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Tucked away in the south west corner of New Zealand, Fiordland is a landscape brimming with contrasting textures and colour.

While the view today is one of indomitable peaks reflected in the inky waters of the infinitely deep sounds, Fiordland was once enveloped by giant sheets of ice. Carving away at the rock face beneath, the glaciers of the region’s past have sculpted terrain so unique that it has become one of the most iconic landscapes on earth.

Having already explored parts of the southern alpine range on foot, by kayak and in a helicopter, I thought perhaps Fiordland would not have such a profound impact on me.

I was wrong.

MESMERISED BY THE MILFORD SOUND

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The Eglinton Valley

Having made camp in neighbouring Te Anau, we joined the team at Great Sights on their Milford Sound Day Tour.

Taking in the awe inspiring landscapes of the Fiordland National Park, the trip offers an insight into the evolution of New Zealand’s mountainous terrain and served to inspire within me the desire to relinquish all ties and live forever in its vast wilderness.

Accessible over land only by a stretch of tarmac which extends out into the remote wilds of Fiordland from the town of Te Anau, the Milford Sound is perhaps the most famous of the regions residents.

Hopping on board a coach in Te Anau we sat in silence as the diver chauffeured us along the shores of Lake Te Anau, into the Eglinton Valley, through the Hollyford Valley and finally through the Homer Tunnel to the Milford’s Freshwater Basin.

A patchwork of colour and a kaleidoscope of mountain peaks washed past the window over the course of the two hour trip.

Stopping to take in the beauty of the aptly named Mirror Lakes, and then to marvel at the capacity of water thundering down through The Chasm, a natural rock basin carved by the powerful Cleddau River, the journey itself was almost as breathtaking as our trip out on the waters of the Milford Sound.

FALLING WATER & MOUNTAIN PEAKS

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Bowen Falls

Arriving at the Milford Sound the cloud that had lingered over head throughout our coach trip was no longer obstructing the sun’s rays.

The view over the water was picture perfect, and the previous day of rain had invigorated the numerous waterfalls that flow down into the sound.

White water and spray came crashing down in abundance from the peaks above.

As the boat made its way out of Freshwater Basin, so named due to the high percentage of freshwater in the harbour, Bowen Falls and Cemetery Point came into view.

I stood on the upper deck of the boat watching as the water rushed over the edge of the ridge and down into the sound below.

Patches of vibrant lime green moss clung to the rock face, and as we sailed past a rainbow appeared in the spray.

MIND BLOWING NATURAL DESIGN

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The indomitable peaks that surround the fjord

The hanging valley of Sinbad Gully and the summits of Mt Phillips, Mitre Peak and Llawrenny Peak appeared on the left of the boat, and offered the opportunity to marvel at the sheer scale of the landscape.

Steeped in Māori legend the area was once a bountiful hunting ground, although rarely inhabited for long periods of time thanks to the inclement weather and its geographic isolation.

It is believed that the Māori discovered the region some 1000 years ago and returned seasonally to collect the much prized pounamu, or green stone as it is referred to today.

Geologists will tell you that the regions unique landscape was formed by the movement of archaic glaciers that ripped through the earth thousands of years ago. However I was much more taken by the Māori legend that accounts for the region’s conception.

Demi-god Tuterakiwhanoa is said to have carved the rugged landscape from formless rock with his Te Hamo while chanting a powerful karakia.

Gradually making his way south and perfecting his technique as he went, the Milford Sound was his greatest achievement.

PEACE & SERENITY

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Looking out into the Milford Sound

Reaching St Anne’s Point and the Tasman Sea the boat turned, and for the first time I looked back into the sound.

The snow-capped peaks which blanket much of Fiordland were visible either side, and in the distance the many waterfalls glistened in the sun.

Home to a number of species of marine life the sounds were one of the first locations within New Zealand to attract visiting Europeans.

Enticed by the prospect of seal fur and whale meat, fishermen would visit the Milford when the weather allowed and collect these valuable commodities to sell in neighbouring Australia.

Today the region’s marine life is protected and thrives in the rich waters of the sounds throughout the national park.

As we sailed past aptly named Seal Point, a colony of New Zealand fur seals were bathing in the afternoon sun. Unaware of the threats their ancestors would have faced, they seemed content to snooze despite the interest from a boat full of camera clicking tourists.

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Arctocephalus Forsteri – New Zealand Fur Seals

Making our way back into Freshwater Basin I took the opportunity to gaze out at the fiord one last time.

Our stint on the Milford was brief but it offered the opportunity to breathe in the landscape of one of the world’s remote wildernesses.

The magnitude of the terrain, the wealth of contrasting colours and ever changing views were awe inspiring.

A Milford Sound Day Tour with Great Sights is a must for anyone visiting the New Zealand’s south.

Read more from our adventures in New Zealand and check out our Instagram feed for inspiring daily Kiwi #Travelgrams.

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Have you spent time exploring Fiordland? Share your comments with us.

