Milford Sound is the most famous fjord on the southwestern tip of New Zealand’s southern island. Like the fjords in the northern hemisphere, Milford Sound is the result of many thousands of years of huge glacier activity.
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These places are known for the fjords and coves that glaciers dug into the ocean some 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, plus it’s the only cove that can be reached by highway. This immense and majestic area of forests and mountains, lakes and waterfalls is also famous for being home to the best hiking trails for tourists coming to New Zealand.
Milford Sound, the heart of Fiordland National Park, remains a living monument to the first true forests that appeared on our planet and other amazing natural phenomena.
Geologically speaking, Milford Sound is a classic marine fjord that emerged millions of years ago. It owes its existence to the glacier. Melting glaciers generated streams that made their way to the sea and pushed apart rocks and stones. Over time, the glaciers melted, leaving behind deep U-shaped valleys that quickly filled with water due to the rising level of the world’s oceans. One of these valleys is the well-known Milford Sound, which runs 15 kilometers inland from the shores of the Tasman Sea. Steep granite walls, forming its shores, rise to a height of 1200 m.
Milford Sound is an example of untouched wilderness, a landscape of completely unique flora and fauna. A rain forest grows on its rocky cliffs, with trees desperately clinging to the bare rocks with their roots. Mosses and lichens cover the entire free space. And on all this from a height of 1,700 meters the cliffs, topped with eternal snow, look out.
Above the far end of the strait is dominated by Mitra Peak, 1,692 meters high, named for its shape resembling the headdress of a Catholic bishop, reflected in the crystal clear water. Overhangs and small waterfalls cascade down the granite cliffs, the result of recent heavy rains. There are at least a thousand different waterfalls to be counted around Milford Sound. The ever-changing light, swooping clouds, shimmering lights, rainstorms, and suddenly appearing rainbows add to the beauty of this picturesque place. It is known that Captain Cook passed the entrance to Milford Sound twice, in 1770 and 1773, because on both occasions the strait was closed by fog. The strait was named by John Grono, captain of a seal-hunting ship, who discovered the entrance to the strait in 1822 and named it after his home place in Wales, Milford Haven.
The Milford Trail is a four-day hike from Te Anau Lake, through Mackinnon Pass to Milford Sound. The route is known among hikers as one of the most beautiful in the world because it features rapids, mountain passes, alpine meadows, rain forest, and Sutherland Falls, one of the highest in the world. If hiking isn’t to your liking, cruise to the mouth of the bay and see Sinbad Gully, a classic glacial valley home to endangered kakapo, as well as seals and dolphins. Even penguins can be seen here in the fall.
Milford Sound is one of the wettest places on Earth, with up to 7,000 mm of rainfall per year. It rains every day and it affects the character of the forest – the giant trees are covered with moss and vines, lichens and ferns grow here, the forest is very wet. Hikers can count on sunshine for a few hours closer to noon, but in the afternoon a downpour is sure to overtake them.
The waters of Milford Sound are inhabited by many seals, penguins, and dolphins. The Milford Deep research station allows scientists and tourists to “peek” into the underwater world. With such an abundance of small birds is impossible to do without predators: in the depths of the fjord dissects the water column numerous sharks. You can also see the unique coral reefs, including the rarest species – black corals. The water in Milford Sound is so clear that even in the deepest places you can see the bottom, unless, of course, it is obscured by dense algae.
Milford Sound Fjord.
Milford Sound is a spectacular fjord in New Zealand which nobody can get enough of. Visited here Kipling enthusiastically proclaimed that it is the real wonder of the world … the eighth in the list of seven recognized wonders.
And one can hardly disagree with the famous English writer, seeing with his own eyes this picturesque fiord, much like the impressive fjords of Norway and not inferior to them in beauty.
Myths and Real History
The native inhabitants of the New Zealand Maori Islands associated this grandiose creation of nature with an interesting legend about the legendary hero Maui, who, accompanied by the Piopio Bird, went to the gods in order to get immortality for his people. The young man died in an unequal battle, and the bird flew inconsolably over the bay for a long time.
