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Fiordland National Park is one of the best spots in New Zealand for hiking, hunting and adventure. The region is known for its rugged landscape, diverse environment and changeable weather and offers hikers and hunters a chance to explore some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. If you're visiting Fiordland National Park, you can take your pick of several Great Walks, lesser known tramping tracks, or opt for an off-trail wilderness expedition. In this article, we'll share what we reckon are the best hikes the Fiordland region has to offer.
Warning: This track should only be attempted by experienced hikers and climbers in good weather. It's a challenging, dangerous hike.
Mitre Peak is the glorious, rugged mountain that juts out before you when you arrive at Milford Sound. It rises above the water, asserting its dominance over the landscape. Its pride of place in Milford Sound makes it an attractive prospect for experienced hikers, climbers and peak baggers who enjoy a good challenge. This is why it makes our top 5 list - it's the star of the iconic Milford Sound view. But this is not a hike to take lightly. The trail - if you can call it that - to the summit is extremely steep. It starts with a bit of a bush bash and scramble up ladders of tree roots and consists of plenty of rock scrambles with sheer drop-offs. It's fair to say it's somewhere in between a hike and a climb. There are many spots along the way where one wrong footing could have dire consequences. The reason why so many people are willing to take the risk is the view. From the summit of Mitre Peak (1683m), you're rewarded with a breathtaking 360-degree view of Milford Sound and its surrounds. It's a bit like being on top of the world.
You can catch a water taxi from Milford Sound Village over to the start of the track, or you can use a kayak. The trail is only about 4.5km one way, but it takes most climbers about 12 hours to complete the return trip (including the water crossing to the start of the track). Therefore, you can either do it as a big day hike, or make use of one of two small campsites along the way, and make it an overnight trip.
Yes, it's a Great Walk. But that doesn't mean it's not epic! Of the three Great Walks in Fiordland National Park, The Routeburn Track probably offers the most rewarding experience. It's not as busy as the Milford Track, but you still get to experience some of the best nature that Fiordland has to offer. It's a 33km track over what's known as the main divide and takes about three days to complete. You'll get to experience rolling meadows, reflective tarns, alpine environments and amazing views of mountain ranges and valleys. It doesn't get much more "New Zealand" than this. There are several good DOC huts along the way, just make sure you book them in advance. DOC recommends only doing The Routeburn Track between November and April when the weather is most suitable for hiking. Outside of these months, the track can be covered in snow, which makes it dangerous.
The Routeburn Track can be started from either the Routeburn Shelter, about 25km from Glenorchy or the Divide Shelter, which is on SH63, the main road to Milford Sound. It can also be turned into a circuit by incorporating The Greenstone and Caples Tracks. View topo map
If you're short on time or the weather isn't great, you can get a taste of the Routeburn Track by doing one of these shorter walks.
Earland Falls Track:
Follows the Routeburn Track to Earland Falls (6hr return, intermediate)
Key Summit Track:
A section of the Routeburn Track to Key Summit with stunning mountain views (3hrs, intermediate)
Lake Howden Track:
Another section of the Routeburn Track to Lake Howden with lots of nice views along the way (3hrs, intermediate)
Photo credit: weareexplorers
The Gertrude Saddle Route is one of the most unique hikes in Fiordland National Park. Its rugged, rocky landscape is truly a sight to behold. Some have called it "the true gem" of Fiordland and it's a good option if you want to escape the crowds on the Great Walks. The rocky terrain can be slippery and dangerous when wet so you should only attempt this tramp in good weather. Parts of the track are also very steep and unmarked so it's only suitable for people with backcountry experience. From the saddle, you get amazing views down the valley and across to Milford Sound and you can even take an ice cold dip at the Black Lake along the way. The Gertrude Saddle Track is an excellent option for a challenging, rewarding day mission and is absolutely one of the best hikes in Fiordland. The track is about 7km each way and takes between 4-6 hours.
