Milford Sound a glacier carved fiord runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 1200 metres or more on either side. Lush rain forests cling precariously to these cliffs, while seals, penguins, and dolphins frequent the waters.
With a mean annual rainfall of 6813 mm on 182 days a year, a high level even for the West Coast, Milford Sound is known as the wettest place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world. Rainfall can reach 250 mm 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.
The natural beauty of this landscape draws thousands of visitors each day, with over 550,000 in total per year. This makes the Sound one of New Zealand's most visited tourist spots, and also the most famous New Zealand tourist destination, even with its remote location and the long journey from the nearest population centres. Almost all tourists going to the sound also take one of the boat tours which usually last between 1-2 hours. They are offered by several companies, departing from the Milford Sound Visitors' Centre.
Hiking (tramping, in New Zealand English) and canoeing are also possible. A small number of companies also provides overnight boat trips. There is otherwise only limited accommodation at the sound, and only a very small percentage of tourists stay more than the day.
An underwater observatory 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, allows the corals to grow close to the surface here.
Milford Sound is located about five hours' drive from Queenstown, many tour buses to the Sound depart from there, with some tourists also departing from the closer (and much smaller) tourism centre of Te Anau. There are also scenic flights by light aircraft and helicopter tours. The drive to Milford Sound itself passes through unspoiled mountain landscapes before entering the 1.2-kilometer Homer Tunnel which emerges into rain-forest carpeted canyons that descend to the sound. The mountain road is very winding, and while of high standards, very prone to avalanches and closures during the winter half of the year.
The long distance to the Sound means that tourist operators from Queenstown all depart very early in the day, arriving back only late in the evening - this ensures that most tourists visit Milford Sound within a few hours around midday, leading to some congestion on the roads and at the tourist facilities during the main season. This peak time demand is also the reason for the large number of tour boats available at the Sound at the same time.
Over the years, various options of short-cutting the distance to Milford Sound from Queenstown have been mooted, including a gondola route, a new tunnel from Queenstown, or a monorail from near Lake Wakatipu to Te Anau Downs. All would cut short the long round trip via Te Anau, thus allowing tourism to be spread out over more of the day. While the Gondola is considered to be out of the running after the DOC refused it for environmental reasons, the two other options are aiming to start consenting processes in 2007.
Milford Sound can also be reached on foot as the final destination of the several-day Milford Track.
Milford Sound Webcam Image
Click on the words Milford Sound Webcam to view the latest upload
Lord of the Rings
- Fiordland Bottlenose Dolphins (blog and information about conservation projects)
- Milford Sound - Destination Fiordland (regional tourism organisation)
- Panoramic 360° video of Milford Sound (from worldinmotionvr.com, requires Quicktime)
This article uses material from Wikipedia, "Milford Sound, New Zealand".