The Best Things to Do in Fiordland National Park in 4 Days


10 min read
Milford Highway, Fiordland National Park, NZ by Hien Nguyen

Fiordland National Park is truly one of the most spectacular areas of untouched beauty in the world. Situated in the south-western corner of New Zealand’s South Island, the park covers more than 12,000 square kilometers of mountainous wilderness.

Jaw-dropping fjords, ancient rivers, native forest, and remote alpine lakes forge the landscape, with a constant backdrop of snow-capped mountains. And the best way to explore the many things to do in Fiordland National Park is by tramping (local word for hiking) one of the miles of epic hiking tracks circumnavigating the park.

My fiance and I spent a week living in a campervan and exploring all that the park has to offer, and we barely scratched the surface of it. A few days in Fiordland National Park is the minimum amount of time you should spend in the area to have the most wholesome experience. Whether you choose to explore by rental car, tour bus, or campervan, you cannot visit Fiordland National Park just once.

Fiordland National Park is best visited during the popular summer months (Jan-March); however, you should expect large crowds in Te Anau and along Milford Highway at this time. I recommend going in the shoulder seasons, spring and fall, to avoid the crowds and have hiking trails to yourself. In winter, you run the risk of road and hiking trail closures because of snow.

This 4-Day Fiordland National Park itinerary is doable in every season except for winter, so the list of activities below can be enjoyed nine months out of the year.

  • 4 day itinerary
  • Average of 3 stops per day

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Southland Map

Using the map of Southland, you can explore all the days and stops.

Discover Lake Manapouri and the Doubtful Sound

Lake Manapouri and the stunning Hunter Mountains in the background by The Nutty Trekkers

Upon your early arrival in Queenstown, pick up your campervan or rental car, stop at a local Pak N'Save for some cheap groceries, and make the 2-hour drive to Lake Manapouri.

Lake Manapouri is a picturesque lake in the center of Fiordland National Park, home to a tiny lakeside village with a handful of quaint accommodation options overlooking the lake.

Day 1 of this itinerary takes you on a cruise across the lake to the mythical Doubtful Sound, referred to in ancient Maori legend as the 'Place of Silence'. It finishes up with a relaxing evening watching the sunset by the lakeside.

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Cruise the Doubtful Sound

Head to Pearl Harbor, a small boat dock on the southside of Manapouri to board your ship for an all-day exploration of Doubtful Sound. Fiordland National Park gets its name from the twelve major 'fjords' (actually called sounds), or inlets, that jut inland from the Tasman Sea. The Doubtful Sound is the second largest of these, but arguably the most beautiful, and is inaccessible by land.

The journey takes three hours, starting with an hour boat-ride across Lake Manapouri. It is followed by a stomach-curdling bus-ride up and over Wilmot Pass (awesome picture opportunity), before heading down to Deep Cove where your final boat is waiting.

You spend 2-3 hours exploring the truly breathtaking landscape of Doubtful Sound aboard the boat before returning. Albatross swoop down overhead, dolphins are commonly seen jumping, and the silence of the place is unreal.

There are only two tour operators available to choose from, Go Orange and Real Journeys - same owners actually. The only differences are the price and boat-type, with Orange being 20% cheaper and a single-hull catamaran versus a double. We recommend Go Orange; however, both provide the same experience. You can sometimes find deals on Bookme.

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Find a Book at Two Wee Bookshop

After an inspiring journey out into Doubtful Sound, head into the village of Manapouri and stop at Two Wee Bookshop to pick up a new book to read. Ring the doorbell to be greeted by the owner and her dog, before being beckoned in to explore her array of books.

The selection is mostly second-hand books; however, you can find some newer titles occasionally. Bookstores are also a great place to pick up some local insight from the owners, so don't be shy!

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Revel in a Beautiful Sunset at Fraser Beach Reserve

Check-in to your accommodation, drop off your stuff and head to Fraser Beach Reserve to catch the sunset. The reserve is a small park along the edge of Lake Manapouri and is within walking distance of everything - the village is NOT big.

