A Breadth of Beauty in Milford Sound
Milford Sound is a destination in Southland, New Zealand that has been awarded the accolade of the ‘eighth wonder of the modern world’ by Rudyard Kipling.
Milford Sound is in fact a fjord, a marine reserve, a world heritage site or simply, a deep ocean inlet that is nestled between surrounding cliff faces and was formed when formerly present glaciers became submerged into the deep sea. Situated roughly 15 Kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea, the fjord is walled by sheer rock faces that tower to almost 4,000 feet and some of which bear endearing and memorable names such as the elephant and the lion; named so as they are said to resemble the animals which give them their namesake. Also finding a home in the fjord are a series of waterfalls, two of them permanent, the Lady Bowen Falls and the Stirling Falls, and countless temporary ones which are brought with heavy rain – a pleasant consolation to the global frustration that is rainfall. These temporary waterfalls form when the water-drenched moss become saturated and stream down various rock faces into beautiful trickling cascades, lasting only a few days at a time.
Historically, Milford Sound was a haven of natural beauty for the indigenous Maori people named Piopiotahi, in which they gained masterful knowledge of their surroundings and both tide and fish feeding patterns. A deceptively narrow entry to the expansive inner fjord served to protect Milford Sound from settlers and ensured the Maori’s ownership of the area until 1812; their loss of the area albeit, tragic was indeed prolonged. In fact James Cook bypassed the area completely, wanting to avoid the steep mountainsides during his voyages and therefore remained unaware of the expansive and majestic fjord land found within. It was in the aforementioned year of 1812 that the Captain John Grono discovered the area and named it Milford Haven after his home town in Wales (Haven later became Sound when it was later renamed by John Lort Stokes). The discovery brought notoriety and the area soon became internationally renowned, bringing tourism and increased interest which led to the further discovery of surrounding areas, such as the Mackinnon Pass and the Hollyford River.
A popular way to encounter the breadth of scenery on offer is to undertake in one of the many, albeit immersive tours of the area. These tours however, are not singly walking tours but have the option of being by car, cruise helicopter or plane. The most popular tour however is a tradition that arguably acts a siren call to nature loving visitors all by itself and is one that should never be omitted from an itinerary if they truly wish to delve into the sights the area has to offer. The Milford Track was established in 1888 as a pathway between Milford Sound and lake Te Anau and was done so by a bush navigator named Quintin Mackinnon (whom gives his name to the aforementioned Pass), whom hailed from the Scotland’s Shetland isles. During that time Mackinnon himself gave guided tours through the pass, taking his visitors through his pass, Lake Ada and what was Donald Sutherland’s Hotel at the Sound.
Unlike the original journey however, you do not have to stop, turn around and repeat to get home thanks to the building of the area’s highway in 1954. The track today is a four-day affair and is punctuated with views of forests, mountain ranges, New Zealand’s breath-taking wildlife and a few stays in local huts and pit-stops. However the effort required for the journey is not one that is arduous but peaceful and rewarding, the sheer majesty of the views can only be experienced for themselves.
Ornithologists rejoice as the track provides you with the opportunity to encounter some otherwise elusive native birds, ranging from the colourful in plumage and attitude parrot, the Kea, the tui and bellbird and of course the Kiwi’s very own namesake, the kiwi.
A brilliant place to begin your wildlife encounters is in the aptly named Seal Point. At the mouth of Milford Sound, the area frequently sees seals climbing out of the water on to the rocks to rest and recline, perhaps enjoying the attention from tourists with a suspicious amount of fervour. Also found are the crested fjord land penguin and an ever-present school of dolphins trailing behind your cruise boat. However to encounter the marine life of the Milford Sound, one does not have to wait for them to emerge but go out to see them for yourself. That is because alongside diving sessions the Sound boasts an aquarium of sorts. The Milford deep underwater observatory is found in the Harrison Cove which is situated beneath the Pembroke glacier within the greater area if the Fjord land National Park. After a descent of over 10 metres, visitors are taken into an underwater viewing chamber in which panoramic views of sea creatures, corals, anemones and fish can be observed.
What makes the experiences so rich in fact is the fact that the observatory takes advantage of the ecological make-up of the fjord. The fjord is actually subject to a natural phenomenon called deep water emergence in which fresh water from rainfall sits in a layer above the sea water. The effect of this is that the fresh water blocks light from hitting the sea water and emulates an environment echoing the deep ocean but at a shallow, and visitor-friendly depth. However unlike a traditional aquarium, it is the visitors rather than the sea life that is contained; the experience is almost as if you are working as a marine biologist, and one where you meet the sights with an equal measure of awe and scientific curiosity. It is because of the deep water emergence that visitors are rewarded with the colourful and abundant variety of ocean life that are one of the many attractions that make the area a veritable natural haven, that Captain John Grono so suitable noted.
Enchanting wildlife experiences aren’t just limited to the day however, but continue to the night where illumination can be found as a by-product of the dancing New Zealand glow worm; a feat that would make any visit as numinous as one can expect in such an environment.
The Milford Sound lodge is in fact not a single building but a remote but stunning place to make base during your tour of the area, and its appeal is due to its diversity. The lodge enables visitors to stay in tents, caravan sites to shared rooms and luxury riverside chalets. It is therefore the optimal choice for specialist accommodation in the area as it provides something for any type of traveller yet provides a singularly immersive experience. The chalet’s however have boundless appeal due to the fact that two of their four walls are comprised of wholly glass windows and promote the resident to engage fully with the surrounding river and forest life.
The sights and experiences on offer in the Milford Sound and during the Milford Track are a perfect way to shoehorn yourself into the wealth of natural splendour that New Zealand is famed for, particularly if you are appreciate the sight of moss-carpeted mountains, breath-taking waterfalls and a variety of inquisitive wildlife with your morning coffee.