| |

14 incredible Milford Sound facts

Milford Sound is an intriguing and beautiful part of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Whatever the weather, a visit to Milford Sound is worthwhile. In fact, it is frequently named by our members as one of the best things to do in New Zealand.

What though, do you know about Milford Sound?

Join us as we share the most interesting and surprising facts about one of our most popular and beautiful fiords.

Prepare to be surprised…

The reflection of Mitre Peak and surrounding fiords on Milford Sound's foreshore.
Stunning reflections found along Milford Sound’s foreshore. Photo: Julie Gibbs, NZTT member.

Interesting Milford Sound Facts

1. Milford Sound was incorrectly named

A sealer, named John Grono, was the first European to visit the area now known as Milford Sound in 1823.

He named it after Milford Haven, a long and narrow inlet in Wales.

However, he made a mistake when naming our most famous ‘sound’.

That’s because…

2. Milford Sound is actually a fiord

That’s right, Milford Sound should actually be called Milford Fiord!

A sound is created when a river valley fills with seawater, while a fiord is a glacier-carved valley that is also flooded by seawater.

The resulting valley looks similar, so confusing the two names is understandable.

Milford Road with its beautiful green trees and towering mountains on either side.
The drive into Milford Sound is as stunning and the fiord itself. Photo: Andrew Leggett

3. It’s called ‘Piopiotahi’ in Te Reo Māori

Piopiotahi = piopio (a native bird) + tahi (one).

Māori pūrākau (legend) explains that a piopio bird flew into Milford Sound while mourning the passing of the cheeky demigod, Maui.

Te reo Māori is broken up into chunks when spoken, so this is said “pio-pio-tahi”.

4. It’s the only fiord in New Zealand accessible by road

The Homer Tunnel provides access by road to Milford.

This marvel of engineering was completed in 1953 after almost 20 years. of construction.

William Henry Homer (1838–1894) and George Barber discovered the Homer Saddle in 1889. They suggested a road tunnel be constructed there, and the rest is history.

Now, whether you drive yourself or join a tour, the Homer Tunnel is one of the most popular (and useful) parts of getting into Milford.

5. Milford is one of 266 UNESCO Natural World Heritage Sites

The area that Milford Sound is in was recognised as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1986.

This recognises its “outstanding value to humanity”.

Did you know? There are two other UNESCO sites in Aotearoa New Zealand; Tongariro National Park in the North Island and the subantarctic islands.

6. It’s in a national park and a world heritage area

Milford Sound is a part of Fiordland National Park.

This national park combines with other nearby spots as part of Te Wāhipounamu, or the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. These include Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, Mount Aspiring National Park and

the other national parks in this collective are Aoraki Mount Cook, Mount Aspiring and Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

It’s Te Wāhipounamu as a whole that has been recognised by UNESCO.

A girl with her back to the camera, wearing a red backpack, with arms in the air looking out to a lake.

7. Milford is one of the wettest places in New Zealand – and in the world, for that matter!

Milford experiences an average rainfall of over 6.7 metres each year, spread over approximately 200 days.

Yes, that’s metres!

Interestingly, January and December are the wettest two months of the year (during our summer) in Milford, while winter (June, July and August) and some of the driest.

Data from NIWA, presented by figure.nz.

In 2016, Milford Sound had its wettest year since records began in 1929, measuring in at 9.259 m.

8. Though Milford is known for its waterfalls, it only has two

Piopiotahi is home to two permanent waterfalls.

Stirling Falls (which is 155 m high) and Lady Bowen Falls (measuring 162 m).

If you’ve visited Milford before, chances are high that you spotted many, many more falls.

That’s because most of the waterfalls here only appear after rain (which, as we explained, is a common occurrence).

A boat at the foot of a waterfall with tourists looking at the majestic view.
Stirling Falls in Milford Sound.

9. The Water in Milford is unique to the area

When visiting Milford Sound, you’ll notice that its water is much darker than normal seawater.

The top layer of Milford’s waters consists of 6 to 10 metres of tannin-stained freshwater.

Looking a lot like tea, this water blocks a lot of the light from reaching the deep secondary saltwater layer that makes up the rest of the fiord’s water.

10. How Milford measures up

Max. length15.1 km (9.4 mi)
Max. width1.94 km (1.21 mi)
Surface area25 sq km (9.7 sq mi)
Max. depth 291 m (955 ft)

11. There is a small village in Milford and it gets both water and electricity from the Lady Bowen Falls

That’s right – the waterfalls in Milford are much more than a natural tourist attraction.

The Lady Bowen Falls makes life easier for residents, businesses and visitors but providing water and electricity.

12. Only 120 or so people live in Milford

Many people are drawn to Milford Sound thanks to the fiord’s natural beauty.

It is, however, very remote, so most visit for the day or night before heading off again.

Approximately 120 people choose to make Milford their home (generally temporarily). These are mostly people involved in tourism or conservation.

13. Around 1,000,000 People Visit Milford Sound Annually

2019 saw over 1,000,000 visitors visit Milford Sound by road, boat and air – the most ever observed.

These numbers dropped significantly during COVID but are working their way up again.

With such a long fiord and boat trips leaving throughout the day, you don’t need to worry though – it still offers the peace and beauty you’re likely hoping for.

Two women on half embrace pointing at the peak of the mountain while a man leans on the railing of the boat they are riding.
Photo: Adam Bryce.

14. A wide range of native wildlife can be found in and around the fiord

Though most visit Milford with waterfalls, towering cliffs and beech forests in mind, we think the wildlife is a big highlight.

The fiord is home to a significant number of bottlenose dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, little penguins (kororā), Fiordland crested penguins (tawaki), and endangered blue ducks (whio), takahē and kea.

We highly recommend a scenic cruise when visiting Milford Sound as it’s one of the best ways to spot local wildlife.

Two Fiordland crested penguins on rocks.
Fiordland crested penguins. Photo: Dash Huang.

Now you’re clued up on Milford Sound, isn’t it time you visited for yourself?

Inspiring, informative & helpful…

Join our free Facebook group

Similar Posts