ROL Cruise recommends…
Dense rainforests and snaking rivers cover the steep slopes of New Zealand’s most famous fjord. Known for its pristine, untamed beauty, it was named after Milford Haven in Wales by British migrant John Grono in 1812. Legend says that the Māori collected jade from its hillsides more than 1,000 years ago, and that its Māori name, Piopiotahi, refers to the piopio bird said to have flown there while mourning the death of ancient Māui.
Glide inside from the Tasman Sea to be greeted with over nine miles of captivating scenery. Look up at fantastic rock formations, such as Mitre Peak, The Elephant and The Lion then admire the cascading flow of Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls. If the rains have recently fallen, numerous fleeting waterfalls can be seen trickling over the jagged cliffs.
As you sail across its serene waters, keep your eyes peeled for seals, dolphins and the occasional whale swimming in its dark depths. If going ashore is an option, get a better view of the unique and intriguing environment beneath the surface at Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory in Harrison’s Cove. Adventurous explorers can follow hiking trails through its verdant rainforests and past tranquil lakes to discover why Rudyard Kipling called it the Eighth Wonder of the World.
With an annual rainfall of 6.8 metres over almost 200 days, the Sounds are one of the wettest inhabited places in the world. Don’t be put off by the thought of a minor downpour though; it’s this water that adds to its unique attraction. A diverse range of fauna is attracted to its lush flora, while deep-sea marine life thrives near its shores. As rainfall drains through the intensely green forest and rushes down countless waterfalls, it becomes stained with tannin. When it meets the saline water from the sea, this tea-coloured water lays on top, blocking out much of the sun’s light. Scuba dive here for a brilliant opportunity to view ancient black coral colonies at just 10 metres beneath the surface. It’s also home to an abundance of crayfish, starfish, sea anemones, fur seals, the Doubtful Sound bottlenoses and some Orca and sperm whales.
The ‘Doubtful’ part of its name was originally coined in 1770 by Captain Cook, who was unsure about its navigability, though whalers and sealers later changed it from Doubtful Bay to Doubtful Sound. At 421 metres deep, it is the deepest fiord on South Island’s west coast and, some say, the most memorable. Its three branching ‘arms’ lead to more breath-taking scenery and mountain-backed coves, while its internal archipelago makes for a scenic sail as you soak up the mystery and silent grandeur of this natural phenomenon.
The complex landscape of Dusky Sound is only accessible by boat, making it a truly remote spectacle. Almost five miles across at its widest point and 25 miles long, this relatively untouched fjord is one of the most picturesque in New Zealand. It was originally named by Captain Cook as Dusky Bay and soon became a popular harbour for merchant ships. Its shores were once the roaming ground of the now-extinct moa bird, while the waters were a favoured hunting ground for sealers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
These days, however, its diverse wildlife is much more treasured. Watch out for graceful dolphins and slinky seals as they swim through its mirror-like waters, or scan the horizon for breaching humpback whales. The shores, shrubland and forests are also recognised as important breeding grounds for endangered birdlife so bring your binoculars to spot Fiordland Penguins, Yellowhead and New Zealand Kaka.
Seven islands are scattered along the fjord, including the large, offshore nature reserve of Resolution Island that shelters its mouth. Get up close to their enchanting beauty with a kayaking tour, or take to the skies with a scenic helicopter or seaplane flight to appreciate the awesome natural geography of the area as you soar between the clouds.