As you drive along the Milford Road and through the valley with its steep forest slopes to either side and the flat grassy plain at its base, you are travelling along a path carved out by ancient glaciers thousands of years ago.
The Eglinton Valley is one of only a few places in New Zealand with large areas of lowland beech forest. There are plants and wildlife here that you won’t find anywhere else in the world, including more than 30 rare, threatened or endangered species. This is why Fiordland National Park is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Area – to protect and preserve this unique part of Aotearoa.
One of the must-see stops on the way to Milford Sound is the Mirror Lakes Viewpoint. The Mirror Lakes in the Eglinton Valley form part of the largest system of inland waterways in New Zealand. Intact river systems like these are becoming increasingly rare on an international scale.
The Mirror Lakes were created when the Eglinton River shifted its course, leaving these two river bends behind to form what is known as ‘oxbow’ lakes.
Stunningly scenic, they provide breathtaking reflections of the mountain ranges opposite that draw thousands of tourists here every year in search of the perfect photo op. However, they’re also a habitat for many animals, including some of our rarest birds.
New Zealand’s smallest duck, the scaup or pāpango, live in the Mirror Lakes and other Eglinton Valley waterways, as do the grey duck or pārera. Under the water you’ll find long-finned native eels, as well as brown and rainbow trout which were introduced in the 1800s.
The surrounding beech forest of the Eglinton Valley is home to a host of birdlife, as well as New Zealand’s only land mammals: bats (pekapeka). Our short-tailed bat is a fascinating creature – unlike other bats it has evolved to be able to crawl about on the forest floor and forage for food.
Further along the Eglington Valley is Knobs Flat, which was once the site of a small village where the labourers building the Homer Tunnel lived in tough conditions. It’s now a great place to stop, use the bathroom and look across the valley at the waterfalls tumbling down the steep cliff faces, like dangling silver ribbons in the dark green forest.
You’ll visit selected highlights of the Eglinton Valley on a day tour to Milford Sound – but if you have time, come back and spend a while here. There are short and multi-day walks to satisfy everyone from seasoned hikers to casual walkers.
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