Milford Sound is a beautiful fiord located in Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site. It has previously been judged as the world’s top travel destination in the 2008 Travellers’ Choice Destinations Awards by TripAdvisor, and was dubbed as the eighth Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling. A Milford Sound cruise is one of the New Zealand South Island attractions that is visited on our guided tour of the Land of the Long White Cloud, so we have decided to take a look at the fiord in a bit more detail below:
History and Maori Legend
The Maori are believed to have stumbled across Milford Sound over 1,000 years ago, and would return seasonally to the fiord to collect the much treasured Pounamu, which is more commonly known as Greenstone. The Maori named it Piopiotahi, after the noise made by the now extinct Piopio bird. This goes back to the legend of Maui, who tried to win immortality for mankind, but died in his attempt. After his demise, a single Piopio was said to have flown to Milford Sound in mourning, which is how it gained the name.
The modern name of Milford Sound was created in 1912, when European settler John Grono landed in the sound. He named the fiord after Milford Haven in Wales, whilst the river that flows into the head of the sound is known as the Cleddau River, also named after a Welsh counterpart.
The wildlife found both above and below the water is something to be admired. Lush rainforests cling to the cliff around the sound, while it has also been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, due to the fact it is a breeding site for Fiordland penguins. Seals and Dolphins can often be seen swimming through the waters, whilst the lucky few people might be able to spot a Whale.
Under the water, the environment is one of the most unique and captivating in the world. The high levels of rainfall found in the sound has an interesting effect on the area. As rainfall drops through the lush forestry of the area, it becomes stained, and ends up resembling the appearance of strong tea. This results in a dark surface layer, meaning that the rare black coral can be found in the fiord. It also happens that the fiord supports the world’s biggest population of these black coral trees, with around seven million colonies; some of which are up to 200 years old.
Milford Sound is located in the northern most end of the Fiordland National Park, and can be as much as 400 metres deep in some parts. Highly celebrated for its stunning landscapes and rugged, secluded beauty, it has been said that Captain Cook twice sailed past Milford Sound as he travelled the Fiordland coast. Milford Sound is actually a fiord as opposed to a sound – it was formed by the erosive effects of a glacier, whereas sounds are river formed valleys that are subsequently flooded by the sea.
Mitre Peak is the most prominent peak on the south shore of Milford Sound, as was named so due to the resemblance to a bishop’s headdress, which is known as a mitre. The peak rises 1692 metres above the water, and the peak actually consists of five very closely grouped peaks, rather than just a single, sheer one.