too, for reasonable prices. Hikers looking for a way less crowded option than the Routeburn or the Kepler Track should definitely consider hiking the Hump Ridge Track as it will be leading you through one of the most desolate places in Fiordland National Park you can get to by foot.
How to get to Fiordland National Park
Fiordland National Park is large and you cannot see it all in just a day. Some folks do a one-day trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound but I wouldn’t recommend that, it’s too far and too rushed. It’s better to visit Fiordland National Park from Te Anau, a small village and the last real town before the Milford Road begins. Note that there is no gas and no mobile connection past Te Anau!
Fiordland National Park camping
There are a few large campsites in Te Anau which should be booked in advance in high season. Trust me on that, I found out the hard way. I eventually managed to find a spot at Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park. If you wish to stay at a DOC Camping site without service, then your best spot is the Cascade Creek Campsite along the Milford Road, it’s the furthest one down and the closest you can stay near Milford Sound, without breaking the bank for an expensive Milford Sound Lodge or overnight cruise. It’s first come first serve and I absolutely loved staying here for a couple of nights. No cell phone connection, no electricity, just a lot of silence. And sand flies, of course …
Conclusion and disclaimer
I hope you found this post with the best Fiordland National Park hiking trails useful and that it’ll help you plan your New Zealand trip. If you’d like to read more about hiking New Zealand, then make sure to check this post with the best hikes all over New Zealand and also my complete New Zealand travel guide.
Before you go, also order your Lonely Planet Tramping in New Zealand guidebook and this New Zealand guidebook.
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