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Milford Sound, New Zealand

Milford Sound is a spectacular glacier-carved fiord in the Fiordland National Park on the west coast of New Zealand and is one of New Zealand's most well known scenic attractions. On display is a spectacular combination of mountains, sheer cliffs, waterfalls, and marine life. It is the best known of a series of fiords in the park, and the only one which is accessible by road.

Technically, Milford, Doubtful and Dusky sounds are all fiords, i.e., formed by glaciers. They were incorrectly named 'sounds' by Captain Cook, who charted the region in the 1770s, but bypassed Milford Sound on his journeys for fear of venturing too close to the steep mountainsides, afraid that wind conditions would prevent escape.

John Grono was the first European to discover Milford Sound around 1812 and named it after Milford Haven in his native Wales. The fiord was officially renamed Milford Sound/Piopiotahi in 1998, as part... Read more

Milford Sound, New Zealand

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Milford Sound is a spectacular glacier-carved fiord in the Fiordland National Park on the west coast of New Zealand and is one of New Zealand's most well known scenic attractions. On display is a spectacular combination of mountains, sheer cliffs, waterfalls, and marine life. It is the best known of a series of fiords in the park, and the only one which is accessible by road.

Technically, Milford, Doubtful and Dusky sounds are all fiords, i.e., formed by glaciers. They were incorrectly named 'sounds' by Captain Cook, who charted the region in the 1770s, but bypassed Milford Sound on his journeys for fear of venturing too close to the steep mountainsides, afraid that wind conditions would prevent escape.

John Grono was the first European to discover Milford Sound around 1812 and named it after Milford Haven in his native Wales. The fiord was officially renamed Milford Sound/Piopiotahi in 1998, as part of a Treaty of Waitangi settlement with local iwi (Māori tribe) Ngāi Tahu. Overland access was severely limited until the discovery of Mackinnon Pass in 1888 and the formation of the Milford Track. The Homer Tunnel opened in 1954, providing road access to the fiord.

Hailed as the Eighth Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound has been judged as the world's top travel destination in an international survey. Over 400,000 people visit the sound every year, even though the average round trip clocks in at ten hours from Queenstown. Attempts to halve that time for visitors by drilling a new tunnel linking Routeburn and Hollyford Valleys have been strenuously quashed over the potentially huge environmental impact.

Like the rest of the west coast of New Zealand, Milford Sound receives a lot of rain. Some tour operators argue that the sound is best seen on a rainy day as all the waterfalls can be seen in their full glory. Many recommend seeing it during a sunny day and in the rain, to see both worlds as they are very different and both amazing.

It rains every second day on average, so rainwear is recommended and carry an umbrella to protect photographic equipment. Also as with most of the west coast, insect repellent is recommended as the sand flies here can be aggressive.

Once you make the spectacular journey to the fiord, there are a number of tourist boats and services to take you out to see the sights.


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Milford Sound, New Zealand: Port Information


Each year, scores of large cruise ships plying the Tasman Sea call upon Milford Sound as part of their New Zealand itinerary. Due to the size of the cruise ships, more people are getting in to see Milford Sound by sea. There is no grander way to enter a fiord than by sea.
Milford Sound is a cruise-by destination, and as such does not have a dedicated port or terminal for cruise ships. However, some ships anchor in Milford Sound, where passengers are tendered ashore to enjoy tours on smaller boats departing from the visitor terminal or to embark on overland tours to Te Anau and Queenstown organized by their cruise lines.

Get around Milford Sound, New Zealand


Cruise travelers admire the beauty of Milford Sound from their cruise ship. Usually, there's no stop. 
However, some ships can anchor and transport their passengers ashore by tender boats. Travelers can take small boat tours or take other sightseeing tours offered by their cruise companies. 

