Small, remote places often have small airports – if they have one at all – that have a character all of their own. Milford Sound in New Zealand is one such place.
It’s a real tourist hub, but the airport is still tiny because most visitors here come by bus. Coach tours roll in, disgorge their passengers for a cruise on Milford Sound and a look at one of New Zealand’s most distinctive mountains, Mitre Peak, and then take them away again. There’s a smallish hotel, and not much else here.
Arriving by sea, aboard Island Escape Cruises‘ small luxury vessel Island Passage, put a new perspective on Milford Sound – and I was lucky enough to leave with Air Milford. I’d been trying to get to Milford Sound for years, but every time I was due to fly in from Queenstown the flight was cancelled due to the weather. Flying over the mountains is approached with caution, naturally. So I was thrilled to be here at last.
At 1692 metres, Mitre Peak is one of New Zealand’s most photographed landmarks. Named for its resemblance to a bishop’s mitre (head-dress), it rises starkly on the southern shore. It’s said that Rudyard Kipling called it the eighth wonder of the world…but hyperbole aside, it’s an impressive sight. In summer, there’s little snow and when we sail into Milford Sound, the skies are blue and clear. After overnighting on Island Passage, we disembark by landing craft to the small jetty jutting from the shoreline at the head of the Sound.
In places, Milford Sound is as deep as 400 metres deep and it is really a fjord – formed by a glacier – rather than a sound, which is a valley flooded by the sea. The Maori name for Milford Sound is Piopiotahi meaning “Place of the Singing Thrush” (sadly, a bird now extinct).
This is also the finishing point for the 54km Milford Track, a four-day hike that starts at the head of LakeTe Anau and finishes at Sandfly Point in Milford Sound.
As our Air Milford plane takes off, we get a wonderful view of the Sound before the plane turns for the mountains, heading for Queenstown. It’s a fittingly spectacular end to four days in this most beautiful part of the world.