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Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park is situated in the very south west of New Zealand's South Island. It is 21,000km² (8,100 square miles) in area, making it the largest of New Zealand's National Parks. With its outstanding geology, landscape, flora and fauna, the National Park is part of the Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area. Dominated by forest and water, the park contains 14 fiords and 5 major lakes. These were formed by glaciations in the Ice Age and are surrounded by steep mountains covered in thick, temperate rainforest; much of the interior of the park is almost impenetrable, except along its 500 or so km of manmade tracks.

As well as its fiords, the park is also known for its wildlife, particularly its marine mammals and birds which include the Fiordland Crested Penguin. The spectacular landscape includes mountains rising 2,750m (9,020 foot) with precipitous rock walls which can climb some 1,200m (3,940 feet) from the fiords' edges. Down the side of these, waterfalls may be seen dropping some 160m (530 feet) in height. In the earlier days of exploitation by Europeans, the main draw of the area was for hunting fur seals. In 1953, State Highway 94, known as the Milford Road, was completed and this forms the only road to the parks most popular attraction, Milford Sound. The absence of other roads leading in and out of the park has helped significantly with minimising human impact; the only other way, to explore the national park is to walk one of it's famous tracks. Known in New Zealand as Tramping, for those with the right equipment, fitness level, hiking experience, and time, this (apart from by boat) offers the visitor the chance to see a much wider area of the park. The park has four major walking tracks - the Milford, Hollyford, Routeburn and Kepler tracks.

The photos below [Photos 1-3] start at lake Te Anau. The settlement of Te Anau sits on the south-eastern shore of the lake and is Fiordland's commercial centre. It is a good base for exploring the park. The lake itself is the largest in South Island and a popular spot for fishing and boating. The visit featured on this page was in October (springtime) which made for excellent viewing of the park's countless waterfalls. However, one night at Te Anau turned into two, as it soon became apparent that the Milford Road was shut, due to avalanche risks from the melting winter snow. The road is regularly made safer during this time of year by the detonation of explosives to create manmade avalanches, followed by a campaign of road clearance. However, the spare day in Te Anau was not wasted. As well as looking at the Takahe birds [Photos 4,5] (previously thought to be extinct until being rediscovered in 1948*), a trip by boat across the lake took the page's author to Te Anau Caves. Here, underground punts take visitors into a remarkable series of limestone grottos which are home to countless New Zealand glow-worms. The glow-worms use their chemically synthesized light to attract insects for food and the result is an incredible cavern roof lit up giving the appearance of a starlit night sky.

Once the Milford Road had been cleared and with compulsory snow-chains hired, it was then possible to follow the 121km (75 mile) Milford Road [Photos 6-11] to Milford Sound. The road has World Heritage Highway status for its beauty and scenic variety, from mountains and lakeside forest to spectacular rivers. The visitor may wish to allow plenty of time as along the route are a number of side trips, and scenic walks, including short boardwalk routes such as the Mirror Lakes [Photo 8]. One section of road, known as "the avenue of the disappearing mountain", a mountain directly in front has the illusion of shrinking in size. Prior to arriving in Milford Sound, 19 km (12 miles) east of it is the 1.2km (approx. 4,000 feet) long Homer Tunnel. The tunnel was started in 1935, but not finished until 1954. The road inside the tunnel is inclined and on leaving, the road slopes steeply downhill to the Milford side, where there are spectacular views [Photo 10] along the Cleddau Valley. Milford Sound, itself, is a 16km (10 mile) long fiord [Photos 12-42] and thanks to the Milford Road, the National Park's most well-known attraction. The fiord's most well-known sight is Mitre Peak, a pyramid-shaped 1,692m (5,550 foot) high mountain which rises straight out of the deep fiord. The photos featured here are taken from one of the many boat trips available to visitors. These are a popular choice, although kayaking is also an option, as is taking a scenic flight. The boat trips pass unusual geological features, including the interestingly named 'Lion Mountain' and 'the Elephant', as well as a number of spectacular waterfalls such as the 146m (480 foot) Stirling Falls and the 160m (530 foot) Bowen Falls. Wildlife which can be seen here includes Fur Seals, dolphins and for those lucky enough, Fiordland Crested Penguins. At Milford Sound, there is also an underwater observatory, where visitors can view the unusual flora and fauna under the water which includes coral. Photo 43 was taken at the (Piopiotahi) Campground, Milford Sound.

Returning along the Milford Road back towards Te Anau, [Photos 44-48] a few km before the Homer Tunnel, is The Chasm [Photos 44,45], where the Cleddau River drops 22m (72 foot) through a series of interesting rock formations. Just past the Homer Tunnel was an opportunity for a photo stop to take pictures of one of New Zealand's more well known native birds, the Kea [Photo 46]. The final image in the thumbnail Gallery [Photo 48] was taken at Lake Gunn, where the night was spent camping. At Lake Gunn, it is possible to take a 45 minute loop walk through beech forest, however, we elected to take it easy and enjoy the scenery both whilst getting ready for bed and also waking up to the following day.

For more information on Fiordland National Park, see the Department of Conservation (DOC) website on the link Here.

* For more on the Takahe, Gerald Durrell gives an interesting account which includes retracing the footsteps of its rediscovery, in his book Two in the Bush (Chapter 3, The Bird That Vanished).

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