What to see in Milford Sound, New Zealand


  • Mitre Peak - rising 1,692 meters, Mitre Peak is Milford Sound’s most famous iconic attraction. The mountain is named for its distinctive shape, similar to the Mitre headwear worn by Christian bishops.
  • Lady Bowen Falls - with almost continuous rainy days, Milford Sound is home to many temporary and permanent waterfalls. The largest permanent fall is the famous Lady Bowen Falls, located at the southeast end of the sound, north of the wharf. Named after the wife of Sir George Bowen, one of New Zealand’s earliest governors, this stunning waterfall drops 160 meters from a hanging valley in the Darren Mountain Range.
  • Stirling Falls - created by glaciers situated behind the mountains, Stirling Falls is the second largest permanent waterfall, located on the north side of Milford Sound, dropping 146 meters. Some ships are able to get underneath the falling water, making the falls one of the great highlights of the Sound.
  • Spectacular scenery with wonderful wildlife, including dolphins, seals, and penguins. Of special interest is New Zealand glow worm.

What to do in Milford Sound, New Zealand


One of the most awe-inspiring ways to see Milford Sound is from the water level itself. There are two ways to do this:

Cruising

There are several boat operators who offer day cruises that pass by waterfalls and local wildlife before going out to the Tasman Sea and re-entering Milford Sound as earlier discoverers did. Most guided tours from Te Anau or Queenstown arrive in Milford around noon, so it is advisable to escape the crowds by going on an early morning or late-afternoon cruise. If you intend to take photographs, the quality of light is usually better around those times as well.

  • Mitre Peak Cruises, ☎ +64 3 249-8110, toll-free: 0800 744 633. Has smaller launches that get close to the shoreline. 
  • Southern Discoveries, ☎ +64 3 441-1137, toll-free: 0800 264 536. Runs more cruises, geared towards scenery, wildlife or both.
  • Milford Deep Underwater Observatory. This place can only be reached via one of the cruises. What they are trying to do is interesting, but they charge a lot to see the place and you get a whopping 15 minutes total there. There is not even enough time to look through the displays. 
  • Cruise Milford NZ, ☎ +64 3 398 6112, toll-free: 0800 MILFORD (645 367)FORMAT, e-mail: info@cruisemilfordnz.com. Specializes in operating smaller boats. Personal and informative crew.

Kayaking

Your proximity to the water in a kayak just serves to make you feel even smaller, and makes the Sound seem even more vast! The pros of doing it this way are that you get to go places that the big cruise ships cannot, you see a great deal more wildlife (penguins, seals etc.) as you move more quietly through the water, you are part of a small group (between 6 and 8) and so getting more personal attention from your guide, and you get some exercise in the process. Cons are that it is quite hard work and you should be prepared to get cold and wet. A good way of doing this kind of trip is on a 'one day package'. You can be picked up from your lodgings early in the morning (around 06:30) in Te Anau by minibus and driven to Milford, where you're kitted out with all the relevant kayak and safety gear and given waterproof bags to take cameras and food with you. The trip lasts until late afternoon (lunch is taken in your kayaks in the middle of the Sound) and you'll arrive back in Te Anau about 18:00.

What to eat and drink in Milford Sound, New Zealand


There is only one place to eat and drink in Milford Sound if you did not bring food in with you, and it is the Blue Duck Cafe & Bar. The cafe offers breakfast and lunch, while dinner is found at the bar. Snacks, drinks, and coffee are also available at the cafe. Montieth's is available on tap. 

Some cruises run with meal options on board.

Shopping in Milford Sound, New Zealand


There is very, very little 'shopping' in Milford - just a few merchandise items - eg postcards, books, posters, etc. A small grocery shop at Milford Sound Lodge sells many of the basics and is open daily 08:00–21:00 in the summer.

Safety in Milford Sound, New Zealand


Occasionally the road into the fiord is closed due to landslides, or snowfall during winter. It pays to be aware of the conditions, especially if you are driving yourself.

Language spoken in Milford Sound, New Zealand


English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language are the official languages of New Zealand. 

LOCAL TIME

7:45 pm
October 22, 2019
Pacific/Auckland

CURRENT WEATHER

2.97 °C / 37.346 °F
light rain
Wed

4.32 °C/40 °F
heavy intensity rain
Thu

3.18 °C/38 °F
light snow
Fri

8.69 °C/48 °F
broken clouds
Sat

9.13 °C/48 °F
heavy intensity rain

LOCAL CURRENCY

NZD

1 USD = 0 NZD
1 EUR = 0 NZD
1 GBP = 0 NZD
1 AUD = 0 NZD
1 CAD = 0 NZD

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