Fiordland is a Pandora’s box of adventures once you take the lid off it just keeps coming. It seems around every bend there is a view, an activity, a lookout, and every one of them is as impressive as the last.
You can fly into Milford, and I have done it, and it is amazing, but the two-hour drive to Milford Sound is not one to be rushed. It takes around two hours; however, you could spend the whole day and longer along this section of the country. The road runs alongside Lake Te Anau before weaving its way to the Sounds. The ‘majesty’ of the drive out to Milford Sounds reminds me of Yosemite National Park, it is overwhelmingly impressive and it is right in our backyard. The road is strewn with trails and tracks with two of the New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Routeburn and the Milford track along this stretch.
I think the only way to see the Milford fiord is by kayak. Kayaking in Milford Sounds puts your place in the world into some perspective. You feel such a sense of insignificance surrounded by such grandeur and in a small kayak the fiord rises starkly from the dark ocean leaving you humbled by the sheer beauty of the place. It is also extremely hard to get your head around distance here. On my last trip our guide, Ollie, explained this as the “dwarfing effect”, where things look a lot smaller than they are since there is little to compare it with. It was not until a large boat cruised up next to Stirling falls that it gave any perspective to how huge the falls were. Stirling falls are 151m in height (that is three times the height of Niagara Falls!) but the mountain behind at 1,300m is so high it dwarfs the falls by comparison.
There is loads to do in Milford Sounds and the surrounding area; boating, hiking, kayaking, sailing, diving, fishing they cater for everything from one day charters to weeks of exploring. Historically it was overrun by tourists from overseas, but now it a lot quieter and a perfect time to visit.
In the region a place less known about is Mavora Lakes which is about an hour’s drive from Lake Te Anau, the last half an hour down a gravel road. Do not be put off, the drive, like everything in this area, is worth it.
Do not make the mistake of thinking this is just another lake. The scenery is so diverse in this part of the country that you can explore Milford Sounds, Te Anau and Mavora Lakes and experience three quite unique environments. Mavora Lakes are made up of two lakes joined together by a small river we did try to fish and although we could see the fish clearly, many of them breaking the surface as they looked for bugs, we could not catch any, but they are there in big numbers.
You could spend months in this region and still not complete all there is to do; you could write a book about where to go and what to see but if you don’t have weeks but days, then I would suggest fishing the upper reaches of the Waiau River this section holds one of the largest stock of fish in the country with drift dives confirming as many as 600 fish per kilometer of river.
We fished from a jetboat, the river wass deep and clear and after our guide Sean gave us a few tips, it did not take long to hook our first rainbow trout. We had complete novices onboard and everyone caught fish in abundance.
After the boasting photos were taken, we returned the fish to the water and did it all again. There is an option to keep fish, but we decided against it.
After a morning fishing we were going to do part of the Kepler track – of course you can walk it all but, we were on a time frame so we helicoptered to the Luxmore hut and walked out the last 10 kilometers (which is mainly downhill).
The Kepler Track is one of New Zealand’s great walks and as a result the tracks are well formed and easy to follow. The terrain ranges from lush native bush to tussock-covered ridges and alpine peaks. To complete the circular track of 60km would usually take 3-4 days but with only an afternoon spare we opted to walk the last 10 km down from Luxmore Hut to the lake edge at Brod Bay where we were picked up by the water taxi straight back into town.
The start of the track from Luxmore runs along the ridge, covered in tussock with Lake Te Anau in the distance on one side, the mountain on the other. Behind Lake Te Anau is Mt Murchison, which rises 1,275m above sea level, and is where the last wild population of takahe, which for almost half a century was thought to be extinct, were found. (You can see the takahe at the bird sanctuary in Lake Te Anau, worth a walk around and it is free!) It is hard to describe how beautiful the area looks from up on that ridge, it is stunning. Our walk down took us through dense native bush and underneath sheer limestone cliffs until we reached the shore of Lake Te Anau.
As I have said all the way through, there is simply so much to do, and to see. If you have a limited time, then make sure you choose wisely. Hope the ideas I have outlined here help. But if not, there is a great website with an abundance on information https://www.newzealand.com/nz/fiordland.