Hiking through the seasons – Experience Fiordland Year round
27 Jul 2022
Fiordland is lucky to have some incredible hiking opportunities available, from alpine ridgelines to bush covered valleys. When choosing the right track for you, the weather and time of year needs to be considered to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are my recommendations for the best trails in Fiordland suitable for each season, from a keen local hiker who has been there, done that!
The winter months between June and August, will have new snow on the mountains and cool temperatures anywhere between -3° to + 9° Celsius during the day. The valleys are characterised by little direct sunlight and frost, so it’s cold! Walking in Fiordland is still an option in winter, but you need to ensure you have plenty of warm clothing, and avoid any potential avalanche areas, so the alpine ridges of the Great Walks are a no-go zone.
My pick at this time of the year would have to be the valleys of the Kepler Track, beside the waterways of Lake Manapouri, Te Anau and Waiau River. Close to Te Anau, and easily accessible, the trees offer protection from the elements and the trail is maintained to a high standard. For the more adventurous, you can tramp up to Luxmore Hut and return for a big day out, or pack your backpack and spend a night there, no booking is required.
As the temperatures start to rise and snow melts, springtime can be a turbulent time in Fiordland weather wise. Rain is all part of the wilderness experience here though, so embrace the elements, the rewards are immense, and it doesn’t rain all the time!
Day walks are best enjoyed at this time of the year, and my top recommendation would have to be the Lake Marian Track. Hiking though the lush native forest, you climb to a magnificent alpine lake situated in a classic hanging valley, shaped by the ice glaciers many years ago. With a walking time of approximately 3 hours, on a well-marked track, outside of any avalanche areas it’s a great way to discover the Fiordland mountain area safely. If you are undertaking this track, please allow yourself plenty of day light hours, and ensure you are good on your feet, as the track is steep, and rocky in places.
Summer in Fiordland is between the months of December through to February. This is the peak hiking month in the area, with all the Great Walks open and plenty of day light hours. The snow has receded, and flowers are in bloom in the alpine valleys, so it is a pretty time to explore, and for the more adventurous, there are numerous options to go further afield. With temperatures averaging around 23° Celsius it is not overly hot either. However, it should be noted you can still experience wild weather in summer in Fiordland, so a good rain jacket and warm clothing are still essential items to be carried in your pack.
If you have been lucky enough to secure a place in the huts, summer is a great time to enjoy the Milford, Routeburn or Kepler Tracks. For the fit trail runners out there, options exist to do these trails in one day. However, for most of us day walks are most enjoyable at this time of the year, and a wonderful time to introduce everyone to the joys of hiking. My favourite recommendation, suitable for all ages is the Key Summit, Routeburn Track walk. The views on a clear day are incredible, with 360 ° panoramic views of mountains, alpine lakes, and expansive valleys. This really is an introduction to hiking at its best and has to be a NZ must-do!
In Autumn the days start to draw in, the sun gets lower in the sky, and our mornings cooler, this is a magical time of the year in Fiordland. All the tracks are open, and snow has retreated to the glaciers. There is a slowing of pace as the walking season and peak visitor season draws to a close. March to May are the designated months of Autumn in Fiordland.
If you have a sense of adventure and a head for heights the Gertrude Saddle is worth the effort. Make sure you have a good weather for this walk, to make the most of the views and keep safe, as this trail is no place to be on a wet day. At the top of this challenging climb enjoy breath-taking views overlooking Milford Sound, it truly is a most rewarding hike.
For those looking for a less demanding hiking experience without the climbing, look no further than a half day hike on the Milford Track from Sandfly Point, Milford Sound. Accessible by boat only, it does require some planning, so organise ahead to avoid missing out. This walk will take you through the lush Arthur Valley to Giant Gate Waterfall. Autumn is characterised by colourful lichens, an array of different fungi, ferns, pretty orchids, and ancient trees towering above, many of which have berries attracting the birds.
Whatever time of the year and season, be prepared for the conditions, and choose a track to suit your experience level. If you are unsure where to go, or of your abilities, remember a guided trip can really enhance the hike and provide a safe walk.