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Milford sound and the Mitre peak
country : New Zealand
place : south-west of the southern island
Fill a tumbler full of water from a waterfall cascading from rocks hundreds of metres above your head on a scenic cruise of the Milford Sound and you will know what it really means to be a New Zealander. Taste its pure flavour and you'll know you're in the Milford Sound.
The scale of the landscape in Milford Sound is phenomenal. Large cruise boats look extremely insignificant against the grandeur of Mitre Peak and the walls of this mighty fiord. Its steep rock walls plunge vertically for hundreds of metres both above and below the water line, allowing cruise boats to maneuver beneath the falls.
In 1986, UNESCO bestowed World Heritage status to this region in recognition of its "superlative natural phenomena" and "outstanding examples of the earth's evolutionary history."
This description is not lost on international visitors who flock here from all over the world. Neither is it lost on locals, no matter how often they have visited.
There’s a wide array of cruises on offer in Milford – ranging from scenic cruises and extended daytime cruises with a nature guide, through to overnight excursions with the option of exploring by kayak or tender craft.
However, Milford Sound is not only remarkable above the water, it also has a unique marine environment.
This underwater world is most easily viewed from the Underwater Observatory. It features a spiral staircase that descends for more than seven metres under the water surface to an observation deck.
The deck is fitted with windows to view rare marine life such as Black Coral, which occurs much closer to the surface than deemed normal, thanks to a layer of fresh tannin water which filters light.
For those who wish to get right amongst it, there's also the option to take a guided dive, or explore the grandeur of this magnificent sound by kayak.
The scenic icon of New Zealand is the picture-perfect view of Mitre Peak mirrored in the glassy waters of Milford Sound.
Milford Sound’s majestic grandeur is symbolised by the perfection of this scene of sheer rock walls, 1700 metres high, plummeting into the black depths of the fiord. No wonder author Rudyard Kipling described Milford as the eight wonder of the world, and Arthur Michener thought of it as ‘the most stirring sight in the Pacific’.
The majestic scenery begins long before you reach Milford, in the Eglinton Valley. Snow-capped mountains loom 1000 metres above the road, streaked with waterfalls, and reflected in mirror lakes. The road climbs steeply into a sub-alpine wonderland at the Homer Tunnel entrance. You emerge from the tunnel to an instantly breathtaking view of the canyon which descends into Milford.
Milford Sound comes a close second to the mountains of Tahiti in recording the highest rainfall in the world. The deluge of 7 metres of rain each year sounds forbidding for a tourist resort, but it actually adds to the drama and mystique of the sound. In torrential rain the sheer mountain walls erupt with a thousand cascades plunging from hanging valleys, wreathed in ethereal mists, and crossed with rainbows.
A boat cruise is the best way to appreciate the grandeur of the sound. Highlights include Bowen Falls, Mitre Peak, Anita Bay, The Elephant and Stirling Falls. In Harrison Cove there is an underwater observatory with views of aquatic life on the reef. Some cruises go out to the entrance of the Sound where dolphins, fur seals and crested penguins may be seen.
Kayaking and diving trips can be arranged and divers have the rare opportunity of seeing black coral at relatively shallow depths. Scenic flights take in the other main sounds down the coast, and the Sutherland Falls, which are New Zealand’s highest.
The 55 km Milford Track, reputed to be ‘The Finest Walk in the World’ operates in the summer months. It takes three days and links Lake Te Anau with Milford Sound.
Milford Sound provides a rare chance to get a close view of nature on a grand scale. It’s the ultimate in scenic splendour in a country that excels in mountain grandeur.