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Road Trip New Zealand: Go Fiordland & the West Coast

You know the saying “West is best”, right? Okay, but what about “West is best, also Fiordland, too?” No? Okay, maybe we made it up, and maybe it’s not catchy, but that doesn’t make it not true. We’ve paired up with Tourism New Zealand to show you why that phrase should be in your travel vocab! Come with us.

You know the saying “West is best”, right? Okay, but what about “West is best, also Fiordland, too?” No? Okay, maybe we made it up, and maybe it’s not catchy, but that doesn’t make it not true. We’ve paired up with Tourism New Zealand to show you why that phrase should be in your travel vocab! Come with us.

To inspire you on why, we’ve paired up with Tourism New Zealand to show you the way to one helluva Road Trip West.

3-Day, 289 km Te Anau, Milford and Fiordland

The Milford Road is the NZ equivalent to Australia’s Pacific Coast Highway. Or Route 66. It’s the road trip to take when you’re all about the journey and the destination. Everything along this alpine route is mind-bogglingly spectacular.

Milford Sound, unsplash
The drive to Milford Sound is awe-inspiring, reaffirming Fiordland’s status as a World Heritage Site.

Drive two hours from Queenstown to Te Anau, gateway to Fiordland National Park and base camp for all Fiordland adventures. There’s something for everyone and every budget in Te Anau. Cruise across Lake Te Anau, hop aboard a historic yacht to reach the Hidden Lakes or kayak Doubtful Sound. Did you know you can scuba dive in Fiordland, too?

The following day, drive the epic Milford Road to the heart of Fiordland: Piopiotahi Milford Sound. Skip the FOMO by allowing time for stops, including Lake Marian Falls and Mirror Lakes. Once in Milford Sound, cruising is the most popular way to explore this postcard-perfect attraction, but you can also camp, hike, scuba dive, and take a wild kayak ride right into the falls.

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Tramping with Trips & Tramps

Day three, explore the ‘walking capital of the world’. Fiordland is home to three of New Zealand’s ten great walks. Choose how you tramp (hike) Fiordland. Leisurely lakeside strolls, all-dayer wildlife-filled hikes, and gung-ho summit walks are all on offer in Fiordland! Plus, there are cool add-ons, like water taxis and heli-hiking that connect you to the untouched wilderness, unique wildlife, and spectacular scenery of Patea Doubtful Sound.

Return to Te Anau, then choose to head back to Queenstown, or continue to Invercargill along the Southern Scenic Route.

5-Day, 837 km West is Best

When you head to New Zealand’s great outdoors, you want wild. Wilderness wild. Where the river runs wild, the rainforest spreads wild, and the snow-capped mountains make your senses go wild. And guess what? Aotearoa’s South Island’s West Coast has it all in every season!

Depart Christchurch and cross the scenic Arthurs Pass to the 30-million-year-old Pancake Rocks and Blowholes in Punakaiki. Alternatively, collect a rental car in Greymouth and take NZ’s iconic TranzAlpine instead – it’s one of the world’s best alpine train rides.

Explore the vertical blowholes at Pancake Rocks, and walk the Truman Track to a secret beach. You can also hike a section of the Paparoa Track, if you’re game.

Onwards to Charleston to go cave rafting with Underworld Adventures, as well as an eco-tour to explore the 40-million-year-old limestone arches in the Oparara Basin.

Back south, head to the art deco town of Westport with its Cape Foulwind lighthouse and seal colony.

The famous Buller Gorge also awaits, as well as the historic gold mining town of Reefton. Do not miss the gin distillery here, the town’s retail therapy options, and a cycle ride to the ghost town of Waiuta. Continue on to the Alpine Nature Walk for views of Gloriana and Spenser Mountains. The Cool Little Town of Hokitika offers that famous beach sign, plus the gorge, and free Glow-Worm Dell.

The exhilarating Waiatoto River Safari

Onwards to Glacier Country, with a stop at Okarito Lagoon on the White Heron Sanctuary Tour. There are so many opportunities to be gobsmacked in Glacier Country, where the rainforest and glaciers meet. All activities complement the scenery. Like guided glacier hikes, kayaking Lake Mapourika, or soaring above Mt Aspiring National Park with Haast Heliservices. Conclude your West Coast adventure in Queenstown.

Top 5 Things to Do in Fiordland & the West Coast

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The cheeky Kea in Fiordland

Exploring Fiordland and the West Coast is like arriving at a theme park and not knowing where to run first. Luckily for you, our know-how on the best of both regions acts like a theme park fast pass!

