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Fiordland, New Zealand: One of The Most Remote Places on Earth

Picture of Joe Coates
Updated: 29 April 2018
If you’ve ever wondered what the end of the world looks like, and whether it might be a beautiful place or a scary one, then take a trip down to Fiordland. This south-western corner of New Zealand is home to some of the most hostile and breathtakingly stunning landscapes on the planet.

They say a picture can speak a thousand words. This has never been truer than when you take a look at some of the snaps of Fiordland in the South Island of New Zealand. This place is surreal in the breadth and scale of beauty you can find in its landscapes. It’s genuinely astonishing. In his book, Last Chance to See, the late Douglas Adams – the literary wizard who gifted the world The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – says:

“Fiordland, a vast tract of mountainous terrain that occupies the south-west corner of South Island, New Zealand, is one of the most astounding pieces of land anywhere on God’s earth, and one’s first impulse, standing on a cliff top surveying it all, is simply to burst into spontaneous applause.”

Milford Sound
Fiordland can be an unreal place to visit | © paul bica / Flickr

He was absolutely spot on there. It’s so dramatic and so captivating that it almost beggars belief that it’s not somehow been knocked up as a tourist attraction. The 14 fiords that give this area of the West Coast its name – a fiord is defined as a u-shaped glacier-carved valley which has been flooded by the sea – have been 100,000 years in the making. On the sides of the fiords, the incessant and patient waterfalls send their accumulated rainwater out to sea.

The list of things to do in Fiordland is long and varied, but it’s safe to say that if you want to really get the most out of this wondrous corner of New Zealand then it’s best to go without a time limit. Not having to rush around to see everything makes such a difference in this wild and untamed land. And due to its secluded and basically untouched state, things take a little longer to do and get to. The celebrity features here, the facets that are most well-known are Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, the Kepler Track and the Routeburn Track.

Fiordland
What a place to drive through | © Bernard Spragg. NZ / Flickr

It’s indisputably one of the world’s last great wilderness areas in New Zealand, and is home to a prolific and remarkable mix of flora and fauna. Some of the more famous creatures that can be seen out here are the kea, bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and penguins.

NZ Natve
A Kea, a native NZ parrot | © Bernard Spragg. NZ / Flickr

Two-thirds of Fiordland National Park are covered by virgin beech and podocarp forest. These are trees that have stood unmolested for 200 years or more. A 500-kilometre network of walking tracks allows visitors to explore the primeval world of mountain peaks, alpine lakes and moss-carpeted valleys.

Doubtful Sound
Doubtful Sound is undoubtedly epic | © Bernard Spragg. NZ / Flickr

“Take a scenic flight across one of the most dramatic and beautiful regions of the South Island. The views of Fiordland from the air are just breathtaking. There are spectacular mountains and waterfalls absolutely everywhere.”

In case you were still in need of convincing, the above quote comes from the visionary film-maker James Cameron. Advocates on dramatic scenery don’t come much more successful than the man who envisioned and brought to life Avatar – the floating mountains of which are imbued with a certain Fiordland flavour.

Key spots

Doubtful Sound

This is the deepest fiord in this land of fiords. At 421 metres, it is a haven for wildlife of all sorts. If you’re cruising around this body of water keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, who love to play and hunt here.

The Kepler Track

This is a fantastic trek to take if you want to get a feel for this area. It’s a circular route and takes about four days to complete, meaning you get a real taste of the outdoors. By the end of it you might just feel like you want to stay out there. Turning off your cellphone – although don’t leave it behind, just in case of emergencies – and just being in the present and enjoying the moment, is a therapy that only nature can provide.

Milford Sound

This fiord’s cliffs rise vertically from the dark waters, mountain peaks scrape the sky and waterfalls cascade downwards from as high as 1,000 metres. When it rains in Milford Sound, and it often does, those waterfalls multiply with magnificent effect. This part of the world is maybe the only place where rain is welcomed, and adds to the beauty.

The Routeburn Track

Rudyard Kipling described Fiordland as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, and after walking the 32km over three days on the Routeburn Track, you’ll be in total agreement with him. This track acts as the link between Fiordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park, and is chock-full of soaring mountain peaks, huge valleys, waterfalls and jewel-like lakes.

Tramping
The Routeburn Track | © Flying Kiwi Tours / Flickr

Without sounding like an advertisement for the New Zealand Tourism Board, this genuinely is one of the most incredible places in New Zealand.

If long treks in untouched native forest, scenic helicopter rides over mountains, wildlife watching on the deck of an eco-cruise ship, kayaking along silent fiords and little rivers, waterfalls and mountainous vistas are your cup of tea then this really is the next destination you should be heading for.

You will be blown away by the sheer grandeur and irrepressible majesty of Fiordland, and leave with a slightly different perspective on life in general.