Milford Sound, and its lesser-known neighbours Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound are perfect examples of New Zealand’s rugged landscapes. This is Fiordland National Park, a huge area full of fjords, waterfalls, rivers, lakes and forests. There are also many special animals such as the kiwi, kea, takahe, pukeko and weka. There are also glow worms. It’s one of the best places to go hiking in the world.

Fiordland is the largest national park in New Zealand, and this area on the South Island has a long history. Scientists believe that the mountains here are around 500 million years old. Around 200 million years ago, volcanic activity caused the sandstone and limestone rocks to rise out of the water.

Check out this video of how people live in this wilderness:

Due to its location in the most south-western part of the South Island, the landscape is exposed to the elements. Especially during the ice age this brought forth many changes. The mass of ice pushed down the land below, while it slowly slid into the Tasman sea. The melting snow also caused erosion that created gorges, valleys and lakes.

The fjords and many lakes in the area are silent witnesses to this endless process. Big lakes such as Te Anau and Lake Manapouri are in fact just dips in the earth that filled up with the water from the melting ice that came off the surrounding mountains. The elements are still sculpting this landscape: the large amounts of rain impact the rocks, and rivers carve up the landscape.

The rugged nature of Milford Sound. Corno van den Berg

The area is also well known in Maori culture, who are the first people of New Zealand, though not many lived in the area. They have legends about this landscape: the demigod Tuterakiwhanoa is believed to have carved the fjords and rugged landscapes from the rocks. His work was so phenomenal, that everyone stopped what they were doing to watch. The goddess Hinenuitepo wasn’t pleased with this, so she invented the sandfly. This tiny insect with a vicious bite would stop people from being idle.

There is evidence to show that the Maori people did use the area for hunting, and to look for jade – a precious stone that is still an emblem of New Zealand. They used this bright green rock to make jewellery and weapons.

The famous English explorer James Cook was likely to be the first white man to visit this part of New Zealand. He was the one that named Doubtful Sound, as he wasn’t sure if he would ever make it out of the fjord. Milford Sound became famous in the 19th century, when the author Rudyard Kipling, who wrote The Jungle Book, said that Milford Sound is the 8th wonder of the world. That’s quite a statement, since the first seven were manmade…

Milford Sound
The fjords are perfect to explore on foot. Corno van den Berg

Fiordland National Park is a perfect place to visit for active travellers, those who like to be outdoors and who enjoy being out in impressive landscapes. It’s great for people who like to walk, kayak and look at the interesting flora and fauna. The huge area lends itself well to those who like to spend days exploring, and who are not afraid of bad weather. Because that’s part of one of the most rugged areas in the world.

Best time:

  • Summer: The summer months (December 1 to March 1) are the driest out of the year, but there will still be plenty of rain. The temperature is pleasant then as well, around 20 degrees Celsius.
  • Winter: Winter (June 1st to September 1) is cool, with possible frost during the night. There is relatively little rain.
  • Spring: The best time to visit the area is in between the summer and winter, so that’s spring time (September 1 to December 1) and the nicest month is in November. It’s relatively quiet when it comes to tourists and the flowers are in bloom. But of course, you can still expect rain.

Please Note!

Fiordland National Park is an extremely wet part of the world, one of New Zealand’s most-rained-on areas. There is between 5,5 to 7 metres of rain in Milford Sound, for example…

You’re also likely to encounter the pesky sandfly here, tiny biting insects that are most found in sandy areas during the day. They are small enough that a mosquito net will not stop them. Their bites are more painful than a mosquito bite and will last longer too. Enquire with the locals whether they will be an issue when and where you’re going.