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On day nine, we woke up early to drive from Queenstown to Te Anau for a full day tour of Fiordland National Park. The drive to Te Anau took two hours along the banks of Lake Wakatipu and through some beautiful countryside. We boarded our tour bus and rode through Fiordland National park, en route to the famous, Milford Sound. On our return to Te Anau, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Redcliff Cafe, before crossing Lake Te Anau to see the Glowworm Caves. Come along on our full day adventure!
We selected the Milford Sound and Fiordland Extraordinaire Tour from Fiordland Tours. As usual, we wanted the personal touch of a smaller tour company. Fiordland Tours runs tours of no more than 15 people on their small bus. A group this small allowed us to stop and walk to places that the big buses drove right past. Honestly, I can’t imagine being on one of the huge tour buses and having to wait for 30-40 people at every stop!
Our tour departed Te Anau at 8am, bound for Milford Sound through the sprawling, 3-million-acre Fiordland National Park. Terry, our guide, took us through 19 points of interests, ranging from scenic overlooks, to waterfalls, to a wilderness camp. Below are some of our favorite stops:
A glacial valley between the Earl and Livingston Mountains.
This is a great spot for some pictures with the beautiful lupin flowers, if they’re in season.
A beautiful, clear-water, reflective lake, with the mountains as a backdrop.
Views for days!
A 20-minute walk to a glacial-fed cascade, coming down from Lake Marian. Here, Terry dipped a bucket down into the rushing stream and we all got to drink fresh glacial water.
A mid-morning pit stop for tea and some fresh-baked scones, jam, and whipped butter! Mmmm!
A brief walk into this valley brought us to a pool of water with some of the most incredible turquoise water I have ever seen.
Here we looked down on the winding road toward Milford Sound. We also met one of the cheeky local parrots, called a Kea.
When we reached the entrance to Milford Sound, Terry took us down to the boat for our 2-hour cruise. We boarded the boat and stowed our bags on the top level. If you select the premiere lunch option, Fiordland Tours will provide a sack lunch to eat on the boat. We had some tasty sandwiches, fruit, and a bottle of soda. Tea and coffee are also available on the boat.
As we entered Milford Sound, clouds started to threaten rain. Tip – It can get quite cold and windy at Milford Sound. Dress warmly and bring a rain coat. Fortunately, the rain held off while we cruised between the rocky cliffs of the sound. We rode from the harbor, out to the sea, winding along both edges of the narrow passageway. Along the way, we saw a few waterfalls and two rocks covered with seals. While I wish we had clear blue skies, Milford Sound was still very beautiful to behold.
Dinner – Redcliff Cafe, Te Anau
The return drive to Te Anau was relatively uneventful. We stopped a couple times for quick pictures, but we mostly snoozed. Before we knew it, we were back to our starting point in the quiet little town around 6pm.
We scheduled dinner reservations at the Redcliff Cafe, based on some great reviews we read online. I was glad that we reserved a table, because the place was quite small and I heard people being turned away. The menu included a lot of local fare and wild game, cooked gourmet style. I had the Fiordland Wild Venison and my wife had the Roasted Pork Gnocchi. Both dishes were absolutely delicious! If you find yourself in Te Anau, definitely visit the Redcliff Cafe.
Glow Worm Caves
We were very excited about visiting the Te Anau Glowworm Caves. The trip is hosted by Real Journeys and departs from their shop on the banks of Lake Te Anau. We boarded a boat and rode across the lake at sunset, to reach the caves on the other side. The boat was large and packed full of people, so we made our way to the top deck for some nice views.
On the opposite side of the lake, the tour guides split us into smaller groups for the cave walk. Unfortunately cameras are not allowed inside the caves. We walked for about five minutes into the cave, past some impressive rock formations, before our guide instructed us to sit in a small boat. Once everyone was inside the boat, she pulled us into a pitch-dark chamber, using a rope along the wall.
When our eyes adjusted, we could see tiny specks of light above us on the cave ceiling. These were the famous glowworms, who use their bio-luminescent tails to attract insects. We spent about ten minutes floating around the chamber, admiring the glowworms’ light, before we exited the caves. After our turn in the cave, we waited nearly an hour for all of the other groups to walk through, before we boarded the boat to return.
Honestly, I was a bit disappointed by this experience. In my mind, I expected to see a vast cavern, filled with glowworms that looked like a starry sky. In reality, the worms emitted rather faint light, and there were not many to see in the cave. This big group tour definitely had a different feel from the smaller, more personal tours we prefer.
We had a great day exploring Fiordland National Park with Terry from Fiordland Tours! He was a fantastic guide, and he showed us some really beautiful parts of New Zealand’s south island. If you are considering this tour, I also recommend spending a night in Te Anau, because driving two hours back to Queenstown is tough! Ray, the owner of Fiordland Tours also has cottages available for rent. You can inquire about the tours and cottages by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting this website.
Definitely have a bite to eat at the Redcliff Cafe. I’ll leave the decision on the Te Anau Glowworm Caves up to you. Perhaps you will really enjoy it. Cheers!
We received complementary tours from Fiordland Tours and Real Journeys in exchange for our honest review.