Transporting you to nature.
March 8th, 2020

When Plans Change: Finding other options for adventuring in Fiordland

Fiordland National Park covers more than 12,000 km2 (1.2m ha). You could fit two Singapores within the park boundary. Unsurprisingly there are many (many) incredible places to explore, hike and sightsee within this vast tract of wilderness. And while Milford Sound is Fiordland’s most famous destination, it’s good to know what else is out there, because sometimes, you will find the Fiordland weather may force you to change your plans.

As was the case in February this year. Fiordland experienced a major weather event which brought torrential rain to Milford Sound and the Milford Track. (To be fair, most days in Fiordland are weather events, and they’re spectacular, but this one was particularly major). Around 1,000mm of rain fell in 3 days. Yes, that’s one metre of rain in less than a week. Even by Fiordland standards, that’s a lot of rain.

Photo of the ruptured Milford Road when it needed to be closed.
The road to Milford after February’s weather event. Image: NZTA

The sudden heavy downpour washed away parts of the Milford road and landslides and track washouts affected the Milford Track, Routeburn Track and Hollyford Track. Many visitors who had come to New Zealand with their heart set on seeing the famous Milford Sound, or walking the Great Walk, Milford Track, had their hopes dashed. Our phone rang red hot with visitors asking for alternatives to Milford Sound. Luckily, we know plenty of other places to visit in Fiordland!

So, whether your plans have changed because of the weather, or you’re looking for an alternative to the more popular spots, here are some less famous, but no less impressive Fiordland experiences. 

1) The Kepler Track

The full 60-km Kepler Track loop track takes three to four days. This impressive NZ Great Walk takes in lush bush trails along Lake Te Anau, beech forest, Mt Luxmore and a stunning alpine section of track high above Te Anau and the bush line.

We love the Kepler Track because it is the easiest walk to reach from Te Anau, making it the perfect option for a Fiordland day walk.
Here’s how you can walk the Kepler Track from Te Anau.

Kepler Water Taxi 

The red water taxi on Te Anau wharf travels between Te Anau and Brod Bay around three times a day. You can jump on the boat and cruise across Lake Te Anau in comfort before stepping onto the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. In one direction, you can do the grunt up Mt Luxmore (around four hours), or you can take the more leisurely lakeside walk back to the Control Gates. From here you can continue walking around the lakeshore arriving in Te Anau around 2-3 hours later. This lakeshore walk is suitable for all abilities and with the added bonus of a trip on the Kepler Water Taxi and a visit to the Te Anau Bird Park are two of the best things to do in Te Anau.

Travellers disembark the Kepler Water Taxi, a Fiordland Outdoors Co. track transport option.

Private Kepler Trip 

The Kepler area is a fascinating part of Fiordland, and we love it because it home to one of the country’s most successful conservation projects, Kids Restore the Kepler. A walk along the Kepler Track with a guide gives you a much deeper understanding and appreciation for the importance of this UNESCO World Heritage area.

An Epic Kepler private guided trip is tailor-made for you and can include a helicopter transfer for something spectacular. Take the Kepler Water Taxi across Lake Te Anau and step onto this world-class walk and enjoy a day in nature designed for you.

Mt Luxmore

Hiking on the Kepler Track up to Mount Luxmore Summit
Hiking on the Kepler Track up to Mount Luxmore Summit

For the more active adventurers, the walk to Mt Luxmore is a challenging, yet hugely rewarding full-day walk from Te Anau. Mt Luxmore is the highest point on the Kepler Track and is usually tackled as part of the first day of the walk. But a walk to the top of Luxmore and back again can be done in a day if you are fit enough.

Take the Kepler Water Taxi from Te Anau Wharf to Brod Bay. It is a moderate to strenuous hike taking you from lake level at 200m to the breathtaking view at the summit 1400m high.

2) Lake Hankinson

A couple eat an incredible spread at Hankinson Hut, along the George Sound route

Not many people have heard of Lake Hankinson and even fewer have been there. 

We call it The Sanctuary because it’s somewhere our family have been going to for many years. It is both a place to escape to and a place to nourish the soul. Lake Hankinson is a remote and serene place deep in Fiordland.

Getting to Lake Hankinson involves a water taxi across Lake Te Anau from Te Anau Downs, a short walk through the bush and then the arrival to the silent and striking Lake Hankinson. There is no track around Lake Hankinson, so you board another boat to access the top of the lake and Hankinson Hut.

This hut is one of Fiordland’s oldest, and it is a fascinating slice of history nestled alongside a gently flowing river. There are very few trips in Fiordland which take you to a place as untouched and off the beaten path as this. It is a unique place and perfect for anyone who is looking for an intrepid adventure.

3) Take to the skies

A helicopter sits on top of tussock and snowcapped hills in Fiordland National Park on a helicopter tour.

When the Milford road recently closed due to flooding, it was business as usual for the helicopters and light planes operators. So, whether the rain has changed your plans or you’re just not that keen to get your feet wet, a flight over Fiordland is always a good option.

Planes and helicopters head to Milford Sound every day to meet the cruise boats. But it doesn’t have to be Milford, helicopter companies have special permission to land in some of Fiordland’s most incredible and remote places. We fly our guests to secluded rivers for fly fishing, to glacier landings or simply for a scenic flight above the grandeur of Fiordland. If you think Fiordland looks impressive from the shores of Lake Te Anau, you won’t believe how it looks from above. From the air, a spectacular world of lush, dense forest, hidden alpine lakes and glaciers reveals itself. 

4)    Lake2Lake Cycle Trail

Two cyclists stop to look at the river on the Lake2Lake cycle trail.

One of our favourite things to do in Te Anau is the Lake2Lake Cycle Trail. The 19km/12mile track follows a picturesque trail along the Waiau River, the main outflow of Lake Te Anau. You can hire a bike in town and head off for a long (or short) bike ride depending on how energetic you’re feeling. We love the bike ride option because it is a chance to see the scenery at a slower pace.

The cycle trail is a great day out and even better if you meet up with a jet boat transfer to get you back. You can bike from Te Anau along the cycle trail to Balloon Loop, and meet the jet boat to bring you back up the river. Or, you can load your bikes into the jet boat and head down the Waiau River for a drop-off at Balloon Loop. You can cycle back to Te Anau at your own pace.

Wild weather is s part of life in Fiordland, and sometimes that means changing your plans. It’s the trade-off for living in one of the world’s great natural wilderness areas. Whatever the weather in Fiordland may bring, it’s good to know there is always somewhere else to go. 

Have your plans been changed by the recent flooding in Fiordland? We have a great list of options for getting into Fiordland and Milford, so get in touch.