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48 Responses

  1. Winederlusting

    These are some of the most dramatic, jaw dropping photos I’ve seen. Talk about raw nature at its finest. New Zealand needs to happen soon for me. I might not come back. I love that their wine scene is starting to expand too :).

    Reply
  2. Kirsty

    Planning a trip to NZ soon, this post got me very VERY excited!
    Your photos are brilliant…I think cloudy days make for some of the most dramatic photography.

    Reply
    • Charli Moore

      So true Kirsty! An interesting sky can really add depth to your photographs. Great to hear you’re planning to visit New Zealand, it really is a ‘must-see’ for those who love to explore.

      Reply
  3. Charli Moore

    I must admit the Maori stories that accompany much of New Zealand’s landscape are very endearing. You can just imagine a Maori God carving away at the ground to create such a beautiful view.

    Reply
  4. Jenna

    The photo of Bowen Falls is stunning! Looks like such an amazing area–so relaxing and peaceful. I would love to visit!

    Reply
    • Charli Moore

      There’s something really calming, even spiritual about Fiordland. You can’t help but feel as though it was created by a force much greater that those we can comprehend.

      Reply
  5. Megan Claire

    Fiordland National Park looks amazing. Love National Parks and NZ looks like they have an incredible selection!

    Reply
  6. twiri

    wow, if this isnt the most georgous place ever.. new zealand truly has hidden paradises.. the hanging valley is breathtaking, splendid. great article!

    Reply
  7. Craig Lewis

    New Zealand is an amazing country, and Milford Sound is about as good as it gets.
    Some brilliant pictures, thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  8. Julia

    I loved Milford Sound (and the cute seals!) although it seems that it was more green when you were there. Your photos are stunning!

    Reply
    • Charli Moore

      Thanks for your kind words Julia. I couldn’t quite get over the vibrant moss covering the slick rock walls of the sound. The greens looked almost as though they had been superimposed over the landscape!

      Reply
    • Charli Moore

      Thanks Erin. I love exploring the natural world, and seals, well there always great to sit and watch! Such funny little things laying there sunning themselves on the rocks!

      Reply
  9. Bret

    My first thought: You got to explore this region by HELICOPTER?!
    But beyond that, this region sounds perfectly up our alley, and only further inspired the dreams of New Zealand we’ve had ever since we saw The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The more I learn about the country, the more I think we’ll need to spend a month there, minimum… Great piece!

    Reply
    • Charli Moore

      Cheers Bret! We’ve been here almost 15 months and I can tell you now I wish we had longer to spend exploring. So often we are time poor and don’t get the chance to really see a location, I feel so privileged to have seen so much of this beautiful country.

      Reply
  10. Henry | @fotoeins

    One afternoon here was not enough. I’m not sure any length of time would be “enough”. Of course, I want to come back here, but I’d also love to head on over to neighbouring Doubtful Sound, about which I’ve also heard/read great things. Thanks, Charli, for helping me to relive my own memories. 🙂

    Reply
    • Charli Moore

      No worries Henry! We actually took a flight over the Doubtful and I have to say it did look quite spectacular. I believe you can go out onto the water with a kayak guide and even camp on some of the more remote shorelines. That would be just swell!

      Reply
  11. Beth

    Absolutely stunning! It certainly reminds me why visiting NZ has always been at the top of my bucket list. I really need to make my way out there soon!

    Reply
  12. Jenna

    Wow–this area looks amazing! I love your photographs! The waterfalls and landscapes are beautiful and the seals are so adorable!

    Reply
    • Charli Moore

      Thanks Jenna! They are pretty adorable laid there on the rocks! I wish we could have seen them underwater fishing for their supper!

      Reply
  13. Megan Claire

    You know, I lived in Australia for 25 years and still haven’t made my way across the sea to NZ!! Your photos have just inspired me to finally make that trip! We’re heading home to Aus for a month to visit relatives this year so will have to plan for NZ as well :D!

    Reply
    • Charli Moore

      So thrilled to hear we’ve inspired your visit! You’ll have to give us a shout via email if you need any help planning your stay!

      Reply
    • Charli Moore

      Winter brings cold crisp days to the south and while rain can spoil the view the NZ landscape is awe inspiring no matter what the weather. Just remember to pack you winter woollies!

      Reply
  14. Arnette RTW

    I just posted recently about Milford Sound. It’s so magical there! I had a different visual experience because it was raining when I was there. Would love to go back for a sunny experience!

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • Charli Moore

      The rain brings life to the numerous waterfalls that tumble down the walls of the sound, I bet you still had quite a visual treat. We were so fortunate, there had been a few days of rain prior to our visit so we had the best of both worlds!

      Reply
  15. Jen

    Such an incredibly spectacular place. I’m hoping to visit this area of NZ in a few months. Thanks for the tips and info.

    Reply
    • Charli Moore

      Thanks for your comment Jen! Great to hear you’re heading over to explore Fiordland yourself. If you’re doing a DIY trip we highly recommend staying in Te Anau and hoping on the Milford Sound day trip from there. The bus does come through from Queenstown but Te Anau offers a taste of life in the national park and it is well worth spending a few days there.

      Reply