When is a Sound not a Sound in NZ?

When is a Sound not a Sound in NZ?

Feature photo – Milford Sound from Cruise ship Noordam

A Sound is not a Sound in New Zealand when it’s a Fiord, of course. Read on to find out why this is significant.

DSC05969MV Noordam docked at White Bay Cruise Terminal – taken from our stateroom balcony

1 pm Saturday 4th January 2020, we arrived at the White Bay Cruise Terminal, Sydney Australia, to board the Holland America ship Noordam.

Despite arriving “On Time” there were hundreds of passengers ahead of us in the queue, embarking for the same 14 day cruise around New Zealand as we were.

DSC05979The Anzac Bridge with vacant docks in foreground – as seen from aft deck (level 9)

It probably only took an hour and a half to check-in, pass Border Control/Secutrity etc and find our stateroom, but we were already hungry, tired and wanting to find the location for our well overdue lunch. Guess what ….. there were hundreds of fellow passengers also scrambling to find food. It turned out to be an unsatisfying meal, but sustenance nevertheless.

DSC05982Sydney CBD from aft Deck (level 9)

At 5pm we departed White Bay for a leisurely cruise through Sydney Harbour and into the Tasman Sea. Our positions had already been staked out on the aft deck to enjoy the spectacle. But staying in one spot doesn’t always mean one gets the best perspective.

DSC06007Walsh Bay Wharves with Sydney CBD in background (from stairs leading to Deck 11)

DSC06012Sydney Opera House in view as MV Noordam passes under Harbour Bridge

DSC06036Maggie (bottom left corner in hat, white shorts & light blue top) fighting for space to capture a shot of Circular Quay

DSC06047View of Aft Deck in foreground with Sydney Harbour Bridge behind

DSC06049Manly Ferry “letting us pass” and Celebrity Solstice at Circular Quay Cruise Terminal

DSC06050Sydney Opera House, perhaps the best known landmark in Australia

It’s amazing how small the people on the foreshore of the Opera House appear, in the photo above.


The initial excitement over, Maggie and I moved downstairs to a Deck 3 bar for a different view. “A view of the bottom of a glass?” WHO SAID THAT?

The Pilot boat soon appeared “on starboard” to collect the Pilot, as we passed through the Sydney Harbour heads.

DSC06083Both vessels were moving at pace when the Pilot stepped onto “his” boat. I don’t think I could disembark this way.

That night at sea the weather turned nasty with large swells persisting for two days. The movement of the ship got the better of me and I was confined to bed, without food, from Sunday morning until we reached the calm waters of Milford Sound 6 am on Tuesday 7th January. Fortunately Maggie was not affected, but in the subsequent days I heard that many other passengers suffered the same fate as I did.

DSC06088MV Noordam entering the calm of Milford Sound

Milford Sound is apparently the best known part of New Zealand internationally and the most visited by tourists. So I was determined not to miss it, despite still feeling unwell.

Maggie and I both rugged up and spent short spells on our port side balcony, viewing and photographing as many wonderful angles of this magnificent place as we could. It was too cold and I felt too weak to stand out there continuously. Sitting outside wasn’t an option as the chairs were soaking wet from the storm.


Milford Sound (along with all of the other “Sounds” in the NZ Fiord National Park) is not actually a “Sound”, it’s a Fiord. What is the difference?

Both Sounds and Fiords are geological terms for natural land excavations that have been filled in by the sea. A Sound was a valley formed by a river and therefore is “V” shaped at the bottom. Sounds are usually wider than Fiords, above the water at least. A Fiord is a sea filled valley previously carved out by a retreated glacier and consequently has a “U” shaped bottom, with more perpendicular cliff faces (at least below the water).


Captain John Grono was the first European to discover and explore this fiord in 1812. Others, such as Captain Cook, had passed its mouth, but didn’t enter for fear of being washed onto the steep cliffs at the relatively narrow entrance.

Captain Grono called it Milford Haven after an area near his home in Wales. In time it became known as Milford Sound, however, it had been used by Maori for many generations prior and known as Piopiotahi. It was officially renamed Milford Sound / Piopiotahi in 1998.


According to Wikipedia the length of this “Sound” is 15.1 km, the maximum width is 1.94 km and the maximum depth (below the water) is 291 metres. While the highest peak is 1517 metres (above the water).


Milford Sound has only one sea entry / exit, so MV Noordam did a 180° turn at the end of the “Sound” for the cruise back to the open sea.


While a small number passengers opted to purchase an overland (overnight) excursion, from Milford Sound to Dunedin, most continued onboard MV Noordam for the cruise through the other fiords and onto Port Chalmers.


The Fiordland National Park is a very large area at the south western corner of New Zealand’s south island. Our cruise from Milford Sound to and through Doubtful and Dusky Sounds took just over 8 hours.

Arrival at Doubtful Sound on MV Noordam approximately 11.30 am Tuesday 7th January


Doubtful and Dusky Sounds have more than one entry / exit channel. MV Noordam entered these “Sounds” at the north and exited at the south of each.


Doubtful Sound is 40 KM long, with a maximum depth of 421 metres and maximum width of 2 km. It is the deepest and second longest of the south island’s fiords.


After leaving the beautiful waters of Doubtful Sound I felt well enough to attempt a lunchtime meal. Fortunately the sea was kind to me (and many others) for the remainder of the cruise.

Entering Dusky Sound on MV Noordam at approximately 2.15 pm


Dusky Sound is 40 km long and 8 km at its widest, making it one of the largest fiords in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park.



I’d like to return to New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound in particular. Perhaps next time we’ll approach Milford Sound by road from Queenstown (287 KMS) and stay at the Milford Sound Lodge. Perhaps …. if the money will stretch that far.


During the remaining hours of 7th January and into the morning of 8th January, our cruise ship MV Noordam continued south from Dusky Sound, then southeast along the southern coast of NZ’s South Island and up the east coast to Port Chalmers. From there we “bussed it” to the City of Dunedin.

So make certain you’re up bright and early for our arrival there. And please ….. practice the pronunciation of the city name – Dunedin = D’need’n.

  • Brian Winn
    Posted at 09:28h, 18 February Reply

    Time to visit NZ again

    • alistairstravel
      Posted at 09:37h, 18 February Reply

      Thanks for your response Brian. How long has it been since you were there?

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