Find a good place to relax on the embankment, start reading your new book and revel in a magical New Zealand sunset as the orange-glow recedes behind the Hunter Mountains.

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Explore Te Anau, the Gateway to Fiordland National Park

Your second day begins with a short, scenic drive from Manapouri to Te Anau, the largest town in Fiordland National Park. The day encompasses a mixture of hiking and exploring Lake Te Anau and the quaint lakeside town.

First, you'll hike part of the world-renowned Kepler Track, one of New Zealand's famed 9 Great Walks. Afterwards, head to the Bird Sanctuary to see New Zealand's national bird, the kiwi. Finish up your day with an epic movie experience at Fiordland Cinema, where the acclaimed Ata Whenua film is shown multiple times a day.

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Hike a Section of the Kepler Track: Rainbow Reach

The Kepler Track is a 3-4 day hiking trail through breath-taking alpine scenery that starts and ends in Te Anau. But you needn't have to do the full trail to get a taste of the path, as you can day-hike two sections very easily.

The Rainbow Reach section covers the final 2 hours of the trail and can be done in reverse by day-hikers. Starting at the parking lot, you meander through dense native forest before reaching Moturau Hut on the northside of Lake Manapouri.

Make sure to bring a snack and to sit and enjoy the company of fellow hikers while taking in the surroundings. During the summer, wardens are present in the hut and are a wealth of information, so come prepared with questions.

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Takahe bird at Te Anau Bird Sanctuary, New Zealand by Timo Volz

Visit the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary

A short 10-minute drive from the trail is the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary, a rehabilitation facility and a great place to see Fiordland's unique array of bird species. The star of the show is the Takahē, a prehistoric-looking flightless bird that has inhabited New Zealand for millennia. Before western colonization, there were no land predators, so birds didn't need to fly.

Try and get here by 10:30 am to catch the Takahē feeding. Entry is free, but donations are appreciated as it helps to keep the sanctuary's doors open.

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Do a Virtual Flyover of the Park at Fiordland Cinema

Fiordland Cinema is the only movie theater in town and is a great place to spend a rainy afternoon - which is more than 50% of the time. Not only does the theater play new blockbuster hits, and occasional vintage classics, it is also the only place you can view Ata Whenua - Shadowland.

Ata Whenua - Shadowland is a documentary and visual masterpiece that takes you above Fiordland National Park in a helicopter and showcases the history and breath-taking terrain that makes it worthy of its World Heritage Status. Accompany your viewing experience with a local beer and a bag of popcorn while you sit back and enjoy the ride. There are multiple showings per day, and tickets are NZD$12.

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Drive the Scenic Te Anau-Milford Highway

Day 3 is a deep dive into the raw and untamed landscape of Fiordland National Park, along the most scenic drive in the country - the Te Anau-Milford Highway. The motorway is a 120km two-lane road transporting you from Te Anau to New Zealand’s most famed attraction - Milford Sound.

There are over 20 hikes, stop-offs, and viewpoints along the way, however, this itinerary will take you to the most spectacular ones. We will make a stop at the Eglinton Valley viewpoint to take in the stunning landscape, hike to THE most picturesque lake in the country, and end our day watching the sunset over the iconic Milford Sound.

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Stop and View the Eglinton Valley

You officially enter the National Park just north of Te Anau Downs, and your first stop, the Eglinton Valley viewpoint, is closeby. This valley is one of the only parts of Fiordland National Park that is road-accessible and follows the Eglinton River for the majority of the drive.

Eglinton Valley was carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago. Today, it is covered in eye-catching golden tussock grass surrounded by jagged mountain peaks. The beauty of this valley was so profound to 19th-century explorers that they felt obligated to build the road and share it with others. So take your time, grab a few pictures and soak up the atmosphere.