The track starts from the Gertrude Valley carpark, about 98km along the Milford Rd (SH26) from Te Anau. View topo map
If you want to get away from the tourist hustle and bustle in Milford Sound, consider this quieter short hike near Manapouri township. The Circle Track is a 10km hike around Lake Manapouri, which takes you through lush native forest, across sandy beaches and up to an epic lookout over the lake. It's an incredible perspective across the lake with layers of mountains in the background. It's definitely one of the underrated gems of Fiordland National Park. This is the same area that most of the Doubtful Sound cruises leave from so it's a different way of experiencing the lake and surrounding environment. The track is about 8.5km and takes most people about 3.5-4 hours.
Head to the Manapouri township, about 15-20 minutes south of Te Anau. From there, you'll need to catch a water taxi across the Waiau River to the start of the track. Check out Adventure Manapouri River Taxi. The track starts about 10 minutes from where you get dropped off. You can do the loop track either way, but most people recommend going clockwise - that gets the hard climb to the lookout out of the way first. The water taxi can pick you up again at an arranged time to get you back to the mainland. View topo map
It'd be rude not to include another Great Walk in this list and the famous Kepler Track is, without a doubt, one of the best hikes in the Fiordland region. The 60km loop track takes you through beautiful beech forest and across golden, tussock-covered ridges, and exposes you to some of the most stunning accessible alpine environments in New Zealand. You'll be wanting to stop and take in the view (and take photos) every few kilometres. Because it's a Great Walk, the Kepler Track is busy during the Great Walk season and you'll need to book the huts in advance. However, it's possible to do it outside the Great Walk season before the winter takes hold. The track can be dangerous in winter and should only be attempted by experienced hikers with alpine experience during that time. The Kepler Track takes 3-4 days. Most people stay in each of the three huts so they're not rushing along the track each day. There are also two campsites if you're wanting to take a tent (generally more peaceful than the huts). The huts are incredibly well equipped. There are too many highlights of the Kepler Track to list, but a few include kea encounters at Luxmore Hut, the views across Lake Te Anau, and the rainforest vibes (and swimming potential) at Iris Burn Waterfall. If you're heading to the Fiordland region and want to do a multi-day hike, you could flip a coin for the Kepler or Routeburn and, heads or tails, you still win.
The Kepler Track is located conveniently close to Te Anau. You can start the track from the Kepler Track car park (5km from Te Anau), the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre (50 minute walk to the start of the track), or Rainbow Reach car park (12km from Te Anau). There are various shuttle buses and even a boat services that provide transport to the track during the Great Walk season. You can do the track in either direction. View topo map
It feels a bit wrong only including 5 "best" hikes in the Fiordland region because there are so many more. Here are a few bonus honourable mentions.
Hump Ridge Track:
A 3-day loop track with amazing views that's right up there with the Great Walks in the region
Lake Marian Track:
A mostly easy short walk to a picturesque lake that mirrors the surrounding mountains on a clear day (1.5 hours)
A tough trail with amazing mountain views that meets the Routeburn Track at Harris Saddle (5 hours one way)
Lake Hauroko Lookout Track:
A short but steep hike up to a stunning lookout over the lake (3-4 hours return)
Dore Pass Route:
A challenging "backdoor" entrance to the Milford Track where you can get a taste of the famous Great Walk without the crowds and well-worn trails. Requires river crossings and alpine skills and should only be attempted in fine weather (8-9 hours return)
There you have it, a comprehensive list of the best hikes in Fiordland National Park. As you can see, the region has so much to offer and there's more than you can tick off in one trip. Take your pick and make the most of your time in this spectacular region of New Zealand.
Jonathan Carson is a Content Writer and Copywriter at Bushbuck. He's a wordsmith who handles most of Bushbuck's website, marketing copy and oversees our blog, The Campfire.
Outside of work, he's big on hiking and dabbles in surfing and bouldering. His favourite wilderness area in New Zealand is Nelson Lakes National Park, particularly the Blue Lake, home to the clearest known freshwater in the world.