There are three ways to Milford in Fiordland National Park, by road, by plane and on foot, each giving a different and equally memorable perspective. At the end lie the deep waters of Milford Sound, from which rises the sheer glaciated slab of Mitre Peak to lend the fiord its special charm. At 1692 metres it is one of the highest mountains in Fiordland, resembling a bishop’s mitre or headdress.
No visitor to Milford Sound should miss the opportunity to cruise on the fiord. A number of launches leave the wharf regularly. Trips range from short to long trips and overnight cruises in a range of vessels, from small boats with limited numbers to quite large and luxurious vessels, serving scrumptious seafood and other meals. Recently the opportunity to explore the fiord by submarine has been added to the choices open to visitors and it is also possible to view the spectacular and unique underwater drama at Milford Sound from an underwater observatory.
The observatory is situated in Harrison Cove, the only natural anchorage in the fiord, used by early sealers and whalers. The Cove can only be reached by boat.
A fiord is formed where the sea enters a deeply excavated glacial trough after the melting-away of the ice, one of the finest fiords being Milford Sound. The thickness of the ice that excavated the basin is shown by the height of the subvertical cliffs that rise from below sealevel, to truncate the U-shaped profiles of older glacial valleys. These ’hanging’ valleys are particularly noticeable in the area, such as Sinbad Gulley, on the right of Mitre Peak.
Where once smaller glaciers served as tributaries to the main iceflow, streams now run and enter the principal valley as waterfalls.
The most noticeable of such falls are the Bowen Falls, a sheer 160 metres drop from a hanging valley in the Darren Mountain Range. There is a short wooden walkway to the foot of the falls from the Milford terminal, and is well worth the effort.
The walkway leads to Cemetery Point, so called because the mounds formed by the debris from Bowen Falls resembles graves, although there are a few actual graves on the point dating back to the early sealers and whalers.
All launches that operate on the fiord will take visitors for a close up view to the Stirling Falls, which cascade into the fiord like a giant shower. The falls have a drop of 146 metres, flow permanently and are spectacular after rain.
They are named after Captain Stirling, an early visiting seaman to the fiord; Bowen Falls are named after Lady Bowen, wife of one of New Zealand’s early governors.
Other points of interest are Seal Point, located at the mouth of the fiord, and one of the few areas in the fiord where seals can climb out of the water and onto the rocks. The seals are an all-year-round feature, whilst dolphins and penguins may also be encountered at times.
Mount Pembroke, at 2000 metres, is one of the highest mountains in Fiordland and is permanently snow-capped and covered by a large thick glacier.
Mitre Peak Lodge is the site of the original accommodation house run by Donald Sutherland, who arrived at Milford Sound in 1877 as the first resident and ’tourist operator’. The Government bought the Lodge in 1922 and it has since been rebuilt after extensive fire damage. The Lodge is now used as accommodation for guided walkers of the Milford Track.
A five-minute track behind the lodge brings an elevated view of the Sound and of Mitre Peak.
Milford has its own runway and scenic flights lend fresh perspectives to the majestic landforms, possibly taking in a view of the famous Sutherland Falls. It is possible to bus in and fly out from either Te Anau or Queenstown (and vice versa).
For the more adventurous, guided coral dives can be undertaken, and organised sea kayaking and fishing trips are all possible.
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