Described by Rudyard Kipling as one of the Wonders of the World, Milford Sound is home to some of the finest landscapes in New Zealand’s South Island. Known in Maori as Piopiotahi…meaning one piopio…a small bird like a thrush which is now extinct, it is indeed an awesome place! With a magical combination of mountain peaks, dark waters and superb forest clad cliffs,the scenery is intoxicating….to say the least.
Fjords and sounds…an introduction
A fjord ( pronounced as fiord) is a long narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs created by a glacier. There are many fjords on the coasts of Alaska, Antarctica, British Columbia,Scandinavian countries,UK and of course New Zealand. Norway probably has most of its coastline as fjords. A true fjord is formed when a glacier separation creates a U shaped valley which gets subsequently flooded by the ocean
A sound is a smaller body of water typically connected to larger sea or ocean. Sounds are often formed by seas flooding a river valley….a typical example being the Marlborough sounds of New Zealand.
Fjordland National Park
Milford Sound is located deep within the Fjordland National park which occupies the south west corner of South Island. The largest of the National parks in New Zealand, it is a World Heritage Site. The retreat of the glaciers after the ice age left U shaped valleys with sheer cliffs on either side. There are around 15 fjords here; some of them reaching 40 km inland. Some of the more famous sounds here are Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound. Several lakes lie within its boundaries…the more famous among them being Lake Te Anau.
We had heavy rains at Te Anau on the previous night and when we reached the Real journeys office, there was some uncertainty about conducting the tour due to risky conditions at the Homer tunnel. Fortunately for us; we soon embarked on the trip in a beautiful glass topped bus.
The drive took around two hours and had some amazing scenery all along.
Our first halt was at The Mirror Lakes.
About 56 km north of Te Anau and halfway to Milford Sound we had a short photo halt at Mirror Lakes. The calm waters of this group of small lakes, reflect the Earl mountains and provides great photo opportunities. A short walk along a wooden boardwalk leads one to the viewing point.
The Mirror Lake
From there we continued the drive and reached the Eglinton Valley. Here the scenery changed dramatically to steep snow covered cliffs. The Eglinton valley was the shooting location for some parts of the famous movie Lord Of The Rings.
Some pictures from Eglinton Valley..
The Eglinton Valley
Just to get the real feel of driving along to Milford, have a look at the video below
A short video of the drive to Milford Sound
There are many hiking tracks at various locations on this road which can be attempted if time permits. Since we did a day trip from Te Anau, we could not explore these. Many of these locations are beautiful and serene and provide nice short trip opportunities.
Our next destination was the Homer Tunnel. This tunnel is like a life line to Milford Sound as it was only after the completion of this tunnel that road trips to Milford sound was possible. It took 20 years to build due to the difficult terrain and climatic conditions here. The tunnel is 1.2 km long and vehicular traffic is very carefully and strictly monitored here. It is a high avalanche prone area in winter and hence poses severe challenges to the drivers.
Approaching Homer tunnel
The Hundred Falls
True to its name, this place has hundreds of small waterfalls gushing down the rocks. We had rain the previous night and perhaps that added to the number and size of these falls.
The Hundred Falls
After we reached Milford Sound, we waited at the wharf to board the Cruise that was to take us on the Sound. The Milford Mariner was our cruise boat.
The Milford Mariner
Once the cruise started, we were treated to some amazing scenery. I would have loved to remain outside on the deck but it was too cold for comfort and had to rush into the cabin for warmth.
The Beauty of Milford ….from the top deck of the boat
View from lower deck
As we cruised the Sound ,we came across innumerable waterfalls, adding to the charm. Some pictures…
Some of the waterfalls that dot the cliffs of Milford
Very often seals are found basking in the sun on the rocks….we saw some of them….here they are…
Seals basking on the rocks
According to our guide, seeing Dolphins is not such a common thing….but we did see them…adding to the feel good factor…
Dolphins at Milford sound
Enjoying the scenic beauty of Milford Sound, we returned to the wharf and to the bus to be driven back to Te Anau.
Leaving Te Anau was never going to be easy. This was one place that has given me some really cherished memories. Next day we returned to Queenstown to embark on another journey along the Haast Pass to Fox Glacier. So next week, we will be enjoying the drive along the Haast Pass in the Southern Alps.
Hope you enjoyed the tour of Milford Sound. Do give me your feedback and do subscribe below.