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  • Craig Cooper Photography

Milford Sound: The Eighth Wonder of the World

Rudyard Kipling, a famous author most known for The Jungle Book, famously proclaimed New Zealand's Milford Sound as the "eighth wonder of the world". For anyone who visits this spectacular portion of Fiordland National Park, this bold proclamation rings true. We decided to see the phenomenon for ourselves, and stumbled upon some breathtaking surprises along the way.


Lake Te Anau

Milford Sound is a narrow fjord located within Fiordland National Park and is one of the most visited areas of New Zealand. We decided to stay in nearby Te Anau, a beautiful lakeside community approximately 118 kilometers (73 miles) from the entrance to Fiordland and 240 kilometers (144 miles) from Milford Sound. The drive is a scenic drive along Milford Road, with many sights to see along the way.


Our first stop of the day was at Mirror Lakes, which are a set of lakes located approximately 56 kilometers (35 miles) north of Te Anau. The lakes are a brisk 5 minute walk from the nearby parking lot, and feature calm waters with brilliant reflections of the towering Earl Mountains.


Original photograph with reflections of the Earl Mountains.

Rotated version of the above photo.

Serene, calm waters


As we continued our drive along Milford Road, we discovered Lake Gunn Nature Walk. The walk is short, flat 1.4 kilometer (0.8 mile) loop walk located along the route. This particular walk is a fairly simple one through native beech forests, and really gives you the opportunity to admire the immense amount of nature that the South Island of New Zealand offers. The walk took us about an hour to complete, and then we continued our journey towards Milford Sound.


Nice, easy trail through the beech forest.


Lake Gunn and surrounding mountains

Take a minute for a photo opportunity, or just admire the beauty.

With each mile passed, the views became more epic and fascinating in Fiordland. As an outdoor enthusiast and nature guru, the surrounding landscapes completely mesmerized me and peaked my curiosity even further regarding Milford Sound.


There are numerous ways to explore Milford Sound. Visitors may explore by air, or by water. The most common option is a boat cruise through the fjord. We decided to take the Milford Sound Nature Cruise tour by Real Journeys (www.realjourneys.co.nz). Cruises are typically available all year round, but visitors are encouraged to book in advance to secure their placement on the boat. Our tour company had a 10:30 AM or 12:55 PM departure time, with each cruise duration approximately lasting 2 hours. We decided to take the later departure in order to explore the park and give ourselves time to make the drive back to our accommodations in Te Anau.


We finally arrived to Milford Sound and were greeted with vibrant blue skies, and even arrived early enough to enjoy a walk along the boardwalk near the port and cruise departure location. The most notable peak of the fjord is arguably Mitre Peak, and the views of the peak along the boardwalk were absolutely superb. After admiring the beauty, we decided to have lunch at Discover Milford Sound Information Center & Cafe, the only cafe situated in Milford Sound.


Magnificent Milford Sound, viewed from the boardwalk near Discover Milford Sound Information Centre & Cafe.

Mitre Peak soaring above the fjord.

View of Milford Sound with the port (our cruise departure location) to the right.



After lunch, we walked along the baordwalk to the port and soon began boarding our cruise ship to explore the fjords. Upon arrival to the boat, the skies remained a vibrant blue but soon transitioned to mysterious, hazy clouds sweeping past the tops of the fjords and mountains by the time of departure.


We were highly impressed with the Real Journeys cruise ship, appropriately named the Milford Mariner. Complimentary coffee and tea were available for guests, lunch and snacks were available to purchase, and a fully stocked bar was available as well. We soon made our way to the deck of the ship to fully capture and revel in the views.


As the cruise began to depart, we were immediately welcomed with a magnificent view of Bowen Falls.


Our cruise ship, the Milford Mariner, with Mitre Peak in the distance.


Bowen Falls


Throughout the cruise, the tour guides were extremely informative and provided extensive information regarding local wildlife such as seals, penguins, bottlenose dolphins, and whales. The guides also provided knowledge regarding the history and original discovery of Milford Sound.


Thousands of years ago before the arrival of the European settlers, the local Maori people of New Zealand essentially used Milford Sound as a marine playground and food source. The Maori claimed this fjord Piopiotahi, named after the piopio (an extinct thrush-like bird). According to legend, mythical hero Maui was killed by the goddess of death Hine-nui-te-po, trying to achieve immortality for mankind. The Maori believed that upon his death, Maui's beloved piopio flew to the area of Piopiotahi to mourn his loss.


Upon discovery of the land, European settlers (such as James Cook) initially overlooked the intimidating fjord due to the narrowness of the inlet. Settlers were reluctant to enter the fjord due to the extremely difficult entry into the interior bays, the steep mountainsides, and inability to escape if severe weather conditions arose. However, it was eventually discovered by Captain John Grono in 1823. Grono then named the fjord Milford Sound after Milford Haven along the Welsh coast. As word began to spread, Milford Sound would then become known as one of the great wonders of the world.


After taking some time to learn about the history of this natural wonder, it was time to truly delve ourselves into admiring the beauty of the land. The Milford Mariner cruised through Milford Sound with the prodigious mountains plunging into the ocean in every direction. The windy cruise continued on past St. Anne's Point Lighthouse and out to the Tasman Sea, where we turned around and began our journey back through the fjord to the port.



Admiring the epic landscape

Distant view of upcoming Stirling Falls




The mountains plunge into the ocean. You could understand how intimidating this would have been for the early European explorers.


Clouds sweeping past the mountains.




On the way back to the port, we were able to witness some very photogenic wildlife. Seals napped along the rocks and many species of native birds flew overhead.


Some passengers claimed to have seen a lone Bottlenose Dolphin frolicking in the waves made by the Milford Mariner, but we were unable to catch a glimpse. The Bottlenose Dolphins that inhabit the waters of Milford Sound are the southernmost individuals of this species on the planet.


Lazy day for this guy!


One of the highlights of the cruise was getting up, close and personal to Stirling Falls. The waterfall is one of the tallest permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound, and cascades for an impressive 155 meters (508 feet). It is truly an epic sight.





The hazy day slowly turned more dusky and mystical, and by the time we arrived back to port the landscape had truly developed into an even more enigmatic landscape. We decided to have a cappuccino and relish in the views for a little bit longer before beginning our journey back to Te Anau.


Enjoying the mystifying mountains before leaving the park.



Clouds and haze slithering across Mitre Peak.

The view as we were exiting Fiordland National Park, headed back to Te Anau. What a perfect day!

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