This legend bequeathed the name Piopiotahi to the New Zealand fjord, which roughly translates as “the lonely bird of Piopio. The modern name of one of the most majestic fjords of New Zealand was given in the 20s of the 19th century by whaler John Grono.
Scientists determine quite prosaic history of the appearance of New Zealand’s most beautiful fjord Milford Sound, which, according to their calculations, appeared in the Ice Age – more than 20 thousand years ago, when a giant rift appeared among the rocks. When the glaciers began to melt, the crevasse was flooded by the waters of the Tasman Sea, and over the centuries it has formed its own special microcosm.
For a long time mariners did not dare to explore the New Zealand fjord, because it seemed to them that no other bays worthy of attention could be hidden behind its narrow entrance. Even the chief explorer of New Zealand – English seafarer James Cook bypassed his attention to this place for fear of running aground. So, until the early 19th century, when Groeno visited here, the opportunities to travel on Milford Sound were known only to the Maori.
The special world of Milford Sound
The microclimate formed within Milford Sound Fjord is characterized by high humidity. Thus, of the three days of travel in this unique place of New Zealand, at least two days will be rainy, which is a usual phenomenon here.
The water in Milford Sound is unique not only because of its impressive saturated colors, but also because of its interesting division into three layers, each of which has its own specific features.
At the very bottom of this New Zealand fjord, the water is sea-like and serves as a home for mussels and unique black corals. The middle layer is salt water mixed with fresh water, and is home to numerous starfish and crustaceans.
The upper layer of the fjord is almost fresh because of the water flowing down from the streams and numerous waterfalls falling from the mountains, one of the most picturesque attractions of Milford Sound. It is the heterogeneity of the waters of the fjord and the waterfalls near it that is responsible for the large amount of sedimentfall in these areas.
Even when it’s not raining, there’s a misty haze in the air and you can still feel the humidity from the water spray from the rushing down the mountain.
By boat to the land of waterfalls
About 20km long, the New Zealand Fjord is about 3km wide and flanked by dramatic, steep cliffs up to 1.5km high where waterfalls cascade down.
The highest rocks are the Lion and the Elephant, which received such names for their resemblance to the designated animals. It is worth noting that the majestic cliffs go under the water to a depth of 400 meters.
In addition to the numerous waterfalls, the noisy waters of which you can admire all year round, in the neighborhood of Milford Sound after heavy rains a lot of small temporary waterfalls appear, fed at the expense of accumulated rainwater in the moss of the rocks.
Boat cruises are one of the best options for visiting Milford Sound in New Zealand because you don’t have to adjust to the weather conditions. Although, it is worth noting that admiring the colorful spectacle of the impressive waterfalls of the New Zealand fjord is best in sunny weather, and in the rain their enchanting beauty just hides in a foggy haze. After a day of rain, though, you can catch a glimpse of the stunning rainbows over the fjord.
If you are lucky, during a trip to Milford Sound you may see a rare species of dolphin inhabiting the waters of the fjord. Kayaking tours are also popular here.
Hiking along the Milford Trail
In addition to the water, there are a number of hiking trails that allow you to admire the most remote and scenic surroundings of Milford Sound Fjord. One of the most popular trails is the Milford Trail, many sections of which were the filming locations of the Lord of the Rings movie saga. The majestic cliffs, like the guardians of this realm of nature frozen in stone, rise proudly above the fjord and are reflected in its dark blue waters.
Unfortunately, the Piopio, the thrush of Maori lore, is no longer to be found in the fjord’s vicinity. This bird, like the bird symbol of Mauritius, the dodo, is one of the extinct species. But here you can meet other unique birds – a rare wingless sultan and cockapo parrot, hiding in a burrow during the day.
New Zealand has many interesting places to see and fascinating itineraries for an unforgettable yachting experience. Milford Sound Fjord is one of those Maori sites that you don’t want to visit if you haven’t been to New Zealand. So if you’re planning a trip across the country’s water, add Milford Sound, one of the world’s most beautiful fjords, to your list of must-see destinations in order to appreciate the poetic truth behind this natural wonder.