Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s most famous tourist destinations, is a fiord in the south west of New Zealand’s South Island, within Fiordland National Park, Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) Marine Reserve, and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site.
Milford Sound runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea at Dale Point (also named after a location close to Milford Haven in Wales) – the mouth of the fiord – and is surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 1,200 metres or more on either side. Among the peaks are The Elephant at 1,517 metres, said to resemble an elephant’s head, and The Lion, 1,302 metres, in the shape of a crouching lion.
Of course, the looming presence of the South Islands most iconic mountain peak, Mitre Peak, shouldn’t be forgotten either!
Milford Sound sports two permanent waterfalls all year round, Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls. After heavy rain however, many hundreds of temporary waterfalls can be seen running down the steep sided rock faces that line the fiord. They are fed by rain water drenched moss and will last a few days at most once the rain stops.
In rainy and stormy days tourists can admire the play of the wind with the numerous waterfalls in Milford Sound. When meeting the cliff face the powerful wind often goes upward and waterfalls with a vertical drop get caught by wind, causing the water to go upwards.
The beauty of this landscape draws thousands of visitors each day, with between 550,000 and 1 million visitors in total per year. This makes the sound one of New Zealand’s most-visited tourist spots, and also the most famous New Zealand tourist destination, even with its remote location and the long journey from the nearest population centres.
Almost all tourists going to the sound also take one of the boat tours which usually last one to two hours. They are offered by several companies, departing from the Milford Sound Visitors’ Centre. There is also the option of extended overnight cruises on Milford Sound.
Backpacking, canoeing, and some other water sports are possible. A small number of companies also provide overnight boat trips. There is otherwise only limited accommodation at the sound, and only a very small percentage of tourists stay more than the day. Many tourists visiting Milford Sound usually stay in Te Anau to the south or Queenstown to the east.
An underwater tourist observatory found in one of the bays of the sound provides viewing of black coral, usually only found in much deeper waters. A dark surface layer of fresh water, stained by tannins from the surrounding forest, allows the corals to grow close to the surface here.
Incidentally, Milford Sound is the only fiord in the area accessible by road – meaning that even if you’re not so keen on being out on the water, you don’t really have an excuse to miss out on this beauty!