Falling Waters Fifteen: Bowen and Stirling, Milford Sound, New Zealand

January, 2014

On our way to Milford Sound on New Zealand’s southern island, we passed several glacier fed waterfalls.


Milford Sound, itself, is home to two more stunning waterfalls: Lady Bowen and Stirling.

Lady Bowen Falls greets you just a few minutes after beginning any cruise on Milford Sound. This 530 foot waterfall is the tallest in the sound, and it powers a small hydroelectric plant that provides power for the Milford Sound settlement. This fall was named for Lady Diamantina Bowen, wife of George Bowen, the fifth governor of New Zealand. Governor Bowen was appointed in 1867 he is credited with reconciling the Māori to British rule, and bringing about the end of the New Zealand wars. Diamantina was a Venetian Countess, born in the Ionian Islands. She was very popular in New Zealand, and many other places, besides this waterfall, were named for her.

The Māori name for this waterfall is Hine Te Awa, meaning “girl on the river.”


Stirling Falls is the second tallest waterfall in the sound, at about 510 feet. This one drops vertically over a cliff, creating a mist. Our boat came up very close for photo ops, and everyone rushed to that side. Fortunately, the boat didn’t capsize. Legend says that the waterfall’s water makes people younger. Almost five years later, I’m still waiting for that to happen.

This waterfall was named for Admiral Sir James Stirling, a British naval officer who “discovered” the falls. He was very active in the government of Australia, but doesn’t seem to factor in that of New Zealand. He didn’t do anything to earn the name, just happened to be the first European to claim it.

The Māori name for Stirling Falls is Piopiotahi, which means “a single piopio,” an extinct, thrush-like native bird. By the way, that is also the The  Māori name for Milford Sound, and there’s a story behind the name. According to legend, a man named Māui brought a thrush with him from Hawaiki, the mythological home of the Polynesians before they spread across the Pacific. Māui challenged Hine-nui-te-po, the Goddess of Death, to a duel, the prize being eternal life for mankind if he won. Of course the goddess won, by crushing Māui to death between her thighs, and his little thrush (piopio) flew south to mourn, giving birth to Piopiotahi.


The sun was shining, which helped offset the soaking we received. It actually felt pretty good, but it was challenging to keep the lens dry when taking these photos.

About kcbernick

I love to travel.
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