Aana Marinovich takes her family to Fiordland, the “walking capital of the world”, for an outdoorsy adventure.
Just two hours from Queenstown, Fiordland is the largest National Park in New Zealand, covering 1.2 million hectares. It’s also called the “walking capital of the world”, which means it’s the perfect place to walk and play with kids! There are waterfalls galore, lazing seals, playful dolphins, glowworm caves, kayaking, jet boating… All the family activities you could hope for, and more. It’s also educational – a world heritage area described as having “outstanding examples of Earth’s evolutionary history”.
Base yourself in Te Anau, as it has the best access to Fiordland and is a charming, friendly town, well set up for families. The restaurants are great, too – not too expensive and welcoming to children, and you have plenty of options for accommodation.
EXPLORE AND ENJOY
This intrepid little cave goes deep into the mountain and is unique with its torrents of water flowing under the walkways throughout the cave. In December, a whole new generation of glowworms hatch and leave the cave glowing like a perfect starlit night, which you get to enjoy while drifting in the cavern. Pick up from Te Anau.
A great way to enjoy the Waiau River between Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri. The water is the most amazing green, with loads of trout and a few Middle Earth locations to spot. You’ll get a few spins and speed thrills along the way that’ll get the kids giggling, and a good view of the Kepler Track. Pick up from Te Anau.
Breakfast with the birds
Head to the Bird Sanctuary (by the DOC Visitors Centre) on the lake at 11am and wander around with the Rangers while they feed the Takahe, Ruru owl, and ducks (whose feeding frenzy causes great excitement with the kids) and enjoy the baby Kakas (more like naughty toddlers, really).
We decided to do just one day on one of the Great Walks with the kids (the full walks are not really recommended for under 12s), so chose the Kepler. We started in Te Anau, and the first leg, from the bird sanctuary to Brod Bay, is fairly flat and meanders around the lake to the control gates before heading into the canopy of the beech tree forest and sphagnum moss floor. It is simply magical in there and our kids tore around, running back and forward, around trees and stumps and playing hide-and-seek among the foliage. It’s cool, flat and wide enough for a hardy pram. Roundtrip takes three to four hours.
This charming little arthouse cinema plays regular movies as well as the Fiordland movie Ata Whenua (Shadowland), a 30-minute film directed by The Lord of the Rings location scout, the late David Comer. A great way to see the extremes of Fiordland. Book ahead.
Milford Sound Cruise
A full day on the water that includes a few highly exciting dunks under waterfalls (for those who want to brave the front decks), kayaking below the Cascades Range waterfalls, and a look through the deep under water observatory at Harrison’s Cove. Milford Sound is a lovely two-and-a-half hour drive out of Te Anau, with plenty to see along the way (including a drive through the solid Homer Tunnel).
FYI Kids go free in the holidays (for most day trips) for Real Journeys and Southern Discoveries cruises to the Sounds and glowworm caves. All huts on the Kepler are free for children too.
These fiords are not accessible by car, so you’re in for a little adventure to get there. Take a ferry over Lake Manapouri to West Arm for a look through Manapouri Underground Power Station (if open), then take a bus over Wilmot Pass. From here you board the Patea Explorer and enter the Doubtful Sound, cruising beside this majestic national park, under waterfalls. You may even pop in to see the seals and ride alongside the dolphins if they come to play.
We stayed right on the lake, two minutes from the centre of town at the Top 10 Holiday Park in a large family cabin. It’s clean, modern, and has everything you need to keep holiday life easy with kids: Cooking facilities, a large TV, free wi-fi, a bedroom to sleep up to four kids, warm and comfortable beds, a bathroom, towels, an outdoor area, and a dining area. Of course, you also get to enjoy all of the camping facilities like the kids’ room, TV nights for kids, the massive bounce pillow, playground, giant chess, freshwater hot tubs, BBQ area, and the laundry.
Best picks for families:
- Ristorante Pizzeria Da’ Toni (03) 249 4305
- The Moose
- Sandfly Café (03) 249 9529
- Manapouri Lakeview Motor Inn
- The Ranch Bar & Grill
- The Redcliff Café (more for parents)
It rains two out of three days in Fiordland, so pack your raincoat and prepare for wet weather. The good news: Rain makes the waterfalls more spectacular and the foliage even greener.
We rented a Hyundai Tucson and found it very enjoyable to “get lost in NZ” (as the ad says) with three kids in tow, with warmed seats, blue tooth, a five-star ANCAP rating, and plenty of space for five of us and our luggage. The Tucson was super easy to drive, with good visibility.
- Water: Filling our cups under waterfalls in Milford Sound (on the ferry)
- Thrill: 360s in the jetboat on the Waiau River
- Relax: Lying back and drifting under glowworms
in the dark
- Dinner: Ribs at The Moose
- Fun: Playing on the bounce pillow at the Te Anau Top 10
- Run around: Running, leaping off logs, and practising ninja moves on the Kepler Track
- Family time: Playing cards on the ferries to the Sounds
- Animals: Feeding the ducks, who let us pat them
- Photo: The Mirror Lakes, because the sign is so clever!
For more information go to Destination Fiordland Fiordland.org.nz
By Aana Marinovich
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