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Milford Sound’s European History

Captain Cook - Milford Sound’s European History

Captain Cook narrowly missed being a part of Milford Sound’s European history when he passed by the narrow entrance for fear of being unable to turn around.

Initially, it seemed as though Milford Sound would never be found. The great explorer Captain Cook sailed past the entrance to Milford Sound, not just once, but twice. Eventually, John Grono, a Welsh explorer from Milford Haven, came upon the sound. He was so stunned by its beauty, he named it after his hometown, and millions more have flocked there ever since.

John Grono and Milford Sound’s European Discovery

John Grono’s discovery was made in 1812, during a time when European exploration was coming into its own. While old social structures were gathering strength in terms of conservatism on his home shores, Grono could still enjoy the upper class pastime of uncovering the world’s hidden treasures. Milford Sound was one of them, and it wasn’t long before more freedom-seeking explorers visited the island. Years after Grono’s exploration, another Welshman paid a visit to Milford Sound. John Lort Stokes decided to do away with the name Milford Haven, and so the name Milford Sound was born. Stokes arrived in the area on HMS Acheron, a grand ship that has dominated 19th-century paintings of the landscape. Carefully documenting his moves as he and his men explored Milford Sound, Stokes made no mention of Maori war canoes. This means, contrary to popular belief, the Acheron was unlikely to have been challenged by the area’s indigenous Maori inhabitants.

Milford Sound’s Global Reputation

Word of Milford Sound’s beauty soon spread around the world. As the explorers returned to their home countries, they told fellow travel enthusiasts of the Fiordland’s ethereal beauty, deep crevices, and tranquil waters. Exploration of the area continued throughout the 19th century, leading to the discovery of Mackinnon Pass in 1888. Slowly, but surely, the rugged Milford Track was formed, leading to thousands of walkers taking in her scenic offerings for years to come. For a while it seemed as though European explorers would pillage the area’s natural beauty. Sealing was a popular pursuit, and it only gave way to whaling in the middle of the 19th century when there were no seals left. Conservation of Milford Sound only became a priority in the 20th century, when the need to protect its beauty was realized. One European traveller who granted Milford Sound the attention it deserved was Donald Sutherland, who was born in Scotland and had spent years travelling through Italy with his work. When he came upon the area, he decided to stay, eventually becoming known as Milford Sound’s Hermit. Accompanying him was his little dog, John O’Groats, who helped him explore every crevice. The first hotel was developed in 1890 by Elizabeth Samuel, who became known as the Mother of Milford. Her arrival came at a time when explorers were beginning to realize the area had no mining potential, allowing it to remain in its beautiful state. With the advent of global travel came a need for greater accessibility. Long gone were the days of Grono and Stokes’ boats, and in came the marvel of air travel. Responding to the world’s desire to see Milford Sound and other areas of the Fiord, Homer Tunnel was built in 1955. An era of Fiordland appreciation was born. In the decades that followed, not only would Milford Sound attract more and more curious visitors, it became an enviably beautiful filming location, a geologic basis for the charming ruggedness of Middle Earth, and a point of marine discovery. It is unlikely that John Grono could have imagined the effect his discovery would have, but it is he the world has to thank for the European history of Milford Sound.