Summer Road Trip Series: Milford Sound, Piopiotahi
Made famous by its' epic scenery being featured in many block buster movies, you will no doubt see brochures for Milford Sound at every tourist stop and information centre there is! But it’s hard to deny that Milford Sound is well worth the visit, truly spectacular and equalled only by the journey there.
Piopiotahi, often referred to as the 8th wonder of the world, is a fiord formed by a process of glaciation over millions of years within Fiordland National Park & Marine Reserve, and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. Named after Milford Haven in Wales, the Māori named the sound Piopiotahi after the thrush-like piopio bird, now extinct. Piopiotahi means "a single piopio", harking back to the legend of Māui trying to win immortality for mankind—when Maui died in the attempt, a piopio was said to have flown here in mourning (reference Wikipedia).
From the mouth of the Fiord, Milford Sound runs 15 kilometres inland from the Tasman Sea and is framed by towering peaks which flank its sides - some as high as 1,200 meters. Combined with flowing water falls and delightful marine life, the fiord is considered one of the wettest inhabitable locations in the world but it teams with silent activity
The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound will take around 4 – 4.5 hours (with a stop or two). If it’s too much to do in one day, you can break the journey with an overnight stay in Te Anau, or choose to do one of the tour options by bus or plane.
But if you’re up for a good old fashioned road trip, then you’re in for some of the most amazing (and challenging) driving there is to find in New Zealand. The road to Milford Sound is a feast for the senses, and it begins as soon as you leave Queenstown with the devilish section of State Highway 6 known as the Devil’s Staircase - a road which wraps itself around the eastern shoreline of Lake Wakatipu - heading South!. You'll pass equally epic vistas - The Remarkables on your left, and Cecil & Walter Peaks on your right as well as the snug little homestead of Home Bay. At the bottom of the lake is Kingston - worth a stop too! During the colonisation of the region, this was the port from which many of Queenstowns suppliers were shipped up the lake to Frankton. Then it's onto the rolling valley carved into the mountains by ancient glaciers, easing off as you venture through farmland areas before arriving in Te Anau. From Te Anau to Milford Sound, the driving gets interesting again, but also breathtaking. Take your time as you wind your way from lake to lake as you move North again towards Milford Sound.
Once you arrive at Milford Sound, you will be instantly rewarded for your efforts. Take a scenic boat cruise and explore the 16-kilometre stretch of water from the Milford Sound marina to the open sea for views of Mitre Peak, waterfalls, New Zealand Fur Seals, penguins and if you’re lucky...dolphins
There are dozens of tour companies which cover excursions rated from backpacker to luxury, that depart from Queenstown, Te Anau or from the Sounds themselves. Check out a comprehensive list of companies here.
What ever you decide, your day will be long, so grab a really good nights sleep, charge up the phone so you can capture these epic memories digitally, pack your wet weather gear and possibly a picnic and hit the road nice and early. You'll be gone early and home late!
Tip: Keep your wits about you as you pass through the Homer Tunnel. This 1.2km tunnel is carved through solid rock. There is just enough room for a bus and a car to squeeze past each other.