About Milford Sound

History

The history of Milford Sound

Captain Cook missed Milford Sound on two occasions as he sailed along the Fiordland coast.

Milford Sound is completely hidden from view from the open ocean so it was left to John Grono, a sealer, who finally discovered it in 1823 and named it Milford Haven after his birthplace in Wales.

Milford's first settler, Donald Sutherland (the hermit of Milford due to his hostile and curmudgeonly behaviour to those he disliked) arrived in 1877 and built a three hut "City of Milford".

After marrying Elizabeth Samuel (the mother of Milford as she mellowed Donald's behaviour), Donald transformed Milford City by building a 12 room accommodation house (Milford's first hotel).

Donald Sutherland discovered Sutherland Falls in 1880, the world fifth highest dropping 580m in three leaps. Donald lived in Milford for 42 years and died in 1919. A government hotel was built at the original hostel site in 1928 and stayed there until it was destroyed by fire in 1952. The rebuilt version opened in 1954.

About History

Milford Sound is completely hidden from view from the open ocean so it was left to John Grono, a sealer, who finally discovered it in 1823 and named it Milford Haven after his birthplace in Wales.

Geology

The geology of Milford Sound

As you travel through the fiord on your Milford Sound Cruise you will view some of the most impressive valleys, cliffs and rock formations in New Zealand. The atmosphere in the Sound can feel almost eerie as the seemingly timeless, silent rocks stare down onto your Milford Sound sightseeing cruise.

The rocks of Milford Sound and the rest of Fiordland were formed over 600 million years ago and are known as the Western Province crystalline rocks, which are very hard and resistant to erosion.

The rocks of Fiordland were once part of an extensive “shield mountain range” located on the eastern side of the ancient continent of Gondwanaland. Over many 100 millions of years they have been eroded down, moved about by tectonic plate movements, remoulded and reformed to become what they are now down here in the South Pacific. While there is some granite in Fiordland, the most common rocks of Milford Sound are varieties of gneiss and diorite.

At Dale Point the Gneiss contains garnet crystals up to 2.5cm in diameter and at Poison Bay a little to the south the garnet crystals can be as large as 10cm in diameter. During past tectonic movements, rocks that were buried as deep as 20-40kms were subjected to immense heat and pressure causing minerals to re-crystallise.

Nephrite, jade, pounamu or greenstone was formed in this way about 200 million years ago and as mountains were uplifted the greenstone has become exposed. Most of the greenstone deposits at Milford exist in the Anita Ultramafics zone, which forms a stripe of very distinctive orange weathered rock that runs from Anita Bay to Poison Bay and is easily identified from the air.

About Geology

The atmosphere in the Sound can feel almost eerie as the seemingly timeless, silent rocks stare down onto your Milford Sound sightseeing cruise.

Glaciers

Glaciation in Milford Sound

There have been 12 major glacial phases during the last 2 million years. The last big freeze known as the Otiran Glaciation began about 80,000 years ago and kept the southern mountains ice bound until about 13,000 years ago. Ice descended the mountains and down the valleys forming rivers of ice up to 2000 metres thick.

On the east side of Fiordland the glacier tongues carved out huge trenches where the lakes Te Anau, Manapouri, Hauroko, Monowai, Poteriteri, and Hakapoua now reside. They show an amazing symmetry with the fiords on the west side where the glaciers carved out the steep sided fiords and overlapped the coastline. Icebergs would have calved from floating ice cliffs where they meet the surging sea. When the glacial ice began to recede back up the fiords the glaciers left huge terminal moraine deposits, called "sills", at the entrances to the fiords.

At Milford Sound both the ocean and the fiord depth on either side of the sill is over 300m deep. The top of the sill it is only 27m deep. This effectively prevents ocean swells from entering Milford Sound. There is also evidence that the Milford glaciers have left five old valley floors on the bed of Milford Sound. Left behind also are the sheer cliffs, hanging valleys and spectacular waterfalls for all to see on a memorable Milford Sound sightseeing cruise. 

About Glaciers

Left behind are the sheer cliffs, hanging valleys and spectacular waterfalls for all to see on a memorable Milford Sound sightseeing cruise.

Pounamu

NZ Greenstone in Milford Sound

New Zealand greenstone, or 'pounamu' was used by Maori to make weapons and ornaments.

New Zealand greenstone is divided into several different varieties according to colour: Inanga is highly esteemed, its grey green colour resembling that of whitebait, Kahurangi is a lighter rarer stone, and Kawakawa is dark green, like the tree it is named after.

The greenstone at Milford, 'Tangiwai', is not really greenstone at all as it is not nephrite but brownite. However Tangiwai has all the mystique of pounamu and highly prized by Maori. It is softer than nephrite so easier to work. It is a very beautiful stone that ranges in colour from a blue-green to an olive-green. The true splendour of Tangiwai is only revealed when it has light behind it that illuminate the white speckles that resemble tear drops in the stone. Tangiwai means “tear water” in Maori.

The Origin of Greenstone

Tama-Ahua was deserted by his three wives, Hine-Kawakawa, Hine-Kahurangi, and Hine-Pounamu. Tama searched vainly round the southern coasts.

