Visiting Fiordland of New Zealand can easily burn a hole in your wallet. What with the cruises (Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound) and great walks. There are at least three Great Walks in Fiordland and counting. Takes considerable time to get to different locations (usually via gravel roads and behind tour buses) too.
Scroll down this post to see the lesser known (but beautiful) places that are free to explore in Fiordland.
By the way, these are the:
Fiordland cruises (not free)
Milford Sound – we touch a little on our own experience in our post on a 1 month itinerary from the North to South Island of New Zealand
Jetboat Cruises in Fiordland National Park
For the fiord (not actually sounds) cruises, there are day and overnight cruises. Sometimes you can steal a deal on bookme.nz. The cruises will carry on regardless of the weather and the cruise operators may take you right under the falls at times. It rains plenty in in this area so bring your rain gear.
And not forgetting:
Fiordland longer walks (not free)
All of these requires a ticket of a few hundred NZD, multiple days of hiking and overnight stays in a DOC hut or two. As well as adequate fitness.
- Milford Sound
- Kepler Track
- Routeburn Track
- Hollyford Track
- Humpridge Track
Comparison table of the Fiordland walks (multiple day hikes):
Location of the Fiordland walks
As you can see, Fiordland is a large area to cover.
In case you don’t have the time to do the great walks:
Free attractions in Fiordland
Excluding the fiord cruises and Great Walks,
- Fraser Beach – If you’re coming from the south, don’t miss Fraser beach at Manapouri. What’s not to like? It is a beach (however strange to someone from a tropical country) with alpine views. This photo was taken in November when lupins were starting to pop up around the shore.
- Monkey island beach- at this popular beach, be prepared to cross the water at low tide to access Monkey Island (which is actually just a big rock that looks like an island during high tide). This is also a great place to view the sunset over the sea. People on Campermate have quoted sightings of dolpins.
- Gemstone beach – the “gems” (small colored stones) are supposedly all under the top layer of sand so some digging is required to unearth them. Else, it is a peaceful place to take a walk. Much less people here than the neighbouring beach, Monkey island beach.
- Colac bay – we came here for the flush toilet and the fact that it was also less crowded than Monkey island beach. We discovered by chance that this place is well known for shellfish-hunting. No sunset views here but sunrise is decent.
- Mavora Lakes & Mararoa river – several Lord Of The Rings film locations here. The lake is so huge that there are different trails to cover the north and south side too. As well as the middle (aka Mavora Lakes). Look out for the separate post on this spectacular park.
- Clifden Caves – we missed out on this but don’t bother if it’s been raining recently unless you have wellingtons to see you through the flooded limestone cave. Headlamps would come in handy too. The cave is a good spot to see glow-worms for free.
- New Zealand’s Lake Marian track – we got a separate post on this rather remote location.
- Heard of Lake Manowai? – Feel free to skip this one. The dusty road is not worth the views from the easy-as-pie 30 minute trek to the lookout point. Locals however, love towing their boats here for fishing.
- Te-Anau to Milford Sound drive- a gorgeous route and lots of places like Eglinton Valley, the Mirror Lakes or the Chasm to see along the way (all free of charge)
- Te Anau Bird Sanctuary – a donation of $2 NZD is expected but not required
- Mount Burns Tarns Track – featured in the next few paragraphs of this post
If you want to do a short hike in Fiordland that won’t cost you anything (but a drive on a gravel road):
Mount Burns Tarns Track in Fiordland
Then, consider doing the Mt Burn track in Fiordland. Another reason (besides the killer views) to do this track is to avoid most of the tourists.
Note: We haven’t actually been on any of those multiple day hikes yet but the word descriptions in the DOC website sound about the same as the Mt Burn trail. So, if you’re already set on doing one or more of those longer walks, then you should skip Mt Burn as the views are probably similar. The Borland road to access the Mt Burn track is closed during winter and early spring.
Okay, so where exactly is Mt Burn, then?
