Covering over one million hectares, Fiordland National Park is New Zealand’s largest national park. The township of Te Anau is often the stepping-off point for those exploring Fiordland and its many walking tracks and world-famous fiords.
Getting to Milford Sound by road takes around 2.5 hrs from Te Anau or 5 hrs from Queenstown. Along the way, there are many spectacular sites, which is why the journey to Milford Sound is often considered an experience in itself.
Te Anau to Fiordland National Park
My expedition would begin in Te Anau, where I spent the night to ensure I could get an early start the next day. I checked the weather forecast and saw it was looking like a foggy start, not unusual for this part of the South Island.
Waking early, I immediately saw the weather forecast was correct. A thick layer of fog blanketed my view. While most people may be disappointed to see such a foggy morning, I was pleased. My aim for this trip was to capture a “moody” Fiordland, and in this light, it looked like I would be able to do just that. I set off, hoping to find Fiordland at its moodiest.
An incredible sight on the way to Milford Sound
Heading along the Milford road, the landscape began to change as I entered the Fiordland’s dense bush. With the temperature still sitting around zero degrees, the early morning layer of fog, hanging low in the air, had frozen the leaves of the trees and ground vegetation. It was an incredible sight, and I felt lucky to witness such a phenomenon. I stopped to capture the contrast between the white of the frost and the deep, dark background of the bush. The fog began to move and dissipate, creating a very moody scene. Exactly what I was hoping for.
The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound normally takes just over two hours. But on this day, it took much longer! In fact, I don’t think I have ever stopped so many times on my way to Milford Sound!
Every now and then, blue sky would appear through the fog to reveal snow-capped mountains behind. This was a unique way to capture the many elements that make up Fiordland National Park.
It wasn’t long before the temperature rose, and the fog disappeared. It soon turned into a beautiful winter’s day without a cloud in the sky. Full sunshine is not ideal for landscape photography. I needed to get out of the sun.
Luckily, here in the dense bush of Fiordland, there are plenty of places to find shade and shelter.
Lake Marian Creek Falls
The Lake Marian Track is one of the most popular walks along the Milford road. The track takes you past Lake Marian, an alpine lake located in a spectacular hanging valley. If you don’t want to do the full walk, there is an easy 20-minute walk along Marian Creek, which gives views of the valley and a number of smaller waterfalls.
I decided to get out of the full sun and head along the Lake Marian Track towards the waterfalls. Following Marian Creek, I soon found the perfect rock to set up the tripod. Here, I could shoot a 180-degree picture of the fast-flowing river.
Here is a behind-the-scenes look at how I create a long-exposure image of water. This style of photography is always popular, but there is also quite a lot that goes into creating it.
Here is the original view upstream and downstream.
To achieve a panorama of the creek, the image is shot in six stages using a very dark, neutral density filter to capture the movement in the water. Each shot uses a 30-second exposure. Here is the final result; as you can see, it looks quite different from the first images.
Happy with the moody images of the morning and the Marian Creek image, I decided to call it a day and head back to Te Anau. But on the way back, I saw one more opportunity at Henry Creek Campsite. This campsite is found on the edge of Lake Te Anau and creates a picturesque and tranquil setting as the sun sets. I photographed the still water of the lake as the silhouette of the Murchison Mountains frames the perfect view.
Waking up in Te Anau the next day, it was a completely different story from the previous day. There was no fog, but there was a thick layer of clouds and light showers; ideal for capturing more of Fiordland at its best.
And a bit of rain would surely bring Fiordland’s famous waterfalls to life.
Rainfall in Fiordland National Park
If you go to Fiordland expecting blue skies, you may have to adjust your expectations. Rainfall is what makes this place.
The area receives an incredible yearly rainfall of 6.5 – 7 metres (21-23 feet). It has even been known to receive up to 9 metres (29.5 feet) some years. Fiordland is, without question, one of the wettest inhabited places on the planet. The area is shaped by rainfall. So when you visit, make sure you pack your rain jacket.
However, the rainfall doesn’t take away from the experience. It is just as good on a rainy day as on a sunny day. In fact, many people prefer Fiordland on a rainy day because the many hundreds of waterfalls are at their best.
As I headed back along the Milford road again, I stopped at Windy Point. It was still early, and the chilly morning had left a dusting of frost on a fallen tree in the water. I stopped to capture this dark and atmospheric shot. Thankfully, Windy Point was not windy today, and I was able to shoot a perfect moment beautifully showing the silent power of Fiordland.
The Homer Tunnel
Around twenty minutes from Milford Sound, the road passes through the Homer Tunnel. This tunnel is a highlight among the many sightseeing stops along the road to Milford Sound. The Homer Tunnel is a 1.2-kilometre tunnel passing through the solid granite rock of the Darren Mountains. It is an impressive feat of engineering, and the narrow tunnel is only wide enough for one-way traffic. Completed in 1954, the Homer tunnel took 19 years to construct and is still the only road link that connects Milford Sound to the rest of the country.
Under the cloudy conditions, this image of the sheer wall of the Darran Mountains looks like it is taken in black and white. The ice and snow above the Homer Tunnel create an impressive effect against the black rock.
Before returning to Te Anau, I stayed a little longer to watch the most entertaining residents of Fiordland, the kea. These cheeky characters are often found hanging around the Homer Tunnel getting up to mischief for the visitors.
The kea is a mountain parrot native to New Zealand. They’re colourful characters who are well known for being cheeky, inquisitive and intelligent. They have beautiful olive-green plumage and orange feathers on the underside of their wings. They are known to vandalise cars and campervans by peeling off rubber trims and stealing food from backpacks.