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The Culture and Tales of Piopiotahi Milford Sound

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To have a rich appreciation for your surroundings, it’s important to soak up the culture, tales, and past of a location. Milford Sound these days is a hub for sightseers and native flora and fauna, however, the history of this famous fiord dates far back to its divine creation.

The culture of Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, is rich with pūrākau, or legends. They serve to explain the creation of landmarks we see around us, the connection with the land, and more. Many legends of the Milford Sound area come from Māori culture, but there are a few exceptions.

The Māori name for Milford Sound is Piopiotahi, meaning single New Zealand native thrush. The South Island piopio is a native bird, now extinct, and was said to have flown south to Milford Sound when demi-god Maui died to sing and mourn the loss.

We have detailed only a few of the many tales of Piopiotahi Milford Sound here, but you can hear much more by catching a coach to your Milford cruise, downloading the commentary app (available in multiple languages) and listening to your bus driver’s knowledgeable commentary.

The forming of Piopiotahi Milford Sound

According to a Māori legend, Piopiotahi Milford Sound was created by a great god using his toki (carving tool) called Te Hamo. Tu-te-raki-whanoa shaped the Fiordland coast, carving Preservation Inlet and Dusky Sound before moving on to Piopiotahi while chanting a karakia (prayer) to create a place that would be rich with fish, birds and waterways.

With Piopiotahi Milford Sound described as the eighth wonder of the world and ethereal in appearance, it’s understandable that the legends involve the divine touch of a god.

The first routes around Milford Sound

The Milford Track today is a popular hiking track around MacKinnon’s Pass and one of New Zealand’s ten Great Walks. However, it is thought that this route between Te Anau and Piopiotahi was first well-used by Māori. They would make trips to Piopiotahi Milford Sound to collect tangiwai pounamu, an ancient and unique form of the greenstone found only in that area, and use it for tools, weapons, and trading.

Tangiwai ponamu often looks clear like glass with tinges of green and blue. The rock’s translated name alludes to its origin story; tangi means “to cry” and wai means “water”, or “tears”. According to legend, when Waitaiki was stolen from her husband, Tamaahua, by Poutini the taniwha, she cried onto the rocks at Piopiotahi Milford Sound, forming the tangiwai stone.

Hinenui-te-Po’s addition to Piopiotahi Milford Sound

If you have been to Milford Sound, you’ll know that it’s a big mistake to forget your insect repellent because of the brazen bugs that have a small but irritating bite. According to the legend, they’re doing exactly what they were created for!

As the Maori legend goes, Hinenui-te-Po, the goddess of death, released te namu (sandflies), or little devils, into Milford Sound from Sandfly Point to keep people away from the area; she worried that the fiord was so extraordinary that people would want to live there forever and her te namu were the solution to this. It’s likely that Hinenui-te-Po was absolutely right about both of those things!

Illusive moose living in Piopiotahi Milford Sound

Of all the wildlife you hope to see in Piopiotahi Milford Sound, is a moose on your list? Maybe it’s time to add it.

We know for sure that ten Canadian moose were introduced to the wilderness of Fiordland National Park in 1910; four males and six females. After heading off into their new bushland home, not much has been known about the herd since. A few lived on and continued to breed but it is not known how many, if any, still survive today. Tales of hunters spotting these elusive creatures are rife, but the last verified image of a Fiordland moose was taken in 1952. A still image from a video in 1995 is rumoured to show a moose, but speculation still surrounds the species of the animal in the image.

If you’re wanting to visit Piopiotahu Milford Sound while also learning the legends and history that make the area so unique, our coach drivers can help. Alongside scenic stops and safe road journeys, friendly commentary is included to make the most of your ride. Guests aboard our coach can also download the commentary app to hear the stories of Fiordland in their preferred language.

From the creation of Milford Sound’s dramatic cliffs to the present-day landscape and all of the stories in between, Fiordland National Park has been loved by all who have encountered it since that dawn of time.

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