Tourism operators in the southern wilderness region of Fiordland have introduced new tours, cruises and travel options as they work around a scheduled maintenance closure to the road accessing Milford Sound - one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations.
Covering five per cent of New Zealand’s total land mass, Fiordland World Heritage National Park is an international tourism icon - a treasured place recognised for significant natural features and exceptional beauty that tells an extraordinary evolutionary story - and a must-see on the travel bucket list of many down-under visitors.
Geographical marvels include Milford Sound, Mitre Peak and Doubtful Sound - and epic Middle-earth landscapes featured in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies. The region is famed for multi-day walks, wilderness cruises, rare and unique land and marine wildlife.
Walking - for those with time and ability - is a popular way to experience the remote, sparsely populated region on one of three multi-day walks including the famed Milford Track. Air or water travel is an easier and faster option for travellers with less time.
Milford Sound cruise companies are working with local operators to develop extra Milford air packages while the Milford road is closed for about two weeks to complete safety improvements.
The new packages will deliver visitors to Milford Sound so that scheduled cruises and adventure activities can continue operating.
Real Journeys, which operates boats in both Milford and Doubtful Sounds, is significantly up-scaling Doubtful Sound operations to cater for more visitors and will continue to operate a fly-cruise-fly Milford option.
The company has relocated one boat - the Milford Mariner - from Milford to Doubtful Sound, increasing on-board capacity to 400 visitors per day to help cater for “a decent proportion of the total daily expected visitors to Milford” for this time of the year, Real Journeys chief executive Richard Lauder says.
“Doubtful Sound is a vast and remote fiord that many of our visitors rate as highly as Milford. The trip is more than a boat cruise, it’s an experience - and this is a great chance for Doubtful Sound to shine as it should in the global tourism market,” Lauder said.
Cruise options include day trips and multi-day luxury and guided nature discovery voyages.
World-class Fiordland experiences
Fiordland National Park- a vast untouched expanse of glacier-created fiords, virgin forests, craggy mountains, deep valleys and alpine lakes - stretches inland from the Tasman Sea on New Zealand’s south western seabord.
Milford Sound is the only fiord with road access. The Milford road is a tourism experience in itself as it climbs from inland Te Anau via an awe-inspiring series of forested valleys and lakes into the mountains, ending with a dramatic descent into Milford.
Visitors can still take the road to its highest point at the Homer Tunnel where the road works begin. En route there are many highlights including the picturesque Mirror Lakes, the beginning of the Routeburn Track, Hollyford Valley nature walks and roadside encounters with New Zealand’s cheeky kea - a mountain parrot with a mischievous nature.
Destination Fiordland tourism marketing manager Kate Hebblethwaite says the road works will not affect “a multitude of world-class experiences” available in the region.
Te Anau township
Te Anau - the little town on the eastern edge of Fiordland - is the main gateway and headquarters for Fiordland National Park.
The township caters for all levels of the tourist market with luxury to backpacker accommodation and dining options, and the Fiordland Cinema has regular screenings of Ata Whenua Shadowland - a short film that transports viewers on a cinematic adventure in the skies above the national park.
The Te Anau Wildlife Centre offers an insight into the lives of some of the region’s more curious characters including the kea and the quirky blue takahe - a rare flightless bird that was believed to be extinct until 60 years ago when it was rediscovered in a remote alpine valley in the national park. Since then conservation efforts have seen the known population rise from just a handful to around 200 birds.
From town, visitors can set off on a cruise across Lake Te Anau to view the breath-taking underground glow worm grottos or continue to the other side and on to Lake Manapouri - a deep alpine lake with 33 small islands, bordered by sandy coves and native bush that sits below the majestic Cathedral Mountain range.
Beyond Lake Manapouri, Doubtful Sound is a grand wilderness destination - New Zealand’s second biggest fiord and a haven for rare birds and marine life such as New Zealand fur seals and comical Fiordland crested penguins.
Fiordland has some of the finest walking tracks in the world, from half-day strolls to multi-day treks, as well as a wide range of shorter or full-day adventures including jet boat trips, horse treks, quad bikes, farm tours, fishing and hunting expeditions.
Visitors can also soar over mountain tops and experience a bird’s eye view of the Fiordland World Heritage National Park with a scenic flight by helicopter, fixed wing or float plane.