New Zealand's Most Visited Attraction

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on March 15, 2010

We were staying in Queenstown and our visit to Milford Sound was a day trip from Queenstown and back. This is quite a normal trip for people wanting to have a trip on Milford Sound and there are many companies offering day trips similar to ours. Milford Sound is New Zealand’s most visited attraction and is a fjord in the south west of New Zealand's South Island, in Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site.

We were up early for a 7.15 departure and our first stop was at Te Anau at the Lake’s edge where we had a coffee and a walk around the few shops and the lake edge.

The next stop was Mirror Lakes where there were the most amazing reflections of the mountains only occasionally spoilt by a duck swimming across the water and causing ripples!! The reflections were so perfect it was almost impossible to tell which the reflection was and which was real. When we got our photos printed it was even more tricky to distinguish the reflection from the reality, some pictures were carefully taken with only the reflection and trees on the shore closest to us the only non-reflection – the image in the lake was lovely mountains. It was really quite challenging fun trying different photographic possibilities as we walked alongside the various lakes and the reflected images.

A toilet stop at Knobs Flat was next – here the glacier had flattened the valley floor and there were a few lumps or large rocks which were the knobs of the name. Typical Antipodean to call a spade a spade and name this place ‘Knob’s Flat – a flat area with knob like rocks lying around.

We climbed fairly continuously upwards before reaching Homer Tunnel where we had to wait a quite few minutes for the light to go green before passing through a 1210 metre long single track tunnel through the rocks. The tunnel was opened in 1954 and was originally a single track gravel road but today it is tarmac. There was no Homer Simpson waiting despite the name. Within the tunnel and as we came out of the long tunnel the road descended rapidly ( 1 :10 gradient) down through the mountains to sea level again.

Our last stop was at The Chasm which was a very impressive rock sculptures waterfall or chasm on the Cleddau River. The water had worn away holes and moulded the rocks into various interesting shapes which had water tumbling over and through in the most spectacular way .We walked through the beech rainforest to get to the chasm and then returned along another path through ferns, tree ferns and trees covered in lichens. The river has a Welsh name like Milford Sound as it was a Welshman that discovered and named them. It is a very spectacular piece of natural sculpture and just near the Chasm there is a notice with a quotation from David Henry Thoreau;


The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time.

Milford Sound goes 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea and is a fjord with sheer rock faces that rise 1,200 metres or more on either side.
Strangely Milford Sound is named after Milford Haven in Wales but the Maori name is once again fair more romantic than the one Europeans chose it is Piopiotahi which comes from the thrush-like piopio bird which unfortunately is now extinct.
Once we arrived at Milford Sound we queued to board our boat the ‘Milford Mariner’ which is an old boat with sails which they didn’t put up today but the mast was enormous so it would have been spectacular.
We were given a box with a picnic lunch in it – very nice tasty sandwich, apple and other bits including a box of apple drink. We were quite hungry so we ate ours as soon as we got it then went upstairs on deck to enjoy the scenery.
There was plenty of room up top and the weather was so sunny, at times it was quite windy but most of the time I was in just my T-shirt while others we wrapped up in coats! The views were splendid everywhere you looked from the glacially carved mountains to the waterfalls to the tree avalanches and the general Sound itself. We also saw NZ fur seals basking on the rocks, they were quite small ones but clearly visible, we saw a lone penguin swimming, diving and enjoying himself and finally when we were just outside the Sound we saw an albatross flying around not so far from us so that was the icing on our cake.

The scenery within the fjord or Sound was beautiful with many waterfalls cascading down the cliff edges. It was a sight to see Mitre Peak silhouetted against a perfect blue sky, it was easy to see why Rudyard Kipling called it the eighth Wonder of the World. Other peaks are The Elephant at 1,517 metres and Lion Mountain, 1,302 metres which looked like a crouching lion.
It was made all the more perfect as the day was lovely and sunny and we had ‘enjoyed’ or endured quite a few rainy days in NZ so far. Our guide kept trying to convince us that it was lovely in the rain in Milford Sound as the waterfalls become even more stunning but I was more than happy to miss out on the full waterfalls in exchange for brilliant sunshine and blue skies. We were extremely lucky as we were told that it rains on 182 days a year with a mean annual rainfall of 6,813 mm, so it was good to beat the odds and get a sunny day for our trip
Once we were beyond the Sound and in the Tasman Sea it did get quite wavy but really we were so lucky as it was not bad at all and the wind was mild and the sun shone all the time.
It was a thoroughly memorable day and the only down side was that we had a 4 hour drive back.
I have to say I wasn’t looking forward to the journey back as although the drive was quite pretty but after a while the coach becomes quite uncomfortable and you have just had enough.
We made one leg stretch/snack/toilet stop in Mossburn and the only thing I remember there was a giant Pukeko (NZ bird with huge wading feet) statue which I was rather taken with but really all I wanted to do was walk and stretch my legs and rub my numb bum. We got back to the hotel by just after 8pm and all I felt like was a nice bath and something to eat before retiring to bed. It was a lovely day with some spectacular sights but it was a long and tiring day. On the way there we had lots of stops which made the journey go quicker but on the way back it was dark most of the way and we just wanted to get ‘home’ and not be sitting in a coach.


We had a wonderful day. It was extremely long and tiring day but worth all the numbing of the bum in the coach in order to experience this world famous natural sight. I think if I was recommending the trip to someone I would suggest staying somewhere closer to Milford Sound rather than doing it as a day trip from Queenstown although there are several companies that offer trips from Queenstown so we were not alone in this experience and it is possible but very a tiring day trip. Milford Sound is often considered the world's top travel destination by many and is certainly New Zealand's most famous tourist destination. It is definitely worth making the effort to visit if you are South Island New Zealand.
Milford Sound
SW of South Island Within Fiordland National Park
South Island, New Zealand

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