At Piopiotahi he heard a suspicious noise and paddled through the towering walls of the sound. There he found one of his wives turned into a translucent greenstone. He bent over the cold body. The tears ran down his face and onto the hard stone, penetrating it until the tangiwai was flecked with tears and remain to be seen there to this today.

 

About Pounamu

The true splendour of Tangiwai is only revealed when it has light behind it that illuminate the white speckles that resemble tear drops in the stone.

Marine life

Milford Sound Marine Ecology

As you travel through the fiord on our Milford Sound Scenic Cruises you will view the habitats of some amazing animals and, with a little bit of luck, some of the animals themselves.

The high rainfall experienced in Fiordland and Milford Sound helps to create unique marine environment. In this high rainfall zone, rivers streams, waterfalls and rain falling directly on the fiord meet up with the seawater of the fiord.

The fiords constitute a haven for animals that are dark adapted, slow growing and usually associated with deep water. 

Dolphins

You may see three different species of Dolphin on Milford Sound scenic cruises.

Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) are the most common dolphin seen. Up to 60 inhabit Milford and Doubtful Sounds and grow up to four metres in length. 

Dusky Dolphin (Lagenorhychus obscurus) grow to about two metres in length are sometimes seen at Milford.

Hectors Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori), the world rarest dolphin can be seen off the coast but never venture in the fiords.

Seals

Once hunted to near extinction, The New Zealand Fur Seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) can now be found along most rocky coastlines in southern New Zealand and can usually be seen on Milford Sound scenic cruises. 

Penguins

Visitors on our Milford Sound scenic cruises have also been able to see two species of penguin which inhabit the fiords, the Fiordland Crested Penguin (Eudptyes pachyrhynchus) or Tawaki and the Little Blue Penguin (Eudyptula minor) or Korora. The Fiordland Crested Penguin is only found along the Fiordland coastline and is one of the rarest penguins in the world. 

Sea birds

The fiords are breeding habitats for a range of sea birds, some resident, some migratory, e.g. shags (cormorant), sooty shearwater, oyster catchers and gulls. 

Black coral

(Antipathes fiordensis) is endemic to Fiordland and grows at depths as shallow as 5m, but grows especially well at depths of about 15 metres where it crowds the near vertical walls. It forms colonies that in places resemble small to medium-sized trees. Black coral grows less than 20mm a year so trees over five metres tall are estimated to be over 300 years old. 

About MarineLife

The fiords constitute a haven for animals that are dark adapted, slow growing and usually associated with deep water.

Flora and Fauna

Flora and Fauna of Milford Sound

As you travel through the fiord on JUCY's Milford Sound nature cruise you will view some of the most beautiful, dramatic and striking native bush and forests in New Zealand.

Flora and forests

Forests cover most of Fiordland National Park. The predominant trees are Red Beech (Nothofagus fusca), Silver Beech (Nothofagus menziesii) and Mountain Beech (Nothofagus solandri). Podocarp forests are also present at low altitude and in particular the western or Tasman Sea side of Fiordland. The most common of these species are rimu, miro, and Hall's totara which make up the canopy with many shrubs, ferns, tree ferns and epiphytes making up a dense understory.

Tree avalanches

On the steeper slopes such as those surrounding Milford Sound, very little soil is found and the vegetation in these areas is held together by a mat of intertwined roots. Occasionally tree avalanches occur when heavy vegetation clinging to the steep and rocky valley walls gives way under the impact of heavy rain. This usually occurs after a prolonged dry spell. It takes about 70 years for the forest to regenerate to full maturity making these forests the world fastest regenerating rain forests.

About Flora

Occasionally tree avalanches occur when heavy vegetation clinging to the steep and rocky valley walls gives way under the impact of heavy rain.

Waterfalls

Waterfalls in Milford Sound

As you cruise spectacular Milford Sound the highlight for many people will be the brilliance of the fiords’ waterfalls. Every waterfall is unique, ever changing, some permanent, some temporary. If it has rained within 24 hours before your cruise you are guaranteed a most memorable experience.

Bowen Falls (Lady Bowen Falls)

Named after the wife of Sir George Bowen, one of New Zealand’s early governors in the 1870’s. This spectacular waterfall is one of only two permanent falls and drops 160 metres from a classic hanging valley in the Darren Mountain Range.

Fairy Falls

One of the few waterfalls to drop straight into the Fiord.

Bridal Veil Falls

So named as it resembles a brides veil. This is a semi-permanent waterfall that is most impressive after heavy rain.

Stirling Falls

Drops 146 metres from a beautiful U shaped hanging valley carved out between Elephant and Lion Mountains. Stirling Falls is the second largest permanent waterfall in the fiord and is fed by glaciers situated in the mountains behind. Named after Captain Stirling when he brought the HMS Cleo into Milford Sound during the 1870’s.

Cascade Falls

During heavy rain this mountain range comes alive with waterfalls.

Waterfall60

Occasionally tree avalanches occur when heavy vegetation clinging to the steep and rocky valley walls gives way under the impact of heavy rain.