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A fiord is defined as a u-shaped glacier-carved valley which has been flooded by the sea. The fourteen fiords that fringe this south-west corner of the South Island were 100,000 years in the making, with the final details added during the most recent ice age just 10,000 years ago. The Maori attributed the creation of the fiords to a giant stonemason called Tute Rakiwhanoa, who hued out the steep sided valleys with his adzes.
On all sides of the fiords, spectacular waterfalls tumble incessantly as the region's plentiful rainfall finds its way to the sea.
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, Milford Sound is always spectacular - daily scenic flights and cruises reveal its beauty to visitors.
At 421 metres, Doubtful Sound is the deepest of New Zealand’s fiords. It’s a haven for nature, with resident bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and penguins.
The remaining two-thirds of Fiordland National Park are covered by virgin beech and pod carp forest. A 500 kilometre network of walking tracks allows visitors to explore the primeval world of mountain peaks, alpine lakes and moss-carpeted valleys.
In 1990 Fiordland was listed as a United Nations World Heritage site and given the name Te Wahipounamu - 'the place of greenstone', after the area's most treasured mineral resource.
The Department of Conservation provides more than 50 hikers' huts in the park. 'Great Walks' huts are found on the Milford, Kepler and Routeburn tracks, and these provide a higher-than-usual level of comfort. More basic huts are available on the other tracks - in most you will find sleeping platforms with mattresses, toilet facilities and a water supply.
The great walks and beyond
Three of New Zealand's 'Great Walks' can be found in Fiordland National Park. The most famous (and consequently most popular) is the Milford Track, which takes five days to complete. The Kepler Track is a circular route that can be walked in four days and the Routeburn, which crosses into Mount Aspiring National Park, generally takes three days. There are many other less famous - but just as spectacular - tracks to explore.
Sea kayaking and diving
Several of the fiords can be explored by sea kayak, as can lakes in Te Anau and Manapouri. Diving in Fiordland provides a rare chance to see deep-water sea plants growing near the surface. Local residents include dolphins, fur seals and penguins.
- From late October until the end of April, bookings are essential to guarantee hut accommodation on the Great Walks.
- Cold temperatures, snow, strong winds and heavy rain can occur at any time of the year. Be prepared.
- Insect repellent is an essential item in Fiordland National Park - the sandflies are legendary.
- If you're not an experienced outdoors person, it is recommended you book a guided walk.
- You can hunt and fish in the park, but permits are required.