Fiordland National Park is New Zealand’s largest, and so beautiful it almost hurts. We visited only the top teeny little bit, the most touristed, most developed area, and yet the scale of the landscape diminishes the intrusion of humans to the point where we felt we were having a private spiritual experience despite the bus loads of other travelers.
You can drive all the way into the park to where the boat tours begin, about two hours, but our friends had said, “Relax, take the bus” and we’re glad we did. Appreciating the ever-changing perspective of moving through steep mountains on twisty roads requires your full attention and it was wonderful to have someone else do the driving. Our small van stopped often for short walks and photo ops, any one of which would have been reward enough for visiting this special place.
Our tour started early in the morning which meant despite it being Easter Sunday we were able to board an earlier tour boat than the after-lunch one usually filled to capacity with busloads that originate in Queenstown, further away. We were maybe at one quarter capacity, with plenty of space and a quiet group. We also opted for a longer cruise than the standard. Both tours make the same circuit, along one shore of the fjord, kiss the Tasman Sea, turn around and cruise back in along the other shore. We just took longer, stopping periodically to soak in the majesty of the place. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Note the kayakers or boats for scale in several photos.
After our cruise we still had another two hours of driving through the park with more stops to walk or just breathe in the crisp mountain air and try to fit the scenery into the itty bitty camera lens. That effort was doomed to failure but the experience is burned into our memories and Fiordland earns a spot on our list of most beautiful places alongside Fatu Hiva and Hallstatt.
In the evening we went to the movie theatre in Te Anau and watched a 30-minute film of Fiordland photographed almost entirely from the air, since most of the park is otherwise inaccessible. The scale is nearly unimaginable and the variety of landscapes is breathtaking. The play of light on sea, sky and mountains is constantly changing; you could spend a lifetime here and every day would be different. Sadly though, we must move on.