There must be 8,000 attractions around the world that the local tourist board has dubbed “the eighth wonder of the world. "
However, British author Rudyard Kipling referred to the Milford Sound as such, thereby conferring a degree of objective credibility to the claim for New Zealand's most famous travelers’ Mecca.
A trip to New Zealand without seeing the Sound would be like a trip to Bordeaux without sampling the wine. Indeed the Milford Sound and the 1,300,000-hectare (three million acres) Fiordland National Park in which it is situated is so awesome it justifies in itself a visit to this small country bulging with scenic wonders.
Remote Fiordland lies at the southwestern corner of the South Island and it is so rugged that some of its interior valleys have yet to be explored.
The ancient grandeur and immense proportions of Fiordland bear witness to the power of ice. Glaciers from ice ages past have gouged deep fiords and the many steep sided lakes, including Te Anau, the largest lake in the South Island and Manapouri at 480 meters (1,455 feet) the deepest and some consider the most beautiful lake in New Zealand. The vertical glacier-carved walls of Milford Sound are the tallest sea cliffs in the world.
Visitors not prone to claustrophobia can take a break from the spectacular scenery by burrowing into the Te Anau caves or taking a two-kilometer bus ride down a spiral tunnel leading to the hydroelectric station under the west arm of Lake Manapouri. Hewn out of solid granite, deep in the heart of the mountain, the seven generators churn out 760,000 kW of power.
The head of Milford Sound can be reached by bus or car along an unforgettable 120-kilometer (75 miles) stretch of road from the town of Te Anau which functions as the park headquarters. The road passes the Mirror Lakes, which, as their name implies, reflect the surrounding mountains with perfect symmetry.
The other route to the head of the sound is via the 53-kilometer (33 miles) Milford Track that, 100 years ago, a British newspaper called “the finest walk in the world". A “walk" they may have considered it, but it's more like a three to four day grueling hike and should only be considered by the physically fit.
The hike may be undertaken independently or with a guided tour. A woman from South Africa signed on for the latter but cancelled when she discovered to her consternation that no porters were provided. Another was going to pack a cocktail dress and high-heeled shoes for a change of clothing at the end of the day's hike.
The track will take you past mist-bowed waterfalls that spill hundreds of meters down granite walls, hanging valleys, glaciers and snow-fed rapids that cut knife-like into the forested hills. Maori poet Hirini Melbourne wrote:
The sap weeps
From the lacerations
Of the ancestral land
That lies here . . .
A sidetrack off the Milford will take hikers to the Sutherland Falls. At 580 meters (1,900 feet) high it ranks as the second highest in the world.
The surrounding native beech forests provide a refuge for some of the world's rarest and most endangered flightless birds - the kakapo, the world's largest parrot, and the takahe, a giant rail. Penguins and fur seals can be seen in the fiords along the coast.
For those in a hurry the Milford Sound is best seen from the air. Travelers not fighting the whirligig of time should enjoy a lunch of New Zealand crayfish and champagne aboard one of the many cruise vessels that, for example, will take you right up to Stirling Falls, a 146 meter (505 feet) plunge that is particularly sensational after a heavy rain. Heavy rains are not infrequent in this part of New Zealand so travelers should be prepared.
From a boat you will also see Sinbad Gully, an excellent example of a hanging valley, enclosed by the steep slopes of Mount Phillips to the left with Mitre Peak on the right and the Llawrenny Peaks in the background. The 1,836 meter (6,240 feet) high Mitre Peak is one of the highest mountains in the world to rise directly from the ocean floor. It was so named because its shape resembles a bishop's headpiece.
The boats stop each day at Sandfly Point at the end of the Milford Track to return hikers to their hotel.
Milford is the “Sound" fed by waterfalls of “fury" and to the traveler in New Zealand they signify a great deal.
Bruce Burnett, has won four Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Gold awards for travel journalism. Read more of Bruce Burnett's writing on his websites: