stirling falls and milford sound

I had just spent 4 spectacular days walking the Milford Track and there is an amazing natural feature that awaits you at the end of the the trek. Milford Sound. You don’t just have to take my word for it. Even Rudyard Kipling described it as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’

Nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s breathtaking Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound stands as a testament to the country’s unrivaled natural beauty. With its dramatic cliffs, undulating mountains, and crystal-clear waters, this spectacular fiord never fails to captivate all who visit.

Immerse yourself in an awe-inspiring world as you cruise through the sheer rock faces that tower majestically above you. The grandeur of Mitre Peak, the tallest mountain in the area, will leave you spellbound as you take in the panoramic views stretching before you.

Mitre Peak at milford sound

Milford Sound is more than just a visual delight – it is alive with wildlife that calls this stunning landscape home. Marvel at the playful seals basking on the rocks and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins gracefully gliding alongside your vessel.

BaldHiker Retreats

Whether you choose to explore by kayak, hike along the dramatic trails, or simply soak in the serenity of this untouched paradise, Milford Sound captures the essence of New Zealand’s natural wonders. Discover the magic for yourself and create memories that will last a lifetime in this pristine corner of the world.

I was so lucky. This is one of the wettest inhabited places on earth. With on average 182 days rain a year and nearly 7,000 mm of rain with it I took every opportunity to enjoy a day there in hazy sunshine.

looking down milford sound

The geological formation of Milford Sound

Milford Sound is a fiord located on the southwest coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It was formed thousands of years ago by the erosive power of glaciers carving through the imposing mountains of the Fiordland National Park. As the glaciers retreated, the sea flooded the U-shaped valleys, creating the deep fjords that we see today. The result is a breathtaking landscape of sheer cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and serene waters that reflect the surrounding peaks.

One of the most iconic features of Milford Sound is Mitre Peak, which rises sharply from the water to an impressive height of 1,692 meters (5,551 feet). This towering mountain adds to the dramatic beauty of the fiord and is often shrouded in mist, enhancing its mystical allure. The geological wonders of Milford Sound make it a destination that truly showcases the incredible forces of nature at work.

milford sound in Fiordland

How did Milford Sound get its name?

When Captain Cook first discovered the area he sailed past many of the entrances to the narrow fjords like this one with high steep mountainsides. This lead to the naming of other nearby Fjords like ‘Doubtful Sound’.

The discoverer of this particular fiord was John Grono who was from Milford Haven in Wales. He chose his homestead to name it after, Milford. The Welsh name connections continue up here in the mountains with nearby Pembroke Mountain or even the river that flows into Milford Sound, The Cleddau River.

Milford later became Milford Sound but that is due to early settlers not knowing their difference between a Fjord and a Sound.

mountain beside milford sound

Milford is not technically a Sound

In simple terms the difference between a sound and a fjord. A sound is created by a river and a fjord is carved out and created by a glacier.

So as Milford Sound was carved by glaciers it is technically a fjord. But hey they didn’t know back when.

seals on a rock

Wildlife in Milford Sound

Milford Sound is not only a feast for the eyes but also a haven for wildlife. The diverse ecosystem supports a range of species, both on land and in the water. As you cruise through the fiord, you may be lucky enough to spot New Zealand fur seals lounging on the rocks, soaking up the sun’s warmth. These playful creatures are a delight to observe as they frolic in the water and interact with one another.

Another highlight of a visit to Milford Sound is the opportunity to encounter dolphins. Several species of dolphins can be found in the area, including the common dolphin and the rare Hector’s dolphin. These intelligent creatures often swim alongside boats, showcasing their acrobatic skills and bringing joy to all who witness their playful antics.

fur seals at milford sound

Milford Sound is also home to a variety of bird species, including the graceful Fiordland crested penguin and the New Zealand robin. Keep your eyes peeled for these feathered friends as they flit and soar through the air, adding to the enchantment of the natural surroundings.

