Milford Sound (Piopiotahi)

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Milford Sound (Piopiotahi)

Milford Sound / Piopiotahi (map) is a spectacular glacier-carved fiord in the Fiordland National Park (wikivoyage.org) on the west coast of New Zealand and is one of New Zealand’s most well known scenic attractions. On display is a spectacular combination of mountains, sheer cliffs, waterfalls and marine life. It is the best known of a series of fiords in the park, and the only one which is accessible by road.

Hailed as the eighth Wonder of the World by Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound has been judged as the world’s top travel destination in an international survey. Over 400,000 people visit the sound every year, even though the average round trip clocks in at ten hours from Queenstown (map).

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Milford Sound can also be reached by foot, being the end of the world famous Milford Track (wikivoyage.org), the ‘finest walk in the world’. Bookings are essential for this popular 4-day walk, as only 40 independent walkers are permitted to start it in any day (and stay in the Department of Conservation Huts).

There is also a more expensive guided walk service where walkers stay at a separate set of huts with better facilities. Catering is provided in this service, and helicopters are used to ferry baggage between the huts.

Mitre Peak (map) – rising 1,692 metres, Mitre Peak is Milford Sound’s most famous iconic attraction.

Lady Bowen Falls (map) – with almost continuous rainy days, Milford Sound is home to many temporary and permanent waterfalls. The largest permanent fall is the famous Lady Bowen Falls, located at the southeast end of the sound, north of the wharf.

Stirling Falls (map) – created by glaciers situated behind the mountains, Stirling Falls is the second largest permanent waterfall, located on the north side of Milford Sound, dropping 146 metres.

Kayaking > Your proximity to the water in a kayak just serves to make you feel even smaller, and makes the Sound seem even more vast! The pros of doing it this way are that you get to go places that the big cruise ships cannot, you see a great deal more wildlife (penguins, seals etc.) as you move more quietly through the water, you are part of a small group (between 6 and 8) and so getting more personal attention from your guide, and you get some exercise in the process.

Cons are that it is quite hard work and you should be prepared to get cold and wet. A good way of doing this kind of trip is on a ‘one day package’. You can be picked up from your lodgings early in the morning (around 06:30) in Te Anau (map) by minibus and driven to Milford, where you’re kitted out with all the relevant kayak and safety gear and given waterproof bags to take cameras and food with you. The trip lasts until late afternoon (lunch is taken in your kayaks in the middle of the Sound) and you’ll arrive back in Te Anau about 18:00.

Public transport

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 BUS >   InterCity. New Zealand’s national coach company, with services connecting over 600 destinations nationwide. Backpacker buses – KiwiExperience Backpacker Bus and Stray Travel Bus offer bus trips around New Zealand where you can get on and off as you please after purchasing a pass.

 RAIL >   Inter-city passenger services are operated by KiwiRail Scenic Journeys, with just a few popular tourist services that pass through spectacular scenery and have a running commentary, panoramic windows and an open-air viewing carriage. (The online booking site maximises overseas revenue by only showing the cheapest fares when it detects that you are accessing it from a New Zealand IP address.)

 AIRPORTS >   Milford Sound Airport, located at the southeast end of the sound, serves the locality. One of the most spectacular ways to see Milford Sound and its spectacular surrounds is to fly in on a clear day. Auckland AirportChristchurch International Airport

 WATERWAYS >   InterislanderBluebridge – Two passenger and car ferry operators which cross Cook Strait between Wellington in the North Island and Picton in the South Island. The journey lasts 3.5 hours and there are several sailings daily. >> *Cook Strait ferries

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