Travel to Milford Sound, New Zealand
What is Milford Sound? Why Milford Sound is so special? What to see in the area of Milford Sound? How to reach Milford Sound?
Milford Sound is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in all the New Zealand. The scenery of this Fiordland is just indescribable and we are sure that everyone who has visited this place has left it with a little piece of admiration and a pinch of miracle in the heard. And in this article we will introduce you to this wonder of the world, at least a little bit!
What is Milford Sound?
Milford Sound is a fiord in the south-west of New Zealand’s South Island, located in Fiordland National Park. Yeah, Milford is actually a fiord, not a sound. You see, sound in geography is a marine geographic formation that may be formed when a river valley is flooded by seawater, usually, it`s wider than a fjord and can be called as a sea or ocean inlet. At the same time, a fjord is carved out by a large body of ice, usually, that is present or past glaciation, located below the sea level. And, as Milford Sound was formed by a process of glaciation over millions of years, it cannot be considered as sound. Though, even with this name-giving mistake, this place will probably never change it due to the gained popularity. But at least now you know the difference!
This fiord remained undiscovered by Europeans until captain John Grono found it in 1812. He named the place Milford Haven after his homeland in Wales – a town, situated on the north side of the Milford Haven Waterway, forming a natural harbor that has been used as a port since the Middle Ages. Though by the time Milford Haven was renamed to Milford Sound and it has been called this ever since.
But even if Milford Sound has a history of European discoverers and explorations, Maori had lived here long before that. We can tell you also a legend from Maori culture about the birth of this place. Te Wahipounamu or the south west corner of the South Island of New Zealand was formed when the four sons of Rakinui, the Sky Father, came down from the heaven and started a journey around Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother. During this journey, their canoe hit a reef and brothers were left aground on the shore. An icy wind from the Tasman Sea froze them into the peaks of Southern Alps and their canoe became the South Island of New Zealand. Beautiful, isn`t it?
Milford Sound itself can be measured as 16 kilometres long from the mouth of the fiordland to the Tasman Sea. Here you will see rocky cliffs that that rise more than 1200 metres above the water and amazing waterfalls – especially when it is raining as rain creates countless temporary waterfalls. Milford Sound is a spectacular and very special place.
Why Milford Sound is so special?
Well, there is no wonder that Milford Sound welcomes around 1 million visitors a year. And now we will tell you, why.
Let`s start with the wildlife here. That`s just incredible. In this area, you will see the world`s only alpine parrot kea, seals, penguins, southernmost bottlenose dolphins, and even whales! The national park is also home to the rare and endangered takahe, a large flightless bird and flightless kiwis. Also, carnivorous land snails, the only large populations remaining of käkä and käkäriki – yellow-crowned parakeet, as well as New Zealand’s only land mammals – short-tailed bats that unlike other bats have evolved to be able to crawl about on the forest floor and forage for food.
South west part or New Zealand`s South Island is the largest and least modified area of New Zealand’s natural ecosystems with intact fauna and flora. This region contains very significant examples of plant succession after glaciation. Fresh-water, temperate rainforest and alpine ecosystems – all of that is here! New Zealand`s highest mountains, tallest forests, longest glaciers and wildest rivers – this is why this area is so special!
The area is an important source of pounamu greenstone or jade, which is used in Maori culture for making tools, weapons, and jewelry.
Milford Sound is also known as the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world. It gets an annual rainfall of more than 6 metres. Well, of course, this creates some difficulties as trees lose their grip and landslides or avalanches occur often.
This landscape that consists of waterfalls and lakes, fjords, wetlands, cliffs, and rocky coasts will take your breath away. And yeah, it`s also special just because finally you have a place without wifi or coverage. A perfect way to be with nature!
Must-See places in the area of Milford Sound
Milford Sound is perfect for different outdoor activities like hiking, canoeing, overnight boat trips and many more. And here we can tell you some of the best stops on the way to Milford Sound. Do not miss these!
On the way to Milford Sound you will drive through a lovely town of Te Anau, which is called the Gateway to the Fiords. This is also the last place you will be able to find ATMs, grocery stores, and have your WiFi. Te Anau is located on the shore of the largest lake in the South Island. It is home to the earliest European settlement in the area and the main starting point for the Milford Track. Here the places worth visiting are Te Ana-Au limestone caves and Te Anau Bird Sanctuary. You can also enjoy cycling, scuba diving, fishing and jet boating here!
One spectacular place on the way to Milford Sound is the Mirror Lakes, located in Eglinton Valley. Mirror Lakes are famous for the way they reflect surrounding scenery. Here is a small walking platform trough native forest from which you can catch stunning photos. And, if you are lucky, you will see New Zealand’s smallest duck, the scaup or pāpango, and the grey duck or pārera, also long-finned native eels and rainbow trout that live in the Mirror Lakes.
After the Mirror Lakes, you will see a place called Knobs Flat that was the site where workers building the road to Milford Sound stayed until the 1980s. Well, this is a place you can find restrooms, accommodation, information and a public telephone. There are also some hiking tracks and bird watching spots around.
Another wonderful place is Monkey Creek, located within the Hollyford Valley. Monkey Creek is a glacier-fed spring – so the water is drinkable and amazingly clear, much better than one from the store! There won`t be any monkeys around the creek, but most likely you will encounter the world`s only alpine parrots, keas, that will try to snatch some goods you are carrying, or even peck your car.
On the way to Milford Sound you will definitely cross the Homer Tunnel, a 1,2 km-long tunnel through a solid rock. It is very special as before this tunnel was built in 1954 there was no road access to Milford Sound! The tunnel passes through the Darran mountain range, 945 metres above sea level. It is named after William Henry Homer, European settler who worked in the Fiordland area as a surveyor in the 1800s. It is said that Homer was the first who suggested the idea of constructing a tunnel under the mountains that would bring a road to Milford Sound. The construction of the tunnel lasted for 19 years of construction. At first a team of just five men worked with pickaxes to carve the rock. Of course, over the time the number or workers increased, but they stilled worked in very hard conditions. Tunnel construction was delayed by World War II, and a large avalanche after, but finally there is this one link that allows us to visit Milford Sound!
After passing through the Homer Tunnel, you will find yourself in the Cleddau Valley with steep mountain ranges on either side. This is a stunning place, so you probably find yourself stuck to the window of the car or bus. Though Cleddau Valley is the one where avalanches occur often, denying further access to Milford Sound, so be careful here!
On the way you will also pass by Chasm – a series of waterfalls just in a short distance from the road. There is a track trough native forest leading you to the Chasm that was formed by the Cleddau River being forced through a narrow rocky valley on its course down from the mountains. Over the centuries, waterfalls have transformed the surrounding rocks into basins, so the view here seems just unreal.
Before your destination you will travel past some historic bridges, one across the Cleddau River. This is also a place to stop to see the rapid waters running over the huge round rocks.
And there you are – you have reached the Milford Sound!
How to get to the Milford Sound?
Now we know what Milford Sound is, why it is worth visiting and what to see on the way there. But, finally, how to get to reach Milford Sound?
The way to Milford Sound is just spectacular – there`s no doubt you will have a wish to stop every 5 minutes to adore the scenery. There are several options to reach Milford Sound. Either you choose to take the journey in your hands and drive a car or just sit back and relax relying on the bus driver, or even fly over the snowcapped peaks – this will be stunning tour. Take a look at the possible options and choose the one that fits you the best!
Ride in a tour coach. There are plenty tour companies offering coach tours to Milford Sound. You can check them out in internet or look around in the place you are staying at the moment – there will definitely be someone offering an excursion to this special place. Milford Sound coaches are arriving at the fiord right before the cruise boats depart – there is an option to buy the coach tour including the Milford Sound cruise.
Yes for the coach? No stress, no thinking, no worrying. Rely on your driver – you will be taken to places on the way for photography, you will be advised on the facilities, you will be taken care of. You will hear interesting commentary thus getting to know more about the place. Your questions will be answered.
No for the coach? Well, you are not the boss here anymore. Coping with the group could be hard if there are unpleasant passengers. Also, you cannot stop everywhere you wish and you cannot regulate the time you spend on the spot.
Ride in a local bus. Yeah, there is a possibility to book one-way or return bus travel to Milford Sound. Choose InterCity – New Zealand’s largest bus network. These buses also arrive on time for the cruise ship departure, so no problem with that. There are also some bus passes that can save you some money, e.g., FlexiPass that is based on hours of travel and provides access to the entire national network of InterCity’s services. Also, TravelPass that provides nationwide bus travel on pre-planned routes.
Yes for the bus? Again, no stress and no worrying. You will reach Milford Sound for the cruise on time! This can also be cheaper option than the coach and there is no obligation for you to go away from Milford Sound the same day if you have changed your plans after seeing this spectacular place.
No for the bus? This time you most likely won`t hear the interesting commentary that coach guide provides and also you might skip some scenic spots.
Driving a car. If you have your own car or if you have rented a car, this is the route to take! That, of course, will allow you to be your own boss and enjoy everything in your own pace. Though there are some important things to keep in mind – remember that you will be sharing the road with many other cars, buses, even bicyclists. And the traffic here is huge! On one hand, it`s good, as if something happens, there will be someone to ask for help. On the other hand, more often accidents happen in heavy traffic, especially if the road is taken over by tourists that might even get confused on the sides of the road. Ensure you have water, food and petrol with you. There are no coverage or WiFi along the way. The road can be slippery, flooded and landslides can occur. Follow the weather conditions and respect all the road signs.
Yes for the car? Everything is in your hands – the places to see, the time spent in every place, the resting time and driving time. And you don`t have to share this ride with anybody – all the beauty by yourself! This also can be cheaper option as car rental and petrol in total will cost less than a coach ride.
No for the car? As we already said, everything is in your hands – if something happens with your car or even with you, you have to take the action. You will miss interesting commentary that coach guide provides and you have to keep track on time to reach the cruise boat on time.
Taking the plane. Yeah, you can actually reach Milford Sound also by a small plane or in a helicopter. The most common starting point for this option is Queenstown, but you can find flights from other South Island destinations as well. This will be scenic flight over all those mountain peaks, rivers, lakes and waterfalls. You can choose to land in Milford Sound for a cruise or see this beauty from the air without landing.
Yes for the plane? This will be much quicker, so you won`t need to spend ten hours in a vehicle trough windy roads. Also, the views from the top will show you something spectacular – finally you would be ale to see this wast area of the national park that cannot be imagined when driving inside it.
No for the plane? Firstly, this is a much more expensive way to experience Milford Sound. Also, you will miss all those scenic spots on the way. But hey, you can take a ride to Milford Sound and take the plane back!
Well, we hope that this information will help you to orientate around Milford Sound – to understand, what is it, why you definitely should go there, what to see and how to reach it. We wish you to enjoy this spectacular journey!