To experience the alluring scenery of Fiordland National Park on New Zealandís South Island, we hiked the trails of the Milford Track and cruised deep into Milford Sound.
The parkís rainforests laced with beech trees, the mountains green with wild thyme and tall pines and the fiords lined with billowing waterfalls proved to be as spectacular as we had envisioned, primed, of course, by those stunning scenes of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings movies that were filmed in and around Fiordland. The South Islandís countryside proved to be so enchanting that at any point in our two-week journey, a hobbit sauntering by would not have startled us.
To hike the Milford Track, a legendary 34-mile trail within Fiordland National Park, we based ourselves at a hotel in Te Anau, a lakeside town about 100 miles from Queenstown. The Te Anau region also appears in 2012ís movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Dubbed ďthe finest walk in the world,Ē the Milford Track, extends for 34-miles. Avid trekkers take about four days to hike the entire trail, but with limited time, we opted for a guided day ďtramp,Ē as the locals say, with Trips Ďní Tramps, a Te Anau outfitter.
To reach the Milford Track trailhead, we cruised for an hour across Lake Te Anau, staying on deck to savor the scenery. The numerous waterfalls cascading down cliffs captivated us as did the mountains glistening in the sun. Gusts blew across the lake, but entranced by the scenery, we minded neither the wind nor the cold.
Our 6.6 mile hike looped us through beech tree forests feathered with mosses and ferns and past huge rimu trees. We paused for a picnic by the fast-moving Clinton River. After lunch, we walked along a boardwalk through a wetland laced with waist-high ferns. The trail opened-up to a fairytale-like glade rimmed with the green peaks of the Castle and Wick mountain ranges.
We left Te Anau early the next day to drive the 75 miles to Milford Sound in time to board the Milford Mariner for an overnight cruise. Milford Sound is actually a fiord, or a long, narrow inlet with steep sides carved by a glacier and filled by the sea. An overnight cruise enabled us to sail deeper into the fiord than possible on a day trip and that meant enjoying more scenery and wildlife.
We spotted seals, triple waterfalls crowned by rainbows and came so close to Bridal Veil Falls that the thundering spray doused us. When the Mariner moored in Harrison Cove, we kayaked, exploring the shore.
New Zealandís seasons are opposite those in the U.S. October through March, the Kiwi spring and summer, are the best months to visit for temperate weather. If you want to cash-in your frequent flyer miles for complimentary seats, call 11 months in advance. Thatís when the airlines first release the freebies. But keep calling as seats open up periodically. You will long remember your adventures on New Zealandís South Island.