Getting to Mount Burns Tarns Track
Here are the one-way distances from as well as driving duration if you were to start from any of these locations:
Manapouri (departure for Doubtful Sound cruises) – 1hr 2min, 60.7km
Tuatapare (starting point for the Humpridge Track) – 1hr 10min, 71km
Te Anau – 1hr 15min, 81.4km
Invercargill – 2hr 2min, 134km
Mavora Lakes Camping Area – 2hr 5min, 111km
Milford Sound – 2hr 54min, 198km
Queenstown – 2hr 58min, 212km
Dunedin – 4hr 17min, 331 km
Word of caution:
The road to Mount Burns Tarns Track
One word, gravel. There’s no way to avoid it.
This is the only road that goes in to the start of the track. The signboards advise not to go at a speed higher than 30mph. At some parts, the gravel sends up fine gravel dust as you drive. At other parts of the ~30 minute drive, the rocks are big and sharp enough to run the risk of a flat tire. In a place with no signal, too.
The must-have app for vanlife in New Zealand, CamperMate – here’s a guide on how to make the most of it
A four-wheel drive would be great. But we managed to do it with our Toyota Estima. We saw a couple of other two-wheel drive cars attempt the pass too.
Be wary of rockslides/ landslides in the pass. During winter season, the road is closed due to avalanches and landslides. But they can still occur at other times of the year.
You might find yourself wanting to pee after the bumpy journey:
Facilities at Mount Burns Tarns Track
There is one long drop toilet right at the carpark in front of the start of the track.
It was claustrophobic but not smelly. The exhaust is clearly doing its job. Bring your own tissue and some hand sanitizer. There is no sink.
Things to know – Mount Burns Tarns Track
Duration (as stated on the board): 30 minutes return
Actual duration: 30 minutes one way, but stay up for the views!
Note: because of the 30 minute drive in and out, you might want to set aside at least 2 hours if you plan to do this track.
Terrain: Silver beech forest giving way to tussock and other wild grasses as you go up to the summit. Views of the four surrounding lakes is possible on a relatively clear day. If it has been snowing recently, snow-capped peaks add to the magnificent landscape. The grass can be slippery, especially when you make your way back down.
Wildlife: Might spot a falcon or a kea.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
If you’re thinking of staying longer:
Where to stay near in Fiordland on a budget
There are a number of free and DOC campsites scattered around.
All of these may need certified self-contained vehicles
- Mavora lakes – has DOC-run campgrounds and huts, in fact.
- Monkey Island Beach – Note that this campsite is very crowded. People just love their sunsets, I guess.
- Clifden Caves – There is a free parking site close to the caves but we can’t comment since we’ve never stayed there. See reviews on Campermate
- Colac Bay – single flush toilet, limited parking (none too flat)
- Lumsden – If you crave some more civilization (or flush toilets rather than long drops), then Lumsden might be a better option. For certified self-contained vehicles. There are clean toilets, a playground, picnic tables and a place to wash dishes. Don’t forget to stop by Mossburn for cheap petrol.
- Winton – never been here and can’t comment. See reviews on Campermate
Recommended paid campsites in Fiordland
Gunn’s Camp in Hollyford Valley – close to Milford Sound and Lake Marian and the Key Summit trail. For a place that has no signal, they surprisingly have a website. Don’t be turned away by the old-fashioned utilities. The old couple who run the place are extremely lovely people who make sure you are comfortable at their camp! You can get fuel here too.
Need a little more comfort (or just avoiding the sandflies)? Then check out:
Te Anau Holiday Park – modern and new facilities with a very comfortable lounge. Not too expensive, too. You can also book the Te Anau glow-worm cave tours from here.
Fiordland is gorgeous and certainly worth exploring if you are in South Island, New Zealand. However, because a lot of the attractions are rather remote, things can add up (e.g. cost of a cruise or multi-day hike). In this post, we have gather all the lovely (and free) places you can visit around Fiordland. With special focus on the Mount Burns Tarns Track.
Which of these places would you want to visit the most? Leave a comment below.
Skiing in New Zealand – what you should know
Interislander Ferry from Wellington to Picton – what to expect
Got a working holiday visa for New Zealand and want to extend it?