When most of us hear the word “fjord,” we probably think of Alaska, Iceland, or maybe Norway. But New Zealand? It’s probably not the first destination to come to mind. But the island nation is home to some of the most dramatic landscapes on earth, similar to those found in the Northern Hemisphere and also created millennia ago by receding glaciers.
Despite their similarities in geography, there is one difference between the fjords of New Zealand and those found throughout the rest of the world: in New Zealand, these natural features are called “fiords” not “fjords.” Slightly different spelling but similarly impressive landscapes. Fantastically deep and hemmed in by towering cliffs, New Zealand’s majestic fiords are all found in the Southwestern nook of the nation. The region is home to one of the country’s largest nature reserves, appropriately named Fiordland National Park, and some of the world’s most spectacular vistas.
Maybe it’s the name that tends to keep people away, but Doubtful Sound is one of the most pristine and untouched nature preserves in the world. It’s often referred to as “The Sound of Silence” for a reason–it’s one of the most serene places you’ll ever visit. The only sounds you’ll hear on this journey is the occasional bark from a New Zealand Fur Seal or the hustle of a group of Fiordland Penguins as they make their way to the water.
Nearby, Dusky Sound is one of the biggest fiords on the coast at over 40 kilometers long. Virtually inaccessible via land, the Sound is an important habitat for Crested Fiordland penguins and once served as safe harbor for Captain James Cook, the famous British explorer. Today, the best way to enjoy its natural beauty is still by sea. Some of the best birdwatching in New Zealand can be found in this remote cove, with opportunities to sight Broad-Billed Prions, Mottled Petrels, and other rare species unique to New Zealand as they soar overhead.
The sail into Milford Sound can seem otherworldly. You may feel as though you’re entering Middle Earth as you glide into this naturally protected habitat, a narrow passage surrounded by steep, lush cliffs on both sides with towering waterfalls. Rare birds and other wildlife seek haven here. Look out for Kea, the only alpine parrot in the world, as well as the beautiful, endangered South Island Takehe. This natural reserve is also home to some of the oldest plant species in New Zealand, including groves of Southern Beech trees that are nearly 1,000 years old.
Towering over Milford Sound is Mitre Peak. Rising hundreds of meters above the surrounding landscape, the peak is easy to spot from many vistas around the sound and within the park. This is the quintessential mountain in New Zealand, offering an ideal backdrop for picture-perfect memories and its distinctive cone-shaped crest is one of the most beautiful sights in Fiordland National Park. A climb to the top offers a bird’s eye view of the deep fiords below.
Without a doubt, Fiordland will be one of the most magical and memorable places you’ll ever visit. The epic heights and plunging depths of the landscape create such a dramatic sense of scale that even the best photos and latest movies don’t do the park justice. But, that’s just one more good reason to go visit, explore, and experience the natural splendor of this region in person.