Fiordland occupies the southwestern corner of the South Island and is one of the most isolated National Parks in the country. With vast expanses of undeveloped wilderness and limited time, we had to stick with the crowds to explore the accessible portions of this beautiful region. We accomplished this by taking a cruise on Milford Sound and tramping around the Kepler Track.
We decided to take a cruise on Milford Sound after we discovered that kayak rentals are nonexistent in this region and that guided kayak tours are very costly and offer little freedom. We caught one of the last cruises of the day at 16:00 and were happy that the 75 person capacity vessel (one of the smallest cruise ships at the terminal) was half empty. As we set out one the water, the skyline was dominated by Mitre Peak (1,692 m) which stood as a sentinel watching over the fiord/fjord (it is not a sound). The boat took us past shear cliffs, waterfalls over 150 m in height, and to the Tasman Sea where we were greeted by a pod of Dusky Dolphins (Curniss was the first to spot them). The dolphins seemed to be in a playful mood as they raced the boat, leaped out of the water and even performed back flips! We also saw two albatrosses and a seal colony as were made our way back into the fiord. That night, we camped at a DOC site along Highway 94 (Milford Road) and were treated to a remarkable sunset over the mountains.
Kepler Great Walk
The opportunity to hike the Kepler Track was too good to pass up, even with the large crowds that tend to clog the trails of the Great Walks. The 61 km loop includes 12 km above the treeline where it overlooks the surrounding mountains, Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri. We hiked the 5.5 km to Brod Bay campsite on our first day where the facilities were minimal and the winds extreme. The next day we climbed to Luxmore Peak (1,472 m), traversed the ridgeline of the Kepler Mountains, descended to Iris Burn River Valley, and made our way to the (free) Shallow Bay campsite on Lake Manapouri for a total of 42 km of tramping that day. We finished the remaining 13.5 km the next day with sore legs and were glad to enjoy a ginger beer while viewing Ata Whenua Fiordland On Film at the Fiordland Cinema.