The overpowering rugged beauty of the Fiordland World Heritage Area is not confined to the mountains, lakes and rivers.

This special place is also the exciting new frontier of scuba diving in New Zealand.

Deep inside the 14 sheltered fiords along the coast (some penetrating up to 16 km) there is minimal water disturbance and thus exceptionally good visibility for diving the steep cliff faces.

Heavy rainfall (up to 7m per annum) produces a 10m surface layer of fresh water in the fiords. This tannin-coloured layer reduces light levels, fooling deep dwelling creatures like black coral and groper into thinking their habitat is 30m when it is only 10m. The result is a feast of remarkable underwater sights for scuba divers.

Dive shops in Te Anau, Invercargill and Bluff provide fully guided trips to the fiords and other sites around the coast.

Milford Sound

This is the only fiord with public road access. Both Sinbad Gully and Harrison’s Cove areas are popular for dive trips. The glacier-gouged vertical walls plummet into black depths but the variety and colour of the invertebrates is exceptional. White, red and black soft corals are prolific and the variety of fish life is mind-blowing. Non divers can view undersea life in an observatory viewing chamber in Harrison’s Cove.

Doubtful Sound

The entranceway is guarded by Secretary Island, a favourite haunt of bottlenose dolphins. Deep Cove is blanketed by mussels, which are preyed on by carnivorous starfish and bright red corals. Bauza Island and The Gut have the most glorious red and black coral.

Dusky/Breaksea Sounds

These are home to the New Zealand fur seal and snorkellers can get a close encounter here. The seals invariably greet you with a headlong rush and pull up just before impact. The Waikare wreck can be explored near Stop Island.

Preservation Inlet

Charter boats regularly access this southernmost fiord. Deep gorges descend to the depths with sheer walls adorned with feather stars, red corals and sea squirts. Cavern Bay has myriads of fish inside the tendrils of kelp. The China Shop has beautiful back coral strands at only 10m depth.