The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Fiordland National Park is one of the largest national parks in the world. The dramatic scenery of Fiordland was formed thousands of years ago as glacial waters carved through granite mountains, leaving behind soaring cliffs, deep lakes and thundering waterfalls. The beautiful fiords, including Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, are home to dolphins, fur seals and penguins, along with some of the most famous and most scenic hiking trails in New Zealand – or, to see it all more leisurely, explore by air or boat. Meanwhile, Southland and Stewart Island offer remote, rugged landscapes, ancient rainforests and spectacular wildlife spotting.
The small lakeside town of Te Anau, which has some fascinating glow-worm caves, is the gateway to Fiordland (alternatively, you can also fly from Wanaka). It can rain a lot here, but this is no bad feat, as the waterfalls multiply to outstanding effect!
Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s top tourist attractions and was described by Rudyard Kipling as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’. The iconic Mitre Peak towers over the south shore, where you’ll often spot fur seals frolicking in the water, and waterfalls tumble down the cliffs. Milford Sound is the only fiord that is accessible by road - a spectacular winding route from Queenstown. Alternatively, fly both ways for panoramic views, or enjoy an overnight cruise to break up the journey and experience the magic after the day-trippers have left.
Doubtful Sound is the second largest of the 14 fiords in Fiordland National Park. Although it is three times longer and ten times larger than Milford Sound, it offers no road access and is therefore far more remote and attracts far fewer visitors, which makes it our favourite (!). Boats depart from the tiny town of Manapouri on either a day trip or an overnight cruise: opt for the latter to kayak the emerald waters on a memorable back-to-nature wilderness experience.
As well some of the finest seafood in New Zealand - including the famous Bluff oysters - Southland’s lush green landscapes offer excellent day hikes, extraordinary wildlife encounters on the Catlins Coast, and the chance to see Curio Bay - a petrified forest of subtropical kauri trees dating back 180 million years to the Jurassic age.
Stewart Island, off the tip of the South Island, is sparsely populated and is a real paradise for nature lovers, with 85% of the island designated as a national park. The landscape here is covered in thick native bush, wetlands, sand dunes and a varied coastline - from sandy beaches to sheer cliffs - bordered by crystal clear waters hosting an abundance of marine life. The variety of birdlife includes wild kiwis who come down to the beach at dusk to forage for insects. As well as diving and kayaking here, we’d recommend a tour to nearby Ulva Island, which is a haven for native, rare and threatened birds. Walk through primeval rainforest and learn about the area's rich Maori and European history.