No trip to the South Island of New Zealand would be complete without an excursion over to Milford Sound. The splendor of Milford would qualify it for any list of the World’s Natural Wonders. Rudyard Kipling described it as the eighth wonder of the world. Right now, it still seems like a best kept secret. We were fortunate to see it on our trip to New Zealand and Australia a few years ago. The flight over was equally thrilling, as we were able to view many glaciers, as well as Mt. Cook, the highest point on the South Island.
We were in Queenstown for the usual adrenalin thrills, luge down the mountain, jet boating, bungee jumping, sky diving, and wine tasting. We decided to fly over to Milford rather than endure the looooong all day bus trip from Queenstown. The only problem was the fog in Milford would not lift for our plane to land at their tiny little airstrip. Finally, on the day we were scheduled to leave New Zealand for home, we got the all clear, and headed out on a tiny little six seater plane for Milford. Little did we know that the Sound gets 23 feet of rain annually. But it provides for spectacular viewing with hundreds of temporary water falls.
Milford Sound is a 22 kilometer, narrow fjord, just off of the Tasman Sea on the west coast of South Island. It is encircled in cliffs, peaks and innumerable water falls on the southwestern edge of New Zealand. Though it can be considered one of the many faces of New Zealand, the country is far more complex and diverse. Maori legend says it was Tu Te Raki Whanoa, an adze-wielding godly figure, who created the fiords. With incantations and his magic adze, Tu Te Raki Whanoa sculpted his finest work: Piopiotahi, meaning “single thrush,” which is Milford Sound today. I guess the Maori were not aware of the glaciers that carved the Sound thousands of years ago. We maximized the experience of Milford Sound, as our flight over provided for a really close-up view as we approached and landed.
Nowhere else in Fiordland do the mountains stand as tall,1200 meters or more, straight out of the sea. In the foreground of the fiord stands the legendary Mitre Peak. They say an American woman jumped off of the peak into the sound a few years ago. That should illustrate how tall and straight the steep rocky cliffs hang over the water.
Now Milford is a rather unusual name. I worked with a man at Kaiser who is named Milford(nice man). The sound is named after Milford Haven in Wales. I assume that is where he got his name as well. The Maori named the sound Piopiotahi, after the piopio bird from the thrush family. Many of the famous explorers like Captain James Cook overlooked Milford Sound, since the narrow entry did not appear to lead into an interior bay. Also, windy conditions left them worried about an escape route.
Over half a million visitors come to Milford Sound each year. Many stay for days, and tramp (the kiwi word for hike) around the area on tracks (trails). But the conditions are rather spartan, so be prepared if you do this. By road, Milford Sound is 295 kilometers from Queenstown. We originally were going to use the small town of Te Anau as our base, until Queenstown just took us over. Not enough time, too many things to see and do.
Upon landing, the first thing we noticed was the cold winds. We took a brisk walk of about a half mile over to the boat landing and terminal area. We boarded one of the many tour boats for a two hour excursion from the head of the Sound over to the entrance and back. Needless to say, the hot coffee on board was more than welcoming.
We had our choice of sitting inside where it is warm, or braving the cold outside for better views and photos. I did a little of each.
The first observation was the lush rainforests on the side of the cliffs. Second were the many animal species, like dolphins, seals, and penguins. The accumulating rainfall can force small portions of the rain forest to lose their grip on the steep faces, resulting in tree avalanches into the icy cold waters. Regrowth of these areas can actually be seen in various stages of reproduction.
Was it worth the worry to try to fit this trip in at the last minute? Absolutely, YES.
It was a spectacular day for spectacular sights. We would like to go back someday and spend more time there.