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New Zealand's Milford Sound

Updated on September 29, 2014

Milford Sound

Milford Sound sure looks like an amazing place. The sound is a fjord in the south west of New Zealand's South Island, within Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. It has been judged the world's top travel destination in an international survey, and is acclaimed as New Zealand's most famous tourist destination. Milford Sound is one of the 28 finalists for the Official New Seven Wonders of Nature, that will be announced in 2011.

Creative Commons photo courtesy Wikipedia/Travelers & Tinkers

Creative Commons photo courtesy Wikipedia

History and Background

Milford Sound was initially ignored by European explorers, mainly due to its narrow entry that did not appear to lead into large interior bays. Sailing ship captains such as James Cook, who bypassed Milford Sound on his journeys for just this reason, also feared venturing too close to the steep mountainsides, afraid that wind conditions would prevent escape.

While Fiordland as such remained one of the least-explored areas of New Zealand up to the 20th century, Milford Sound's natural beauty soon attracted national and international renown, and led to the discovery of the McKinnon Pass in 1888, soon to become a part of the new Milford Track, an early walking tourism trail. In the same year, the low watershed saddle between the Hollyford River and the Cleddau River was discovered, where the Homer Tunnel was to be developed about sixty years later to provide road access.

Geography and Climate

Milford Sound runs 9 miles inland from the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 3,900 ft or more on either side. Among the peaks are The Elephant at 4,980 ft, said to resemble an elephant's head, and Lion Mountain, 4,270 ft, in the shape of a crouching lion. Dense rain forests cling precariously to these cliffs, while seals, penguins, and dolphins frequent the waters and whales can often be observed.

With a mean annual rainfall of 270 inches on 182 days a year, a large amount even for the West Coast, Milford Sound is known as the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world. Rainfall can reach almost 10 inches during a span of 24 hours. The rainfall creates dozens of temporary waterfalls (as well as a number of major, more permanent ones) cascading down the cliff faces, some reaching a thousand meters in length. Smaller falls from such heights may never reach the bottom of the sound, drifting away in the wind.

Accumulated rainwater can at times cause portions of the rain forest to lose their grip on the sheer cliff faces, resulting in tree avalanches into the sound. The regrowth of the rain forest after these avalanches can be seen in several locations along the sound.

Average high temperatures range from 67F in February, to 48F in July. Average lows range from 51F in January and February to 34F during the mid-winter month of July.

Milford Sound Virtual Tour

Travel and Tourism

The breathtaking beauty of the Sound draws thousands of visitors daily, with over 550,000 total per year. This makes the sound one of New Zealand's most-visited tourist spots, and also the New Zealand's most popular tourist destination, even with its remote location and the long journey from the nearest population areas. Most tourists going to the sound also take one of the boat tours which can last up to two hours. They are offered by several companies, departing from the Milford Sound Visitors' Centre. There is also the option of extended overnight cruises on Milford Sound.

Tramping, canoeing and other water sports are also enjoyed. A number of companies also provide overnight boat trips. There is otherwise only limited accommodations at the sound, and only a very small percentage of tourists stay more than one day.

An underwater tourist observatory found in one of the bays of the sound provides viewing of black coral, usually only found in much deeper waters. A dark surface layer of fresh water, stained by tannins from the surrounding forest, allow the corals to grow close to the water's surface.

Milford Sound Items

Have You Seen Milford Sound in Person? - I would love to hear about it!

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    • NatureFan LM profile image

      NatureFan LM 4 years ago

      Yes!! It's amazing! A total must for anyone's bucket list.

    • profile image

      Redhotyogi 5 years ago

      wow awesome photo!! One of my favourite places

    • bluewren56 lm profile image

      bluewren56 lm 5 years ago

      I went to New Zealand last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it. A beautiful place to visit. We also did the 5 day Milford Track.. unbelievable! Picturesque scenery, waterfalls... just so beautiful. Tried to take pictures... but the camera just can't do justice to what is actually there. Well worth a visit.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 7 years ago

      Great places to travel and visit. I wasn't in NZ, but I love to go.

      Have a great 2011

    • PaulaMorgan profile image

      Paula Morgan 7 years ago from Sydney Australia

      Sure have and it was breathtaking. It is every bit as amazing as the photos make out

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 7 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      My hubby and I have traveled to many places in the South Pacific. I would have to vote for Milford Sound as one of my most memorable destinations. The scenery is breathtaking and well worth the boat tour!