The writer Rudyard Kipling once called Milford Sound the Eighth Wonder of the World and today the 500,000 visitors that tour this fiord located in the Fiordland National Park and Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site would probably agree. One of 14 fiords in the region, the lofty cliffs are spectacular, rising almost vertically from the opaque waters that run some nine miles inland to the Tasman Sea.
Carved in the ice ages, the walls rise up to 1,219 metres (4000 feet) from the water with waterfalls spectacularly cascading from the top and rainfall of up to 7 metres (23 feet) per year. The rainfall results in a permanent layer of freshwater on the surface of the water while below this the water has a reddish-brown tinge due to runoff of material from the surrounding forest. The amount of rainfall also means that two waterfalls are permanent, Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls, but this number increases rapidly after a good downpour.
The Māori name for Milford Sound is Piopiotahi and Māori settlements were located throughout the region. European settlers arrived in the late 1800s and Donald Sutherland, who was the first European settler, built three huts here, which he called the 'City of Milford'. Later in the 1800s a track was cut to the region from Te Anau and the first wave of tourism began. Today many visitors walk the famous route from Te Anau to Milford Sound or drive through the magnificent scenery to the Sound. There is also a lovely and short Milford Foreshore Walk, which gives visitors superb views of Mitre Peak, rising 1,690 metres (5,551 feet) vertically from the water.
Boat cruises are one of the most popular ways to experience the Sound, with many short (around two and a half hours) and overnight cruises heading out to the Tasman Sea, offering a great chance to spot the local penguins, seals, dolphins, and birdlife as you go. Trips include a close-up view of one of the amazing waterfalls, giving visitors the chance to see up close the power of the water that's fallen around 1,220 metres (4000 feet) to the dark waters of the fiord. The phrase 'getting there is half the fun' has never been so apt when talking about Milford Sound. Two of the most popular ways of getting there are by helicopter or light plane from Queenstown. These flights offer stunning scenery that make a trip to the Sound even more remarkable.