Saturday, November 29, 2014

#645 Milford Sound, New Zealand

The most famous view of Milford Sound, shown above, is of the steep-sided Mitre Peak (1962m, and actually five closely grouped peaks) sitting imposingly in the middle of the sound. However, this is only one view -- each direction is afforded spectacular views of snow-capped steep mountains, waterfalls, and deep green tanin-filled waterfall-fed ocean. It's impossible to see the open water of the Tasman Sea around the 16km of curves (and other mountains like the Elephant and the Lion), and the flat, calm waters bely its connection to the rough and windy western coast. 
The town of Milford (population 120) lies on a small area of marshy land at the head of the sound where the Cleddau, Tutoko and Arthur Rivers empty into the sea -- there is nowhere else the town really could be and it is one of the few sounds that has land suitable for a settlement. It includes an airstrip from which frequent scenic flights depart, a cruise terminal and jetty, and an old THC Hotel, but not really much else. Similar to Doubtful Sound (#729), its less famous neighbor, and the other 12 sounds, it is part of the Fjordland National Park and Te Waipounamu, the UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, it is the only sound in the park with road access for tourists.
For years, Milford Sound was only accessible by sea or by foot, until the famous 1.2km Homer Tunnel was opened in 1954 (it was begun in 1935) under the Darran mountain range. Milford is still very inaccessible, with the one road going in that's often snowed under in winter. It's 2 hours (121km) to the nearest town, Te Anau.
The wettest place in New Zealand, snow remains even in summer.
While the Maori have used the MacKinnon Pass (found in 1888 and made part of the Milford Track) to access the sounds to collect pounamu (greenstone) for around 1000 years, and called it Piopiotahi after the place of mourning of the "first" now extinct Piopio bird and the legend of Maui's death trying to win immortality for mankind, it wasn't until John Grono landed in 1812 that it was named Milford Sound after Milford Haven in Wales. Rudyard Kipling apparently called it the 8th wonder of the world!
The Eglinton Flats, along with the Te Anau Downs are the beginning of a road journey into Milford.
The Gleddau River
The landscape right outside the Homer Tunnel - Keas love it here!
The Chasm is halfway between Milford and the Homer Tunnel and gives an idea of the quantity of rainfall and the force of the water carving the valleys (although the sound itself was formed by a glacier during the last ice age.
The river marshes around Milford afford excellent bird watching!
Waiting in line for the single-lane Homer Tunnel on the
Milford Side, while keas pester tourists and land on cars.

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