"Silent Water Magic" Top 5 Page for this destination Milford Sound by Kakapo2

Milford Sound Travel Guide: 206 reviews and 712 photos

As all the other sounds in Fiordland, Milford Sound is a fiord, created by a huge glacier more than two million years ago, and it is New Zealand’s most famous fiord. It has inspired generations of famous writers and unnamed travellers, all equally stunned by the breathtaking scenery of often snow-capped alpine peaks, mountains rising vertically from the sea, the reflections on the water, the spraying waterfalls creating their own rainbows. Even during the peak season Milford Sound breathes an air of tranquility, especially when you arrive early or leave late. Its trademark mountain – Mitre Peak – gives it such a distinctive look that it cannot be mistaken.

It has been labelled the eighth world wonder – one of the many we now find around the world. Judge yourself. I do not care about the labelling – but I do care about this beauty sitting in the loneliness of New Zealand’s biggest national park. I care about the fantastic drive to the fiord from Te Anau, a 121 kilometre long alpine highway through the wild-romantic scenery, the keas and other birds along the road, the penguins, seals and dolphins you will almost certainly spot during your travel. I care about the many fabulous walks off this highway which is an outstanding example of the saying: The Journey is the Destination. And I appreciate the possibility to travel at your own pace, for one or several days, and that getting on a cruise of the fiord is not a big hassle.

Milford Sound – Piopiotahi in the Maori language - stretches 16 kilometres to the open sea and is 265 metres deep in places. Interestingly enough the water inside the fiord is very much deeper than at its entrance. The Cleddau and Arthurs rivers feed the fiord which became a fiord when the glaciers melted at the end of the last ice-age 15,000 years ago, and the sea rose and filled the glacial valleys along the coastline. Milford Sound is the most prominent one of those silent waters of New Zealand’s south-west. On a clear day it is the perfect picture of silence, but during rainfall you will encounter the power of water. Innumerable falls spring into life and tumble from sheer rock walls, and high winds blow the cascading waters back into the air.

The very high rainfall (6800 millimetres per annum) creates a permanent freshwater layer on the sea surface. Below this layer - stained a tea colour by organic material washed out of the forest – you would find a concentrated 40 metre band of unusual marine life growing on and around the sheer rock walls. The dark layer of freshwater is typical for the fiords down here, further up north, in the Karamea region, the creeks and rivers running to the sea are lighter in colour, some even orange. The phenonemon of colouration is the same.

Tourism is a Delight and a Curse

Milford Sound was named by a Welsh sealing captain John Grono after his birth place, Milford Haven. And obviously he had no idea what the difference between a fiord and a sound is :-)

The Maori name refers to the Piopio which was a probably extinct native thrush. Those birds might have welcomed the first Maori who travelled to Milford Sound for food gathering. Their permanent settlements were located in the Hollyford Valley and around lakes Manapouri and Te Anau. Another legend says that the fabled discoverer Maui was crushed to death, and the bird who witnessed the tragedy fled to Milford Sound, giving it its name.

Of course, there are also negative things that can be said about Milford Sound. The problem is that everybody wants to see it, so tourism in general. Of course, Milford Sound would be even more stunning if they did not have those massive carparks and the new visitor centre at the wharf. This was not there on my first visit in 1991, and the whole area looked more natural. There were just the Red Boats for tours and not much more. Now the big player RealJourneys and several smaller companies compete for their share of the big business.

But what I really hate is when the choppers and small airplanes rotate above my head when I sit at the shore and soak in the magic scenery. On my last visit I was just recording a little video of the panoramic view, recording the sights and sounds of silence, when two or three flights took off and disturbed the peace. And this was just at about lunchtime before the big tourist herds flocked into the area. Really, as beautiful as those scenic flights are for those who are sitting in the airplanes and enjoying the stunning views, they are horrible for those who stay on the ground and are about to think they are in paradise.

Be Prepared for Animal Encounters and some Dangers

The “Rough Guide to New Zealand” claims that the best of the fiord can only be seen from the water. I disagree. I think the most phantastic view is the view of triangular Mitre Peak, rising to 1694 metres, nearly like a pyramid, from the shore, framed by some cabbage trees and toetoe grass dancing in the wind. Do not forget to generously spray insect repellent all over you on a calm day if you want to enjoy the scenery from the land. The sandflies are everywhere!

We had two lovely animal encounters on our last trip: There were four dolphins – to females with their young – racing in the bow wave of our boat for ages, and we and the other passengers were hanging over the railing until we were all deep frozen. On other occasions you see whole schools of dolphins jumping and surfing – and always enchanting you. Our second impressive animal story was spotting a moulting Fiordland crested penguin sitting on the rocks next to the wharf. Sometimes, we were told, they even walk into the cruise terminal.

You get the best out of a trip to Milford Sound if you try to avoid the crowds flocking in from Queenstown after lunchtime by travelling very early in the morning or stay overnight.

Some words of warning:
Milford Road is – percentage-wise – New Zealand’s most dangerous road. As it is a non-exit road and mostly used by tourists, also tourists cause most of the accidents. The road is also prone to early and late snowfalls, and avalanches. Please read my Warnings & Dangers and Transportation tips.

Once on the road, enjoy your trip, stop to admire the scenery, and be prepared to views you cannot really be prepared for. You can look at a million photos and read as many words, but when once you get the first view of Milford Sound on a clear day you are struck by the magic of its sheer beauty, and struggle for words. It is no shame to be speechless. The big smile will not leave your face.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Forever magic
  • Cons:Too many people and flight noise at peak hours
  • In a nutshell:Despite being overrun by tourists it is a stunning place
  • Last visit to Milford Sound: Feb 2009
  • Intro Updated May 22, 2009
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Reviews (38)

Comments (7)

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Oct 26, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    The hiking must be fabulous down there, and all the great greenery to take in. What a place to preserve and behold

    • Kakapo2's Profile Photo
      Nov 2, 2013 at 2:14 PM

      Yes, Bruce, it is! But I only appreciate it in nice weather conditions - which is always a gamble in Fiordland.

  • TheWanderingCamel's Profile Photo
    Dec 16, 2009 at 5:38 PM

    I'm coming back - you have so much info here. 2010 is going to be our Milford year - an overnight cruise has a lot of appeal. Still planning. Thanks for all the work you've put in to this page. leyle

  • tracyskf's Profile Photo
    Nov 8, 2009 at 8:49 PM

    This is soooooooooo beautiful! =)

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    May 24, 2009 at 11:36 PM

    This is a great page :-)) Virtual travelling the famous Milford Sound (I might never make it in reality). And I learned a lot! Seebären... ok, this one I will remember :-) Gorgeous landscape this all is :-)

  • lynnehamman's Profile Photo
    May 23, 2009 at 3:13 AM

    Great tips Sissi- LOL! I will have to be REALLY fit when we visit New Zealand! It looks really pretty here- and must sound lovely with the bird-songs.That tunnel would scare me. But the cruises look good.

  • ViajesdelMundo's Profile Photo
    May 22, 2009 at 9:41 PM

    Beautiful, informative page! and stunning photo.....I have friends in NZ and maybe one day will get back there and see some of it! (Only had one day in Auckland in 1969 off the ship I emigrated to Australia in - P&O ORSOVA)

  • csordila's Profile Photo
    May 22, 2009 at 9:08 PM

    It is a dangerous area, is not it? Thanks, it is better to avoid it in winter. Best. L.

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