Interesting facts about the Milford Sound

milford sound

Milford Sound also known as Piopiotahi is an inlet of the Tasman Sea, southwestern South Island, New Zealand.

It is situated within Fiordland National Park.

Milford Sound is a fjord, created when the sea flooded a glacial valley. About 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) wide, it extends inland for 19 kilometers (12 miles).

The sound is surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 1,200 meters (3,900 ft) or more on either side. The highest is Pembroke Peak at 2,045 meters (6,710 feet). Among the peaks are also The Elephant at 1,517 meters (4,977 ft), said to resemble an elephant‘s head and The Lion, 1,302 meters (4,272 ft), in the shape of a crouching lion.


The sound is entered by the Arthur and Cleddau rivers from the main valley and by the Bowen, Sinbad, Harrison, and Stirling rivers from side valleys.

Milford Sound sports two permanent waterfalls, Lady Bowen Falls [photo below] 162-meter (531 ft) high and Stirling Falls 151-meter (495 ft) high. After heavy rain temporary waterfalls can be seen running down the steep sided rock faces that line the fiord. They are fed by rain water drenched moss and will last a few days at most once the rain stops.


Seals, and southernmost population of bottlenose dolphins frequent the waters, also whales especially humpback whales and southern right whales are increasingly observed due to recoveries of each species.

There’s a good chance you’ll see a penguin during your Milford Sound cruise as two species are regularly found in the fiord: the little blue penguin and the fiordland crested penguin. Milford Sound is also home to a wide range of native New Zealand birds, including the Takahe, Kakapo, Mohua (yellowhead) and Kea.

Milford Sound is named after Milford Haven in Wales, while the Cleddau River which is also named for its Welsh namesake. The Māori named the sound Piopiotahi after the thrush-like piopio bird, now extinct. Piopiotahi means “a single piopio”, harking back to the legend of Māui trying to win immortality for mankind—when Maui died in the attempt, a piopio was said to have flown here in mourning.

Milford Sound was initially overlooked by European explorers, because its narrow entry did not appear to lead into such large interior bays. Sailing ship captains such as James Cook, who bypassed Milford Sound on his journeys for just this reason, also feared venturing too close to the steep mountainsides, afraid that wind conditions would prevent escape.


In Māori legend, Milford Sound was formed by Tu-te-raki-whanoa. He was an atua (godly figure) who was in charge of shaping the Fiordland coast. Chanting a powerful karakia (prayer), he hacked at the towering rock walls with his toki (adze) called Te Hamo and carved it from the Earth.

Milford Sound has been acknowledged as one of the world’s top travel destination.

It is one of the New Zealand’s most-visited tourist spots even with its remote location and long journey times from the nearest population centers.


Milford Sound attracts between 550,000 and 1 million visitors per year.

Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) an English journalist called it the eighth Wonder of the World.

Many tourists take one of the boat tours which usually last one to two hours. They are offered by several companies, departing from the Milford Sound Visitors’ Centre.

New Zealand’s most famous walk, the Milford Track has been thrilling hikers for more than 150 years. The alpine and fiord scenery is as perfect as ever.

Exploring Milford Sound from the serenity of a kayak is one of the best ways to soak up the grand mountain peaks, unique wildlife and lush rainforest.

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