Activities and attractions in Milford Sound

Milford Sound offers a wide range of activities and attractions for visitors to enjoy. Whether you prefer to explore the fiord by boat, kayak, or on foot, there is something for everyone in this natural wonderland.

One of the most popular ways to experience Milford Sound is by taking a cruise. There are several cruise operators that offer a variety of options, from short scenic cruises to overnight adventures. These cruises allow you to get up close and personal with the towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and abundant wildlife of the fiord. Knowledgeable guides provide commentary throughout the journey, sharing fascinating insights into the history, geology, and ecology of the area.

bowen falls milford sound

On my cruise out to the Tasmanian sea and back, all the way through the fjord I was mesmerised by the sight of Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls. Just like Mitre Peak, I had seen so many photos of them and realised that you need to see them with our own eyes to to see the scale and beauty of them.

stirling falls at milford sound

For those seeking a more active adventure, kayaking is an excellent option. Paddle through the tranquil waters of the fiord, exploring hidden coves and getting a unique perspective on the stunning landscape. Guided kayaking tours are available for all skill levels, making it accessible to both beginners and experienced paddlers.

Hiking enthusiasts will be delighted by the numerous trails that wind their way through the Fiordland National Park. The Milford Track, often referred to as one of the world’s greatest walks, takes you on a multi-day journey through awe-inspiring scenery. For those looking for a shorter hike, the Key Summit Track offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and lakes.

bowen falls at milford sound

Best time to visit Milford Sound

Milford Sound can be visited year-round, each season offering its own unique charm. However, the weather and conditions can vary greatly, so it’s essential to plan your visit accordingly.

During the summer months of December to February, Milford Sound experiences milder temperatures and longer daylight hours. This is the peak tourist season, with larger crowds and higher demand for accommodation and activities. However, the clear skies and warmer weather make it an ideal time for outdoor exploration and cruising.

Autumn, from March to May, brings cooler temperatures and stunning foliage as the leaves change color. The crowds begin to thin out, allowing for a more peaceful and intimate experience. The waterfalls are also at their most impressive during this time, as the rainfall increases.

Winter in Milford Sound, from June to August, offers a different kind of beauty. Snow-capped mountains, misty mornings, and quiet serenity create a magical atmosphere. While the weather can be colder and wetter, the stunning vistas and the opportunity to witness the fiord in a more tranquil state make it a worthwhile visit.

Spring, from September to November, is a time of renewal and rejuvenation in Milford Sound. The days become longer, and the flowers start to bloom, adding bursts of color to the landscape. The waterfalls are still flowing strongly from the melting snow, creating a mesmerizing sight.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Milford Sound depends on your preferences and what you hope to experience. Regardless of the season, the fiord’s natural beauty and captivating allure are sure to leave a lasting impression.

view from a cruise on milford sound

How to get to Milford Sound

Milford Sound is located in a remote part of New Zealand’s South Island, surrounded by pristine wilderness. While it may be a little off the beaten path, the journey to Milford Sound is an adventure in itself.

The most common way to reach Milford Sound is by road. The nearest town with regular transport links is Te Anau, which is approximately 120 kilometers (75 miles) away. From Te Anau, you can drive along the picturesque Milford Road, a scenic route that takes you through the heart of the Fiordland National Park. The drive itself is a highlight, with awe-inspiring vistas at every turn.

If you prefer not to drive, there are also various bus tours available from Queenstown or Te Anau. These tours provide an informative and hassle-free way to reach Milford Sound, allowing you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey.

For those seeking a more unique experience, helicopter or small-plane flights are available from Queenstown. These flights offer a bird’s-eye view of the stunning landscapes and allow you to reach Milford Sound in a fraction of the time it takes by road.

Milford Sound cruises and tours

Milford Sound cruises are the most popular way to experience the fiord’s beauty up close. Several operators offer a range of options to suit different preferences and budgets.

Scenic cruises are the most common type of cruise, allowing you to leisurely explore the fiord while taking in the breathtaking scenery. These cruises usually last between one to two hours and provide ample opportunity to see the iconic landmarks, such as Mitre Peak and the stunning waterfalls.

cruise boat on milford sound

For those looking for a more immersive experience, overnight cruises are available. Spend a night on a boat, surrounded by the tranquility of the fiord. Wake up to the sound of birdsong and enjoy a delicious breakfast while taking in the serene surroundings. These cruises often include guided kayaking or small boat excursions to further explore the hidden corners of Milford Sound.

If you prefer a more intimate experience, private charters are also available. Charter a boat with a knowledgeable skipper who can tailor the experience to your specific interests. This option allows for a personalized and flexible journey through the fiord.

In addition to cruises, there are also several guided tours available that combine a visit to Milford Sound with other attractions in the area. These tours provide a comprehensive experience, allowing you to explore the highlights of the Fiordland National Park while learning from knowledgeable guides.

steep valley side at milford sound

Accommodation options in Milford Sound

While there are no accommodation options directly in Milford Sound, there are several nearby options that allow you to stay in the heart of this natural wonderland.

For those seeking a more adventurous experience, camping is available at the Milford Sound Lodge. Nestled among the trees, the lodge offers powered and non-powered campsites, as well as basic cabins. Wake up to the sounds of nature and enjoy the convenience of being in close proximity to the fiord.

If you prefer more comfortable accommodations, there are several lodges and hotels in the nearby town of Te Anau. These options provide a range of amenities, from budget-friendly motels to luxury lodges. Te Anau also offers a wider range of dining options and services, making it a convenient base for exploring the Fiordland National Park.

dramatic landscape at milford sound

Tips for visiting Milford Sound

1. Book in advance: Milford Sound is a popular destination, so it’s recommended to book your accommodation, tours, and cruises in advance, especially during the peak season.

2. Pack for all weather: The weather in Milford Sound can be unpredictable, so it’s important to pack layers and be prepared for changing conditions. Bring a waterproof jacket, comfortable shoes for hiking, and sunscreen.

3. Bring a camera: Milford Sound offers countless photo opportunities, so make sure to bring a camera to capture the stunning landscapes and wildlife. Don’t forget spare batteries and memory cards.

4. Respect the environment: Milford Sound is a protected area, and it’s important to leave no trace. Follow the designated trails, dispose of waste properly, and respect the wildlife by keeping a safe distance.

5. Stay hydrated and pack snacks: While there are some dining options available, it’s a good idea to bring water and snacks, especially if you plan on hiking or spending a significant amount of time exploring.

foothills at milford sound

Conclusion and final thoughts

Milford Sound is a place of exceptional beauty, where nature’s wonders are on full display. From the towering cliffs to the playful wildlife, this fiord offers a truly unforgettable experience.

I had the pleasure of hiking one of the world’s most beautiful tracks to get here, maybe you will too?

Whether you choose to cruise through the calm waters, kayak along the stunning shoreline, or hike through the lush forests, Milford Sound will captivate your senses and leave you with memories that last a lifetime. Embrace the magic of this pristine corner of New Zealand and immerse yourself in the awe-inspiring beauty of Fiordland National Park.

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  1. Thanks for the beautiful pictures. When we went to NZ in 2012 they closed the Milford Sound Highway due to falling rocks. Seems we have to go there again.

  2. Colognelia says:

    What an amazing place. Makes Wanderlust right away!
    Just wouldn’t want to find a cruise ship there. 😉

  3. great pics! brings me back to 2011 when i was there

  4. MyNameIsIma, Call me Ima says:

    Hey you may interested in my country nature. Where do you come from by the way? I’m from Indonesia. Many mountains you can hike here. You can surf in a river 😉

  5. MyNameIsIma, Call me Ima says:

    Man, what’s an adventure! I love it seeing your captures. So beautiful, bet it’s so fresh and peace. Mix with nature. Good Job!

    1. Paul Steele says:

      Thank you.. so kind.. Yes it was an amazing adventure.. Always wanted to visit that spot 🙂

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