Filled with still waters and flourishing wildlife, it is believed Maori first discovered Milford Sound a around 1000 years ago. After noticing the areas abundant offerings, Maori would return there to recover pounamu (greenstone). It is thought that they made this journey by traveling the Milford Track, which is the same route visitors use today to soak in the area’s ethereal beauty.
A Playground: Milford Sound’s Maori History
Reputedly used as a source of life and enjoyment by the Maori, Milford Sound became something of a playground. With a seemingly endless supply of fish and a harmonious balance between man and nature, its calming environment was welcoming and safe.
Years before European discovery took place, Milford Sound’s indigenous Maori inhabitants meticulously tracked the tides and predicted fish breeding patterns. Through generations of experience with nature, they were able to use Milford Sound as a vital life source.
Milford Sound or Piopiotahi?
The Maori name for Milford Sound is Piopiotahi. Like many Maori names, it is born from mythology, and the story behind Piopiotahi crafts beautiful images of nature’s ability to rule supreme. According to this legend, the Maori Maui brought a thrush with him from Hawaiki. Maui made the fatal mistake of challenging Hine-nui-te-po, the Goddess of Death, to a duel. Challenging her for the prize of eternal life for mankind if he won. When she crushed him to death between her thighs, his little thrush flew south to mourn, giving birth to Piopiotahi.
Another Maori legend involves less suffering. According to this legend, the God Tu-te-raki-whanoa made his way through the Fiordlands hammering out rocks and shapes to perfect the landscape using a powerful prayer. When he reached Milford Sound, he carried out his best work, and ended his journey there.
Whether you refer to the area as Milford Sound or Piopiotahi, there is no denying it is captivatingly beautiful. For many years, Milford Sound did not exist at all. Like much of the Southern Hemisphere, it rested under the sea, only to emerge following tectonic activity.