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Perfectly reflective Lake Marian, the endpoint of the hike by Tomas Sobek

Hike to Lake Marian

Our second stop is arguably the most scenic alpine lake in the world. Towering mountains surround the lake and reflect perfectly on the lake's smooth surface. The entrance to the hike is off the Hollyford Track road; about 70kms into the drive.

The challenging trail follows a river up through dense beech forest which can be very muddy on a rainy day. After an hour and a half, the forest suddenly makes way and sheer rock faces welcome you to Lake Marian. Pull out your well-deserved picnic lunch and revel in the beauty, before heading back to the car park.

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Enjoy a Sunset on the Banks of Milford Sound

Milford Sound is New Zealand’s signature attraction for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is the only one of the twelve sounds in the Park accessible by car/road. Secondly, the landscape is so picture-perfect it’s as if a painter drew it.

Mitre Peak towers in the background as a handful of waterfalls cascade down the rocks in the distance. Our favorite way to enjoy the Sound was by heading to the end of the Milford Sound Lookout walkway to watch the sunset with a beer in hand. You can also cruise or kayak the Sound with several different vendors, such as Real Journeys, Go Orange, and Jucy.

Spend the night at the Milford Sound Lodge and stargaze the sky unspoiled by artificial light. There are only two accommodation options here, so make sure to book ahead.

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See a Different Angle of Milford Sound, and Head Back to Queenstown

Your final day in Fiordland National Park is reserved for our favorite activity of the entire park - hiking the epic Gertrude Saddle trail. A strenuous, steep hike up loose rocks and cable-holds to the saddle provide unmatched views of Milford Sound from a distance.

On the way back down the Te Anau-Milford Highway, you’ll stop at the charming Mirror Lakes before swinging through Te Anau to grab one (or three) delicious snacks at Miles Better Pies. You’ll munch on this tasty, traditional New Zealand treat before heading back to Queenstown.

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Challenge Yourself on the Gertrude Saddle Trail

The Gertrude Saddle hike will push you outside your comfort zone, challenge your fitness, but reward you with panoramic views of the park. The parking lot is just on the south side of Homer’s Tunnel and can be easily missed - look for Gertrude Valley signs.

The five-hour round trip trail climbs steadily through the grassy valley before veering left and zig-zagging up steep, rocky terrain. A small alpine lake marks the halfway point - stop to catch your breath and grab a snack. Orange markers guide you the rest of the way along metal cable holds, and over massive boulders. Finally, you crest the saddle, and Milford Sound comes into full view in the distance.

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Stop and Enjoy the Stillness of Mirror Lakes

After an intense morning hike, a tranquil walk around Mirror Lakes is the perfect recovery. Located just before the Eglinton Valley lookout, the small lakes are known for their stillness and perfect reflections of the Earl Mountains.

There is a short 20-minute walk along a boardwalk that showcases the area's wetlands and waterfowl through a dense beech forest.

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Grab a Local Snack at Miles Better Pies

New Zealand is known for its savory pies, and Miles Better Pies in Te Anau has the best in Fiordland. It has a small storefront, right across from the Visitor Center in town, and is always packed with patrons.

Go with the classic mince and cheese pie, shake it up with lamb and mint, or go with our favorite, steak and mushroom. Just be careful because they come out piping out. These are perfect snacks for your 90-minute drive back to Queenstown.

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In Summary

There are so many incredible adventures to undertake in Fiordland National Park, from soaking up a sunset at the iconic Milford Sound to hiking through the wilderness or hanging out in quaint Te Anau.

I hope you enjoyed this 4 Day Fiordland National Park itinerary, and wish you all the best in visiting this magical place.

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Written by Ryan McNutt

The_Nutty_Trekkers A goofy, passionate traveler who, along with his fiance, discarded the status quo to pursue a life of travel. You'll find Ryan hiking mountain summits, and eating his way through a country's markets.


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