Bounded by steep cliffs and dense rainforest, Milford Sound will captivate the most experienced traveller. A long narrow inlet at the northernmost end of Fiordland National Park and opening out onto the Tasman Sea, Milford Sound was created by icy glaciers slicing into and eroding mountains way back in the ice ages.
It’s difficult to describe the scale and beauty of Milford Sound without using all of the superlatives: staggering, jaw-dropping, out-of-this-world, second-to-none, breathtaking, magnificent, incredible, magical, OMG, wow, hashtag-bucket-list! It’s all those things, so maybe we should just say that it is huge and amazing, and that if you visit this place named ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ you will be awe-struck.
The best way to experience the grandeur of this landscape is on the water. Take a cruise and marvel at the sheer rock walls coming straight out of the sea, tumbling waterfalls and, prominent in the centre, the focal point of millions of photographs: Mitre Peak (Rahotu).
Despite all the wow-factor, Milford Sound is also a place of serenity and peaceful wonder: it can feel very humbling to be in the middle of the sea surrounded by this huge landscape created by Nature’s power and patience.
What is Milford Sound?
Well, first off, Milford Sound is not a Sound! It is a fiord. Sounds are formed when a river valley is flooded by the sea, but this beautiful place was created by ancient glacier movement. While the word Sound in this case refers to geography and not music, the main thing you’ll hear in Milford is the sound of cascading waterfalls gushing down vertical cliffs from the surrounding rainforest into the waters below. The two main permanent waterfalls are Lady Bowen Falls (162m high) and Stirling Falls. A particularly picturesque row of four identically-sized waterfalls named the Four Sisters only appear on Milford’s rainy days.
A WORD ABOUT MILFORD’S WEATHER
One of the best things about Milford Sound is that it looks good in any weather: pristine in fine weather when the reflected mountains glisten on the water, and moody dramatic and epically beautiful when rainfall amplifies the already impressive waterfalls. The West Coast of the South Island is the wettest part of New Zealand and Milford Sound is the wettest part of the West Coast getting an average of 182 days of rainfall a year – so be prepared: bring both your rain jacket and a small umbrella (to help protect your camera)! While rain and low misty cloud may obscure Mitre Peak, more rainfall means more waterfalls; on a rainy day you’ll see hundreds of temporary cascades.
GETTING TO MILFORD SOUND
Although Milford Sound looks to be close to Queenstown on the map, there are many rugged mountains between the two places. On a Haka Tour you have two options to see Milford Sound: a full-day Coach–Cruise–Coach excursion or a half-day Fly–Cruise–Fly option. While the merits of the flight-seeing option are obvious (flying above the Southern Alps!), the longer option could prove to be the more scenic, as many guests say that the road to Milford Sound matches the majesty of the boat trip on the fiord itself.
HIGHLIGHTS OF MILFORD ROAD
The journey to Milford Sound by road from Queenstown to Te Anau and then along Milford Road is filled with drop-dead gorgeous picture-postcard views. Some highlights include the Mirror Lakes which provide stunning reflections of the Earl mountain ranges (look for the name sign on the water); the series of gushing waterfalls that make up the Chasm; the glacier-fed Monkey Creek spring with water so pure you can drink it straight from the source, and the dramatic Eglinton mountains will be familiar to some as they represented the Misty Mountains in the Fellowship of the Ring.
After the Homer Tunnel, the road descends into a valley for the last 16km (9.94m) of the journey. You’ll be surrounded on either side by native beech and podocarp forest, drive past some historic bridges, and, finally, after you cross the Cleddau River, you’ll see beautiful Milford Sound in front of you, and – if the clouds have cleared – Mitre Peak’s unmistakable profile.
FIVE QUICK FACTS ABOUT MILFORD SOUND
- Between August and February you may see the Fiordland crested penguin – one of the rarest penguins in the world.
- It’s approximately 16km from the head of the fiord to the open sea – a distance which you will mostly cover on your Milfod Sound cruise.
- Mitre Peak’s tallest peak stands proud at 1,692 metres above sea level while the deepest parts of the fiord are 400m (1,312 feet).
- Maori are believed to have discovered Milford Sound more than 1,000 years ago, returning seasonally to the fiord to collect the precious pounamu.
- Milford Sound is home to more than 150 species of fish, 60 species of bottlenose dolphins as well as native fur seals, penguins and many different types of birds including takahe, kakapo and kea.
TOP TIPS FOR MILFORD SOUND:
- There is no mobile coverage and very limited Wi-Fi, so be sure to just live in the moment and update your photos once you get back to our Queenstown accommodation.
- It seems sandflies also enjoy being surrounded by scenic grandeur, so spray yourself with insect repellent and cover bare skin if you are susceptible to being deemed as tasty by small, flying bitey things.
- If you’re due to travel to Milford Sound in December or March and April, you will have more chance of encountering temperate weather and fewer crowds.
- Autumn (March through to May) is when the local wildlife, like penguins and seals, tend to be more active.
Image Credits: Destination Fiordland
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