Fiordland is incredibly beautiful with its impossible waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, glorious fiords and lush rainforest: it’s the ultimate wilderness. And this wilderness is where Mother Nature rules. So to experience Fiordland safely, you need to take heed of the conditions.
If you’re thinking of embarking on one of the epic Fiordland Great Walks and getting those absolutely gorgeous vistas, make sure you’re keeping safety top of mind. Southern Lakes Helicopters safety manager Richie Hunter (who has trained the New Zealand Air Force on alpine survival, and lives in Antarctica half of every year) should know, and he has some great tips. He says to appreciate your own capabilities – don’t go trekking in advanced conditions that might require survival skills if you’re just a beginner. Research the trails first – so you know where huts are and any hazards such as rivers experiencing snowmelt. Take the right gear including a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). And make sure you tell someone when they should be expecting you back. For more details on these tips from Richie read our blog.
Flooding is a reality
One example of just how wild Fiordland can get was the floods of February 2020. One-tenth the annual rainfall of the area dumped onto Fiordland over 3 days, washing out the main road, tracks and damaging huts. A state of emergency was declared. Some 500 people had to be evacuated by helicopter from Fiordland National Park, with our team here at Southern Lakes Helicopters playing a major role, in what became New Zealand’s largest aerial evacuation in history. Our teams were sweeping the area, picking up people from huts, even having them climb from hut roofs into a net at the end of a rope suspended from the helicopter, when landing was impossible in the floodwaters.
Watch for snow, wind, rocks
Aside from extreme rainfall and flooding, there are other ways Fiordland’s elements can get wild. The weather is highly changeable, so you need to prepare for all conditions at any time of the year. There are strong winds to be aware of. On alpine areas or exposed ridges, it’s not uncommon to come up against strong winds of more than 80 km/hr: consider waiting until the wind dies down, and/or dress warmly to prevent wind chill. Snow is a factor in winter and spring and can be quite deep in Fiordland.
In Spring, avalanches are a risk, especially with snow or rainfall. Be avalanche alert and know the avalanche zones. Know the rockfall zones too, and don’t linger there. And refer to Richie’s safety tips above.
But just remember, Fiordland’s inherent dangers are the very same things that allow the place to be so beautiful. The waterfalls pump with all that rain, the Fiords were carved by ancient icy glaciers, and the soaring peaks naturally exposed to all that wind allow incredible views. So check the conditions, keep safety top of mind, and go explore one of the most beautiful places on earth – Fiordland.
We look forward to having you here with us at Southern Lakes Helicopters, for a [safely] breath-taking experience with a world-class safety team!