Great Sights Of The Milford Sound
Hidden away in the south west corner of New Zealand’s south island, Fiordland is the perfect playground for an adventurous traveler.
Bursting with contrasting textures and color, the indomitable peaks that reach out into the ocean have become one of the country’s most noted natural icons
While the view today is one of indomitable peaks reflected in the inky waters of the infinitely deep sounds, Fiordland was once enveloped by giant sheets of ice. Carving away at the rock face beneath, the glaciers of the region’s past have sculpted terrain so unique that it has become one of the most iconic landscapes on earth.
My journey across New Zealand has already taken me to an awe inspiring Dark Sky Reserve, across glacial lakes and through volcanic craters; I thought perhaps Fiordland wouldn’t have such a profound impact on me.
I must tell you right now that I was wrong.
My Journey From Te Anau
While the drive from tourist hot spot Queenstown to Te Anau, the closest town to the Milford Sound, is perhaps not the most scenic in the country it is well worth taking the time to drive into the National Park under your own steam.
Offering everything from jet boat fishing tours to scenic flights, the town is well equipped to entertain those in search of adventure.
Joining the team at Great Sights on their Milford Sound Day Tour I boarded their luxury coach and sat back as the driver navigated the road ahead.
Accessible over land only by this one single stretch of tarmac that reaches out from Te Anau into the vast wilds of the national park, the Milford Sound is perhaps the most famous of its inhabitants.
Great Sights of Fiordland National Park
The entire coach sat in silence as we followed the shore of Lake Te Anau, into the Eglinton Valley, through the Hollyford Valley and finally through the Homer Tunnel to the Milford’s Freshwater Basin.
Taking in the awe inspiring landscapes of Fiordland National Park, the trip offers an insight into the evolution of New Zealand’s mountainous terrain. A kaleidoscope of colors and a patchwork of mountain peaks washed past the window over the course of the two hour trip.
Along the route we stopped to admire the Mirror Lakes reflecting the surrounding peaks, and then again to marvel at the volume of water thundering down through The Chasm, a natural rock basin carved by the powerful Cleddau River.
The journey itself was almost as memorable as our trip out on the waters of the Milford Sound.
Exploring The Milford Sound
A picture perfect view greeted me as I stepped out of the ferry terminal and onto the dock.
No longer were there patches of grey cloud, the sun was high overhead and the fjord was hung against a backdrop of brilliant blue. The previous day of rain had invigorated the numerous waterfalls that flow down into the deep waters of the sound, and white water was falling in abundance from the peaks above.
As the boat made its way out of Freshwater Basin, so named due to the high percentage of freshwater in the harbor, Bowen Falls and Cemetery Point came into view.
I stood on the upper deck of the boat watching as the water rushed over the edge of the ridge and down into the sound below.
Patches of vibrant lime green moss clung to the rock face, and as we sailed past a rainbow appeared in the spray.
Inspiring Natural Design
There’s no shortage of scenic views to admire when you’re on the Milford Sound. The hanging valley of Sinbad Gully and the summits of Mt Phillips, Mitre Peak and Llawrenny Peak offer the chance to marvel at the sheer scale of the landscape.
Once a bountiful hunting ground for the Māori who first discovered the region, the Milford is shrouded in legend and myth.
Although rarely inhabited for long periods of time thanks to the inclement weather and its geographic isolation, it is believed that the Māori visited seasonally to collect the much prized pounamu, or green stone as it is referred to today.
Geologists will tell you that the regions unique landscape was formed by the movement of archaic glaciers that ripped through the earth thousands of years ago. However I was much more taken by the Māori legend that accounts for the region’s conception.
Demi-god Tuterakiwhanoa is said to have carved the rugged landscape from formless rock with his Te Hamo while chanting a powerful karakia.
Gradually making his way south and perfecting his technique as he went, the Milford Sound was his greatest achievement.
Gateway To The Tasman
As the boat enters the vast expanse of the Tasman Sea the walls of the fjord curved and continued along the West Coast, a vast network of fjords and coastline.
Looking back into the sound I saw for the first time the sheer scale of the landscape as another vessel appeared amid the view.
The snow-capped peaks which blanket much of Fiordland were visible either side, and in the distance the many waterfalls glistened in the sun.
Home to a number of species of marine life the sounds were one of the first locations within New Zealand to attract visiting Europeans. Attracted by the prospect of seal fur and whale meat, fishermen would visit the Milford when the weather allowed and collect these valuable commodities to sell in neighboring Australia.
Today the region’s marine life is protected and thrives in the rich waters of the sounds throughout the national park.
As we sailed past aptly named Seal Point, a colony of New Zealand fur seals were bathing in the afternoon sun. Unaware of the threats their ancestors would have faced, they seemed content to snooze despite the interest from a boat full of camera clicking tourists.
Following the same route back into the fjord and to the calm of Freshwater Basin I found my gaze locked on the view I was to leave behind. My time on the Milford was brief but it served to instill within me the desire to live forever in its vast wilderness.
The magnitude of the terrain, the wealth of contrasting colors and ever changing views were awe inspiring.
In my opinion a Milford Sound Day Tour with Great Sights is a must for anyone visiting New Zealand’s south. Whether you have the time to travel to Te Anau and pick up their coach within the National Park, or you hop aboard in Queenstown, this is a part of New Zealand you just cannot miss.
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Disclaimer: My trip was made possible by Great Sights, but all opinions expressed are my own.