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Milford Sound is New Zealand’s most iconic tourist attraction. The Fiordland National Park (the country’s largest) is home to 14 spectacular fiords that have been carved out by glaciers through many ice ages and over millions of years. Of these 14 fiords, Milford Sound is considered the most spectacular, and the crowning jewel of this World Heritage area.
According to Maori legend, a god-like ancestor named Tu Te Rakiwharoa, sculpted the fiords with his Ko (digging stick). He began his work in the far south before arriving at the location of what is considered to be his finest work, Piopiotahi (Milford Sound).
A visit to New Zealand is not complete without a visit to Milford Sound and nowadays there are a few different methods of making your way there. A scenic 30 minute flight out of Queenstown is arguably the most spectacular, but for many however, the chance to drive the scenic alpine highway is also too good to miss.
Whether you are part of a coach tour or have your own vehicle, the day would start at the township of Te Anau, otherwise known as the ‘Gateway to Fiordland’. From Te Anau it is a 120 kilometre drive north along SH94 that takes you through wide open plains, dense beech woodland and high mountain passes. It is the only road in and out of Milford, making the people who live there the most isolated community in New Zealand.
Along the Milford road there are countless opportunities for photo stops. Mirror Lakes, Eglinton Valley, the Homer Tunnel, The Chasm to name but a few. If you’re driving yourself it’s worth making sure you have a map of the Milford road so you don’t miss a thing! The drive can take anywhere between 2-4 hours depending on your stops.
Once you reach the end of the road, you’ll be greeted by the stunning Mitre Peak. The country’s most photographed landmark – a towering sea cliff rising over a mile high out of the ocean floor. Find yourself a space in the car park and then take the short 10 minute walk to the Visitors’ Terminal, where you can access your cruise.
During your cruise you will learn about the history, geography and wildlife of the area through an informal and informative commentary. You will see Mitre Peak in all its 1692 metre glory. You will see and hear the roar from the 160 metre Bowen Falls. If you are lucky enough you will see seals, dolphins and the rare Fiordland crested penguin.
All in all it is an amazing experience not to be missed, but there is perhaps one thing that makes a Milford Sound cruise truly awesome – the rain! The climate in Milford is different throughout the year, and can change remarkably quickly, but there is nothing more spectacular than seeing the fiord during a heavy downpour. The Fiordland National Park is actually a designated rainforest due to the amount of rain it receives each. You can expect rain for 180 – 200 days each year, and the record for Milford Sound is 550mm (22 inches of rain) in a 24 hour period. More than most places see in a year!
Most visitors are put off by the forecast of rain, but we strongly encourage you to take a cruise when it’s raining. The unique topography of the area, (the sheer cliff faces and lack of soil on the mountains) mean that the rain quickly gathers in cracks and gullies and soon form huge torrents of water which steam down the mountain sides. In clear weather there are usually only a handful of permanent waterfalls, however during heavy rain there are literally thousands that flow into the fiord.
So whether you have sunshine or rainclouds, penguins or dolphins, you are always guaranteed to have a wonderful experience. Just don’t forget the camera!