The Fiordland region in the southwestern corner of the South Island is probably the most remote area of New Zealand. It is sparsely populated and large sections of the mountainous region are almost impenetrable.
The area’s most popular attraction is Milford Sound, which is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. The easiest way to see the fiord is on a cruise, and we decided to do just that. With lots of cruise companies offering similar experiences, we booked ours with Juicy Cruises, making use of the discount offered with our Lucky Campers van rental.
We chose the cheaper first cruise of the day, which meant an early start and a long drive along the winding State Highway 94.
Arriving with time to spare, we made our way to the large cruise terminal before boarding our boat. This gave us our first good view of the stunning Fiord, with huge cliffs rising seemingly out of nowhere and towering over the dark water.
With such an early cruise time, it meant we avoided the mass of daily coach tours arriving from Queenstown. Despite almost everyone heading straight for the outdoor top deck, there was still plenty of seats and space to wander around.
We began our journey into the fiord, with the spectacular 1,692m Mitre peak directly in front of us. The route took us along the southern side first, passing several large waterfalls.
The ships captain explained that these would usually be even more impressive, but it hadn’t rained for over a week prior to our visit. This is practically a drought in an area that is used to an average of 184 days of rainfall a year!
The remote nature of the Fiordland means it is practically teeming with wildlife, and as we continued along the water, we managed to spot several Little Blue penguins as well as a colony of New Zealand fur seals at the aptly named Seal Point.
After travelling for 15km we arrived at the mouth of the sound where it meets the rough waters of the Tasman Sea. This marked the halfway point of the cruise, and we turned before continuing along the northern edge.
The highlight of this was definitely the mighty 151m Stirling falls, which was easily the most impressive waterfall along the sound. The captain edged the bow of the boat to within a few metres of where the water was crashing into the sound, spraying all of the passengers on the top deck including us.
After reaching the end of the brilliant tour, we returned to the van and began our journey back along the scenic highway to the town of Te Anau where we had decided to base ourselves. We found yet another attractive small town, situated on the banks of Te Anau lake, the second largest in New Zealand.
Although we didn’t spend long in the town, we did found time for a stroll along the beautiful Lakeside Track. We camped nearby at the huge Lakeview Holiday Park, and as the name suggests this was in the perfect location to watch the sun setting over the lake.
After our brief but very enjoyable time in Fiordland, we began the next stage of our journey to the southernmost region of New Zealand.