Fiordland National Park is just spectacular! I can’t imagine a trip to the South Island without devoting at least one day to exploring this Park, and you could easily spend weeks here. So during my The Ultimate NZ Road Trip: 12 Days in the South Island I knew I had to spend some time. The highlight of the Park for most is Milford Sound, which is breathtaking and definitely worth the cost for a cruise. Especially because the cost is super reasonable. I booked a 9am cruise with Southern Discoveries (https://www.southerndiscoveries.co.nz/) that cost less than 50NZD (price varies based on type of cruise you pick and time). They recommend that you arrive one hour prior to the cruise, which gave me an 8am arrival deadline.
I woke up at 5am and left Te Anau by 5:30am, in order to give myself time to make a few stops along the way. The drive from Te Anau is about 2 hours, and it was definitely worth the early wake up, because there was almost nobody in the park in the early morning hours, but by mid-morning it was overtaken with bus loads of tourists. The drive along the Milford Sound Road is another one of the true gems in the South Island, and it is so full of things to do and see.
While I was driving to the sound, I made the following stops, all of which are along the road or are only 5-20 minutes (return) walk from a car park. I saved a hike for after the cruise.
Sights along Milford Road (when you’re driving through the park before 7am, there are so few cars I was able to safely stop in the middle of the road at times to snap photos; this would not have been possible even 1 hour later due to heavy traffic)
Hollyford, aka, Pop’s View Lookout
I had no trouble finding parking with my 8am arrival, so found myself with an hour of free time. I headed to the food truck that is parked just outside the Visitor’s Center to get a latte. Coffee Advice at the Sound: go inside the Visitor’s Center for your morning cup of joe. I mistakenly assumed the truck outside was the only place to get a coffee, and the line was not only slooooooow, you have to deal with tons of sand flies. There’s a barista inside, and the line was much shorter. But don’t wait until you walk over to the Terminal building, or you’ll pay just as much for machine instant coffee and have to endure a very long line. The cruise was around 1.5 hours and the boat moved very, very slowly, heading out just far enough for you to see the bay opening to the Tasman Sea. It also allowed the opportunity to enjoy the numerous waterfalls and baby(!!) seals sunning on the rocks.
As beautiful as Milford Sound was, by far the highlight of the day for me was the hike to Lake Marian. If you do nothing else while in Fiordland National Park, GO ON THIS HIKE!!!!
But after all the work, you are rewarded with one of the most spectacular views I saw in all of NZ!!
The highlight of my day was definitely the hike to Lake Marian, so I would say finding time to fit in at least one hike while in Fiordland National Park is the best way to really enjoy this place. As much as I am not a morning person, the pre-sunrise wakeup was also well worth it, because the opportunity to spend a few moments in the park just as it was coming alive (and, before crowds arrived) was priceless. This was one of my favorite days in the South Island, and I will cherish it always.