Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park, covering over 1.2 million hectares, is New Zealand's largest national park and one of the largest in the world. The park, together with the adjoining Mount Aspiring National Park, occupies the south west corner of the South Island and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Understand

Mitre Peak, towering over Milford Sound

Fiordland, as the name suggests, is home to several fiords — steep-sided inlets carved by glaciers during the last ice age, then later drowned by the rising sea. Its rugged landscape remains one of the least explored areas of New Zealand. Although the park has about 500 km of formed walking tracks, these are mostly confined to eastern and northern parts of the park.

Like all of New Zealand's national parks, it is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). The department aims to allow the public to enjoy the park, while also preserving the environment. There are relatively few restrictions on access by individual visitors, though commercial activity is carefully (some might say strictly) controlled.

The main visitor information centre is in the township of Te Anau. There are park ranger outposts at major visitor locations. Visitors intending to stay in the park overnight are advised to inform the park rangers of their intentions. In the event of an emergency, these intentions will be used as part of any search and rescue operation.

Flora and fauna

The area is so remote and unexplored that some speculate that species thought extinct in New Zealand may still live in the park. The takahe, a flightless bird previously thought extinct, was discovered in a remote part of the park in 1948.

The kakapo, the world's only flightless parrot, survived in Fiordland longer than any other place on New Zealand's two main islands, although even here it died out by the 1980s. A recovery project has been started on offshore islands free of the predators that threatened its survival on the mainland.

Sandflies are an obvious (and annoying) demonstration of the insect life that inhabits the area.

Climate

The weather in the park can change dramatically over the space of a few hours and over a few kilometres. Visitors should always be prepared for rain, which can be heavy and prolonged. The park has over 200 rain days per year, though different parts of the park receive widely different rainfalls. Te Anau, with 1200mm (40 inches) annual rainfall is almost as dry as much of the eastern South Island, while Milford Sound, with 8000mm (320 inches) annual rainfall, is truly rainforest and waterfall territory.

Aircraft

Aircraft are part of the Fiordland National Park scene. DOC uses them to carry out its duties in the park, including pest control. Aircraft service the walking track and remove every bit of waste, including toilet waste. As there are no roads, all lodge, track maintenance and building is enabled by aircraft and all supplies to the lodges are flown in. If you injure yourself so you can't continue or you go missing, aircraft are the only practical method to carry out search and rescue. For many people the only way they can access the park is by aircraft either because of lack of time, age or infirmity. The other important consideration is that aircraft make the least real environmental impact of any of the users of the park.

Get in

Get around

Fly, bus, walk or boat

Destinations

See

Do

Sleep

The township of Te Anau has a number of accommodation options.

There are also commercial accommodation options in Manapouri and Milford Sound.

Stay safe

Fiordland is a huge national park. There is a well trafficked path from Te Anau through to Milford Sound, but outside of that it is a gigantic expanse of unpopulated wilderness. If you intend to venture into it, it is essential you go to a visitor information center to check the weather and conditions before you do. As with anywhere in New Zealand (but even more so with weather systems coming of the Tasman Sea) the weather can change from sunny to cold and stormy within hours. If you intend to stay anywhere away from civilization overnight you should inform the park rangers of your intention before hand (and then report back on your return).

If you have any questions at all go to a Visitor Center and chat to the staff. It's their job to provide advice and keep people safe.

Go next

Making up the south west corner of the South Island, once you are here your only options are to head back to Queenstown or south to Invercargill.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, September 05, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.