Fiordland and Rakiura/Stewart Island offer an insight into the world as it once was: raw, pristine, largely uninhabited. Recognised by UNESCO World Heritage status, Fiordland National Park is characterised by steep, jumbled topography, a rugged coastline, dense rainforest and a dynamic climate. Further south, most of Rakiura/Stewart Island is part of Rakiura National Park, with settlement confined mainly to Oban, the only township. The island’s densely forested hills, tiny population and untouched coastline of rocky outcrops and golden-sand beaches make it a natural refuge for marine and bird life.
Few people venture to these isolated parts of the deep south, but leading tourism operator Real Journeys explores Fiordland and Rakiura/Stewart Island on Discovery Expeditions, sea voyages ranging from four to seven days.
Some expeditions retrace Captain James Cook’s 1773 voyage around the Fiordland coastline and visit Māori and European historical sites that have played a part in New Zealand’s history. On Fiordland voyages, passengers have the opportunity to catch glimpses of the region’s abundant wildlife: bottlenose dolphins, Fiordland crested penguins and the occasional whale. Each voyage offers plenty of opportunities to disembark the vessel with daily nature hikes, kayaking, or tender-craft activities. Throughout the trip, on-board nature guides, who are experts on southern New Zealand, share knowledge of the flora, fauna and history of these regions.
Travel in these parts is never predictable: the elements shape each trip, but being flexible yields rewards. Days are spent in isolated wilderness, taking in the sights and wildlife along the way.
There is no real contact with the outside world—no Wi-Fi, no cellphone service—which makes each expedition a rare digital detox.
A family-owned business, Real Journeys was launched in Fiordland in the 1950s and has operated in the region ever since. The Milford Wanderer is a motorised vessel purpose-built for navigating southern New Zealand. Designed along the lines of a traditional sailing scow, it blends old-world charm with modern facilities and the latest in safety equipment. Voyages involve sumptuous meals, an attentive crew, and operate with a maximum of 32 passengers, ensuring a friendly atmosphere on board.
Real Journeys also works closely with the Department of Conservation to maintain and protect the regions it travels through—$100 from every expedition passenger is donated towards DOC’s Tamatea/Dusky Sound conservation and restoration programme.