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Fiordland, New ZealandMilford Sound History

Milford Sound | Regional Information | Activity Highlights | Scenic Highlights | History

Step back in time and enter a whole new world in Fiordland, a beautiful, mostly untouched, region of southern New Zealand.

Milford Sound History Overview

Come and discover the vast natural history of this barely touched piece of paradise!

Milford's Maori Name "Piopiotahi"

Milford Sound has a Maori name, Piopiotahi, means a single thrush after a thrush-like piopio bird that is now extinct.

This name is linked with a Maori myth, in the myth the mythical hero Maui is said to have brought a thrush with him from Hawaiki. When Maui was crushed between the thighs of Hine-nui-te-po (the goddess of death) during an attempt to win immortality for mankind, the bird fled south in mourning, to give its name to the sound.

Geographic Development

Milford Sound and the other sounds in Fiordland were all created by glaciers moving through the region, these glaciers carved and grinded the valleys into U-shaped valleys.

This U-shaping effect of the valleys is very visible along the valley walls today with the effect very visible on mountains like Mitre Peak, Harrison Cove and The Elephant and the Lion. In addition, glaciers produce hanging valleys which are created when one glacier meets another larger glacier.

The smaller glacier's valley abruptly meets the larger glacier's valley; producing a steep drop like the one Stirling Falls spills over. As the planet warmed the glaciers eventually melted, receded and then the ocean flooded the valley creating the Milford Sound we see today.

European History

The European name of "Milford" is named after Milford Haven in Wales.

Milford Sound was missed by Captain Cook when he sailed long the Fiordland coastline, because of the ruggedness of the coastline and the fear of foundering on the mountains abruptly rising out of the sea, Cook sailed further out to sea, and the sound's narrow entry did not appear to lead into such large interior bays.

Much later, European sealers and whalers took shelter in the fiords and built small settlements in some locations, but overall the sheer steepness of the terrain, the incredible isolation, and the wettest climate in this remote corner of New Zealand deterred all but the hardiest from settlement in the region.

Milford Transport

While Fiordland remained one of the least-explored areas of New Zealand up to the 20th century, Milford Sound's natural beauty soon attracted national and international renown. Its attraction led to the discovery of the Mackinnon Pass in 1888 which later became part of the Milford Track.

The Homer Tunnel was developed about sixty years later to provide road access. As one exists the Homer Tunnel one is dumb-founded at the spectacular view one has half way up a mountain gazing down along a truly magnificent valley. The road carefully zigzags its way down into the valley, with a sheer cliff to one's back from where one has just exited the mountain from the tunnel.

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Mainstay New Zealand Hotels

Mainstay NZ Hotels

Large collection of independent hotels.

Choice Hotels

Choice Hotels

Holiday packages for any occasion.