Milford Sound has all that gorgeous scenery and as soon as Donald Sutherland saw it he knew tourists would pour in.
So he took it on himself to explore and build the first hotel, living as a virtual hermit for years in the Sounds without anyone else around in the 1880’s.
He discovered what came to be called Sutherland Falls which for a brief time was considered the highest in the world at what he thought was over 1000 metres. But later surveys showed they were 580 metres - still a wildly impressive sight.
Sutherland was an adventurer and explorer and at one stage was considered the hermit of Milford Sound.
Born about 1844, in Wick in Scotland to father Donald and mother Isabella, he dreamed of an exciting life. At 16, he joined a militia unit and volunteered for war. After fighting in Italy, he boarded the Prince Alfred to come to New Zealand working his way as a mariner.
But on arrival in Dunedin he jumped ship and Sutherland went gold hunting at Gabriels Gully.
He had little success so headed north and joined the Waikato militia. After serving he was granted land at Pukerimu but abandoned it and fought for a few more years.
After a time working on a government steamer he decided to settle in Fiordland. On his own and with only his dog (called Johnny Groat) for company he sailed to Milford Sound, exploring the area, settling near Bowen Falls.
In 1878, he and another explorer James McKay looked for gold in the area and scouted for a route between Milford Sound and Queenstown and in doing so on November 10, 1880, became the first European to see the falls that were later named after him.
When McKay left Sutherland was the only permanent resident of Milford Sound.
Sutherland liked to see and try new things, he sailed the coast - Sutherland Sound is named after him - and tried to climb Mitre Peak.
For years he lived alone and in isolation, only meeting the government steamer called in and his observations of the area would be sent to a geologist.
He made infrequent visits to Dunedin and in 1890 married Elizabeth Samuels and they purchased land in the Sound and built an accommodation house for tourists who visited the area in the summer.
The couple were later joined by his nephew William and their home, called The Chalet became the first place in the area catering to a now well developed tourist trade.
He died at his home on October 24, 1919 and is buried there.
Picture of Sutherland (and his dog) from Te Papa’s collection
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