Things to Do in Fiordland & Milford Sound
With its soaring cliffs, dramatic glacial valleys, and thundering waterfalls, it’s easy to see why Milford Sound is one of New Zealand’s most visited sights. This natural wonder is the star attraction of Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and wildlife haven for dolphins, seals, and penguins.
Sprawling along New Zealand’s southwest coast, Fiordland National Park represents the country at its most photogenic: jagged mountains, rugged glacial valleys, and glittering fjords. This UNESCO World Heritage Site harbors some of New Zealand’s most impressive natural wonders, including Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Lake Te Anau, as well as rare Fiordland penguins, dolphins, seals, and sea lions.
With a stark profile and dramatic location, Mitre Peak’s bare summit towers 5,551 feet (1,692 meters) above Milford Sound. The flanks of Mitre Peak drop steeply into the water, affording spectacular views of the mountain, whether you’re cruising past the base, kayaking in Milford Sound, or swooping by on a scenic flight.
New Zealand’s spectacular Fiordland region is home to Lake Te Anau, the 2nd-largest lake in the country. Explore the lake from the township of Te Anau near the lake outflow, or take a cruise along one of the three fjords forming arms that extend into the old-growth forest on the lake’s western flank.
While tour buses may flock to neighboring Milford Sound, the wild landscapes of Doubtful Sound are equally enchanting and much less crowded. Framed by looming cliffs and dotted with rocky islets and tumbling waterfalls, this natural fjord is three times longer and has 10 times more surface area than Milford Sound. It is also centrally located at the heart of Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nestled within Fiordland National Park, Lake Manapouri is surrounded by the majestic Cathedral Range and dotted with 33 islands. Forested slopes descend into the water, creating impressive waterfalls and isolated sandy coves perfect for swimming and picnics. It is also the jumping-off point for travel to Doubtful Sound.
For as stunning as the Milford Sound scenery can be when viewed above the water, there’s an entire other, underwater world that visitors rarely see. Thankfully, the Milford Discovery and Underwater Observatory (Milford Sound Observatory) allows visitors to journey beneath the waves without even getting their hair wet. After descending over 30 feet beneath the Milford Sound surface, see rare species of black coral and schools of colorful fish, all from the air-conditioned, protected enclosure of the underwater observatory. Aside from simply catching a glimpse of the underwater environment, travelers can also visit the discovery center that’s located above the surface, and hear the ancient Maori history of Milford, or Piopiotahi. There are even videos of terrifying avalanches crashing down on the Milford Road, and documentaries showing the struggles of building the Milford Tunnel.
The Te Anau Glowworm Caves are one of New Zealand's most mesmerizing natural wonders, boasting a labyrinth of grottoes, tunnels, dramatic rock formations, and underground waterfalls. Adventure abounds—visitors can cruise across Lake Te Anau, scramble through the caves, and marvel at a glittering canopy of tiny glowworms.
Soaring peaks dive into lush forests on the 4-day Milford Track, New Zealand’s most famous hiking trail. Often called the “finest walk in the world,” the Milford Track travels through the UNESCO-listed Fiordlands, a dramatic setting crisscrossed by a network of suspension bridges, winding waterways, narrow trails, and open valleys.