Milford Sound

ACTIVITIES AROUND MILFORD SOUND

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Milford Sound - Piopiotahi
by Celia Walker


John Buchanan’s watercolour view of Milford Sound from 1865, Milford Sound from Freshwater Basin, graces the cover of Gil Docking’s weighty art historical survey Two Hundred Years of New Zealand Painting. This book sat on my parents’ bookshelf for years, a hefty text that informed many students of New Zealand art history, myself included, the cover permanently imprinted on my memory. It was not until decades later that I finally visited the Sounds and saw these unfolding expanses of deep water coves in real life – even with the obvious tourist infrastructure of wharves, bus parks, and cruising vessels it remains a place of quite astonishing natural beauty that really does live up to 150+ years of hype.

The first real attempts to establish the area as a tourist destination came with a visit by the government paddle steamer the Luna in 1874, with photographer Alfred Burton and the artist Charles Heaphy on board. The widely publicised Burton views started a wave of tourism that reached a peak of close to one million annual visitors in some recent years. Even though the daily onslaught of tourists has often been massive, the lack of development other than directly around the carpark and boat facilities, and the physical distance from anywhere much at all, make it still an exceptional place to visit. For those who can manage it, staying overnight in the Lodge or on an overnight cruise is highly recommended – this means waking up and experiencing the Sound (either from land or on the water) at its most serene and untouched before the day-trippers have made it from Queenstown or Te Anau.

The drive in from Te Anau is one of the most spectacular drives anywhere – the knowledge that it is a seismically active area makes the drive through the narrow, rough finished Homer tunnel and past the sheer faces of the steep-sided roads extra thrilling and not for those of a nervous disposition. Even without earthquakes the road is subject to regular slips and rockfalls, a massive rainfall event in February 2020 saw the road closed for several weeks.

Water shapes each visit, whether the cascading waterfalls, or the deep-water coves experienced from a boat or the underwater observatory. Although still lovely when it is fine, it is probably best viewed when raining (not too difficult, the area is one of the wettest places in the world, with an average rainfall of over 6000mm). There are some permanent waterfalls, when it is raining these multiply throughout the sound, sending water cascading down many of the rock faces and steep hillsides. It might be wet, there might be sandflies, there probably will be other tourists, but it will still be worth the journey.


Milford Sound ready to hang Canvas Print by Dale Gallagher

Tramping in Fiordland: The Most Popular Tracks in New Zealand's South-West Wilderness

ACTIVITIES AROUND MILFORD SOUND

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Image Credits: John Buchanan, Hocken Collection, Night and Light Photography Glen Butler, Celia Walker, The Visitors’ Tree, Milford Sound, N.Z., 1883, Fiordland National Park, by William Hart, Hart, Campbell & Co. Purchased 1943. Te Papa

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