Out on the Water:

  • For nature’s most soothing soul sounds, book a trip on a Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise. The sights! The scenery! The seals (and dolphins)! The silence! It’s deeply magical.
  • On the West Coast, Ōkārito Kayaks guide you through the waterways of the Ōkārito Lagoon, where wading birds and Rowi, the world’s rarest kiwi, reside.

Out on Foot:

  • The Cool Little Town of Hokitika has plenty of on-foot attractions to explore. We’re fans of Hokitika Gorge Walk, as well as the fun Treetop Walk.
  • Part on foot, part in the air, consider heli-hiking the Kepler Great Walk adventure. Flying above majestic mountains and hiking around lakes and across ridgelines is a perfect full-day out.

Out on a Splurge:

  • Both the West Coast and Fiordland offer plenty of money-is-no-object experiences. Like Envy Experiences in Milford Sound, with their exclusive world-class tour of Milford Sound. Cabot Lodge is an all-inclusive luxury retreat where their Kiwi hospitality is only outshone by the Fiordland National Park views.
  • Of course, if you’re exploring the West Coast without a tight budget, soaring above Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers in a helicopter is not to be missed for an aerial view of the ‘ice architecture’.

Out in Nature:

  • Haast’s UNESCO World Heritage area offers mesmerising scenery, plus a chance to see and learn about penguins – including the world’s rarest, the Fiordland crested penguin – at Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge.
  • In Westport, Outwest Tours can show you the region’s historic mining trails for something a little different. Into biking? Consider part (or all) of the West Coast Wilderness Trail and journey from the alps to the sea.
  • You probs didn’t know you could see dinosaurs in Fiordland, right? Okay, maybe not a dinosaur, but the prehistoric-looking takehe bird is pretty close. Time your visit to the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary for their 10:30am feeding session.
1000x568 Milford Sound Underwater Observatory Sealife with Family screen
At Milford Sound’s underwater observatory you can gaze at coral, fish and anemones just 10 metres beneath the water

Out of this World:

  • Milford Sounds’ underwater environment is unique due to the way that freshwater and seawater meet. This allows species – like black coral – to survive in much shallower environments than usual. The Southern Discoveries Underwater Observatory gains you access and insights into this Milford Sound phenomenon.
  • It’s impossible to remember the ennui of life when you’re in Glacier Country. It’s not just the incredible photo opportunities and the adventure opportunities, but that the season doesn’t stop. Even snow landings are possible in summer here! It’s just one more way that the West Coast shows off its year-round travel appeal.

Get Inspired

Visiting Fiordland is as meditative as any self-care retreat you might go on. Watch this soothing video and tell us otherwise! Beyond Belief is right!

You know places like David Jones or TK Maxx give you a one-stop-shop kind of experience. Yeah, well, the West Coast offers the outdoor adventure equivalent for avid travellers. Don’t believe us? Watch this!

Driving Fiordland & the West Coast

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The Great Coast Road between Westport and Greymouth has been named one of the Top 10 Coastal Drives in the world according to Lonely Planet

Epic views ensure you get loads of roadside breaks, particularly for Milford Road, but what else do you need to know? That an experienced local driver can make the trip in around two hours, but you’ll enjoy it more in 3-4 hours? That the windy mountainous drive is worthy of your time? That it’s worth checking the weather conditions ahead of time. That plenty of coaches will take you to Milford Sound if you’re not keen on driving windy roads? Want more tips? Read here.

The West Coast is a fun drive, too, with loads of route options and opportunities to stop for snaps and snacks (important).

Get the Road Trip Playlist

Dance with Mitre. Image credit: Douglas Thorne
Dance with Mitre. Image credit: Douglas Thorne

Road tripping one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand is a soul-enriching experience in itself, but add to it this Fiordland Sounds playlist and your roadie is suddenly elevated!

While arguing over what music to play is as much a part of a road trip as getting your mouth burnt on a servo pie, we’re all about side-stepping convention in this case. The West Coast tourism peeps have this awesome set-it-and-forget-it Kiwi As Bro playlist. It offers 125 tracks covering eight hours of top tuuunessss! Click play below to see what we mean.

Travel Advisor? Gain Access to the Marketing Hub Toolkit Here

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Join Tourism New Zealand’s Australia trade team along with Gemma Heaney from Fiordland & Géraldine Morisse from West Coast for a virtual one hour road trip through the region.

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