Off the coast of New Zealand, in the Tasman Sea, huge granite cliffs rise 3,900 feet or more, and plunge 300-1500 feet under the surface of the water. These mountainous structures, carved by ancient glaciers, are the fjords of the Milford Sound.
Milford Sound is home to some of the world’s most unique flora and fauna. Ancient clams called brachiopods are buried under the floor of the fjord, and have had no need to evolve for over 300 million years. The world’s largest population of black coral trees also lives under the surface. Related to sea anemones, the coral colonies’ lifespans are over 4000 years and they are among the oldest continuously living organisms on the planet. There are approximately seven million of the colonies in Milford Sound. Black coral trees can be seen through the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory.
Dolphins, New Zealand Fur Seals, and Fjordland Crested Penguins also frequent the waters. Lucky visitors will see the occasional whale that wanders into the fiord from the Tasman Sea. Dolphins swim alongside the Milford Sound Cruise Ships and show off for their guests. Groups of penguins pop in and out of the water, while the fur seals rest on the low rocks.
The fjord gets over 20 feet of rainfall every year, feeding its two permanent waterfalls. Good weather is a bit of a long shot, but rains only serve to create hundreds of temporary waterfalls that sporadically appear on every cliff. If the sun does decide to peek out of the clouds, expect a rainbow at the bottom of every misty waterfall.
Milford Sound is New Zealand’s most popular fjord, because it is the only one that can be reached by car. Milford Road is a steep five hour drive from Queenstown, but the determined traveller will find that the stunning scenery and Lord of the Rings landmarks make the journey as delightful as the destination.
Know Before You Go
The journey to Milford Sound will take at least 12 hours, including travel time and sightseeing. The best way to see the wildlife and take in the scenery is by taking the 1 ½-2 hour cruise through 16km of fiord. Kayaking is also a good way to get up close and personal to the wildlife. For more extreme visitors, there is scuba diving, base jumping, and mountain climbing. For those with more time, the 4-day hike from Te Anau to Milford is worth the walk.