The top 5 hikes in Fiordland National Park

30 August 2019

Fiordland National Park is an adventure lover’s paradise. This pristine environment is unlike any other in New Zealand and one of the best ways to explore it is on foot! Hiking in Fiordland National park is a must-do on any trip to New Zealand.

Regardless of your fitness level, there is a hike for everyone in Fiordland! From the more challenging multi-day hikes for the keen adventurer, to the shorter walks the whole family will love, you really can’t miss the opportunity to hike one of the most beautiful regions on earth!

Fiordland National Park just so happens to be on our back doorstep, so we’ve put together our favourite hikes in this beautiful place. Stay tuned for some top hiking tips in Aotearoa, as well as the best hikes to check out.

Things to know before you hike in New Zealand

New Zealand has a very unique environment and with any outdoor activity, it’s important to know what you’re in for and how to prepare. You won’t need bear spray like in North America, nor will you need to watch out for snakes like our neighbours in Australia, so we’re off to a great start!

Here are a few other things to know before you lace up your boots!

Best time of the year to go hiking in New Zealand

The official Great Walks hiking season in the South Island of New Zealand runs from late October to May (our summer months are from December to February).

If you’re not an expert hiker with alpine experience this is your window to enjoy the higher altitude hikes in New Zealand. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and the best way to check is on the DOC (Department of Conservation) website (just search the hike you’re wanting to go on). Here you can look up information on every trail in New Zealand and check up to date warnings and trail closures.

Booking campsites and huts for New Zealand hikes

Everyone loves New Zealand, but the downside to this means hiking trails can get busy. Most of the most popular overnight trails require you to book your huts and campsites online in advance. There are some huts and campsites around New Zealand that don’t need to be booked, but any of the Great Walks or popular trails (like those in Fiordland) will require a booking in advance.

Hut and campsites along the Great Walks range in price depending on the trail and if you’re a New Zealander or not. For non-Great Walk huts, you can buy serviced ($15) and non-serviced ($5) hut passes. Each hut has this rating (service or non-serviced) and each pass can be used at the corresponding hut. All huts have mattresses, water supply and toilets, serviced huts have a bit extra with hand washing facilities and heating with fuel available.

With that said, you can hike any trail in New Zealand completely free for a day with no bookings required! New Zealand is all about the outdoors and all the trails are yours to explore.

Staying safe while hiking in New Zealand

The weather can get pretty wild in New Zealand. We even sometimes see snow in summer! So it’s best to check the forecast and be prepared! MetService is the best place to check the forecast in New Zealand, or you can always pop into a DOC office and ask them before you leave. And always pack a rain jacket as the landscape doesn’t get that green for no reason!

While you’re in the DOC office check for a sign-in form to leave your intentions with them as well as on the Adventure Smart NZ website. For extra safety, always let a friend or relative know your plans too and the day you’re supposed to arrive back safely! You can read some more actionable tips to ensure you’re safe before you go hiking on the Adventure Smart NZ website.

If you’re tackling a harder alpine trail be sure to take an emergency beacon. In an emergency, these are the most efficient way to get a helicopter to you. You can rent these in New Zealand at most outdoor equipment rental shops.

Wildlife in New Zealand

Unlike in some countries where wildlife poses a threat to humans, in New Zealand you don’t really need to worry about that! And actually, it’s us that poses a threat to our beautiful native wildlife. You can read a bit more about some of the wildlife that hangs around Fiordland, and Milford Sound in particular on our blog!

Our birds are very friendly and aren’t shy to ask for some food, but this is bad for the animals so please don’t feed them.

In New Zealand, we do have a few species that didn’t always call NZ home. Please don’t touch any traps or baits on the trails, these are dangerous to humans! You can also report sightings of pests, such as rats, possums or stoats to DOC. And while we don’t have any deadly species lurking in Fiordland, mosquitoes and sandflies are definitely something to be mindful of. Trust us – bug repellent will be your best friend.

Leave only footprints and take only pictures to keep New Zealand beautiful!

Top 5 hikes in Fiordland National Park

Okay, so we’re getting close to lacing up those boots now! The only thing that’s left is to choose which hiking trail you’re going to do in Fiordland National Park.

Here are some of our favourite hikes to choose from:

1. Routeburn Track 

The Routeburn Track is a New Zealand classic. It’s one of the ten Great Walks but the only one that starts (or ends) in Mt Aspiring National Park and finishes in Fiordland National Park. The trail is hiked in either direction with one end near the town of Glenorchy and other at the Divide on the road between Te Anau and Milford Sound.

It’s not the longest or hardest Great Walk at only 36km and is commonly hiked over two nights and three days. There are four DOC huts and two campsites along the trail with the most popular places to stay being the Routeburn Falls Hut and the Lake Mackenzie Hut or campsite!

The trail doesn’t need to be hiked overnight though and many visitors hike sections of the trail in a day. One of the most popular day hikes is to the key Summit from the Divide. This three-hour trail is a classic on a Milford Sound road trip.

2. Kepler Track 

The Kepler Track is one of the best hikes in New Zealand. It’s another Great Walk and rightly so with all of the stunning views along the way. The Kepler is hiked in a loop in either direction and is a 60km trail. The most common way to hike it is over three nights and four days, however, it can be completed in three days.

There are three DOC huts and two campsites along the trail with the most famous being the Luxmore Hut. If you don’t want to hike the entire trail then a day hike to the Luxmore Hut from Te Anau is a great option! The view from the Luxmore Hut is one of the most breathtaking along the trail – it’s a view that has to be seen to be believed!

The trail starts just outside of Te Anau which is the gateway to Milford Sound with plenty of things to do. This trail is perfect for the hiker at heart who wants to sneak a quick hike in before or after visiting Milford Sound.

3. Milford Track 

Ah, the Milford Track. It’s easily one of the best walks in New Zealand and the third Great Walk on this list. This stunning 53-kilometre journey leads you through the remote landscapes in Fiordland National Park and finishes in Milford Sound! The trail starts at Glade Wharf in Te Anau Downs, but unlike the other trails, your first step on this journey involves a boat ride to the start of the trail. From there it’s a four-day adventure to Milford Sound!

The Milford Track can only be hiked in one direction and outside of the Great Walk’s season the trail is very dangerous to attempt without the proper alpine experience or equipment.

There are three DOC huts along the trail as well as four private huts for guided treks. This track is so iconic that it must be booked as soon as bookings open. Be sure to watch the DOC website for the announcement on the opening date for bookings!

And, of course, if you make your way into Milford via the Milford Track or otherwise, jump on a Milford boat cruise with Southern Discoveries!

4. Hollyford Track 

The Hollyford Track is a 53-kilometre walk from the mountains to the sea. It’s not technically a Great Walk but still is an awesome trail. Although in Fiordland National Park, the track passes through no alpine sections meaning it can be hiked all your round (weather dependent of course!). The trail starts on Lower Hollyford Road on the Milford Road and ends in Martins Bay on the stunning West Coast. The track follows the Hollyford River and is a classic mountain to sea track worth doing!

There are six huts in total along the track that you can also camp at. They do not need to be booked in advance and are first come, first serve. For this trail, you can use serviced hut passes (there is only one non-serviced hut on the trail). From the start to the first hut is a great overnight trail for visitors not keen on the full four or five days.

5. Lake Marian 

We couldn’t finish this list without a very short but stunning trail. The Lake Marian Track is a short three-hour return trip to a stunning alpine lake surrounded by mountain peaks! The trail starts on the road to Milford Sound and begins with a walk over a suspension bridge and passes beautiful waterfalls.

The trail is around ten kilometres long and although short, it does climb in elevation to Lake Marian. For those who don’t hike often, you should allow at least four hours to complete the trail.

It’s the perfect track for people wanting a shorter day hike on their way to Milford Sound to join a Milford cruise!

The hikes around Fiordland National Park are only one part of the adventure so be sure to come visit us in Milford Sound for the best cruise through Milford!

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