Milford Sound, located at the northern most end of Fiordland National Park on the South Island of New Zealand, is a national icon. In places as much as 400 metres deep, celebrated for its pristine landscapes, and remote and rugged beauty, it is actually a fiord, rather than a sound. A river formed valley subsequently flooded by the sea is called a sound, however, Milford Sound was formed by the erosive effects of a glacier and is more correctly a fiord.

Named after its resemblance to a bishop’s mitre (head-dress), Mitre Peak is a prominent peak on the south shore of Milford Sound. Rising 1692 metres, seemingly sheer above the Sound, the summit actually consists of five closely grouped individual peaks.


Milford Sound is rich in indigenous flora and fauna. New Zealand fur seals, once nearly hunted to extinction, are now in plentiful supply and are often seen on a Mitre Peak Cruise through Milford Sound, along with dusky dolphins and the rare Fiordland crested penguins.


Maori people arrived here from the Pacific Islands around 1000 years ago. They traveled to Milford overland - along the same route that the Milford Track follows today – in order to gain access to the greenstone at Anita Bay. The Maori name for Milford Sound is “Piopiotahi” meaning “Place of the Singing Thrush”, a bird which is now extinct.

On 11th March 1770 Lieutenant James Cook sailed the Endeavour close to a large open bay in the southwest corner of New Zealand. He wrote: “The face of the country bears a very rugged aspect being full of high craggy hills, on the summits of which are several patches of snow.” Joseph Banks, the botanist, was keen to land and take specimens, but a strong wind and heavy squalls forced Cook to keep well out at sea.

In 1792 New Zealand’s first sealing gang was left in Dusky Sound and the slaughter of southern fur seals began. By the 1820s the seals were all but exterminated.

One of the early sealers was John Grono, from Wales. It was Grono who named Milford Sound after Milford Haven, near where he was born in Wales.

However, the first European to settle in Milford Sound was Donald Sutherland, who sailed alone into Milford Sound on 1st December 1877. While searching for gold Sutherland discovered a waterfall cascading down a sheer face of rock in three giant leaps. Naming it the Sutherland Falls, he estimated it was “between 3,000 and 4,000 feet high”. Word soon got out about the falls and tourists followed. Actually measuring 580 metres (1904 feet), the Sutherland Falls can be viewed from the Milford Track or on a scenic flight.

In 1888, CW Adams, chief surveyor of Otago, commissioned Donald Sutherland to cut a track from Milford to the Sutherland Falls. The track, which became the Milford half of the famous Milford Track, was completed by Sutherland and his three assistants in six months. At the same time, Quintin Mackinnon was commissioned to cut a track up the Clinton Valley from the head of Lake Te Anau. Reaching the head of the valley he crossed the “Mackinnon Pass” on 16 October 1888 and then picked up Sutherland’s track.

By 1891, Sutherland and his wife, Elizabeth, had built a 12-roomed house and proceeded to provide trampers with a warm welcome for the next 30 years.

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