Milford Sound, New Zealand: Things to Do + Essential Tips

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One of many highlights of the South Island, visiting Milford Sound New Zealand is at the top of many bucket lists. We put together this ultimate guide with everything you’ll need to know when planning a visit including when to go, where to stay, things to do, and essential tips.

Milford Sound Cruise New Zealand

Touted as新西兰’s most popular tourist destinationand even called the “8th Wonder of the World”, Milford Sound (“Piopiotahi”in Māori) is arguably New Zealand’s most spectacular natural attraction (and that’s saying something!).

Located in Fiordland National Park, the 15-kilometer stretch that makes up Milford Sound is surrounded by towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, mountain peaks, and lush rainforests. A visit to this untouched wilderness tops many travelers’ lists ofthings to do in New Zealand

Milford Sound Travel Guide

For more tips and advice for planning your trip to Milford Sound, jump to the following sections (or just keep scrolling to see it all!).

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About Milford Sound


The first thing you need to know is that Milford Sound is not a sound—it’s a fjord. The most famous one inFjordlands National Park, in fact.

The fjords were formed by glacial erosion over hundreds of millions of years.Piopiotahiwas discovered by the Māori people over 1,000 years ago and later given the name “Milford Sound” by European settlers.

Note: Like a fjord, asoundis also a valley filled with sea water, but the termsoundtypically refers to a valley filled by the flooding of a river, whereas fjords are formed in glacial valleys.

现在,它的one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions, seeing pre-pandemic numbers of nearly 900,000 visitors in 2019. With dense native forests, seemingly endless waterfalls, and abundant wildlife, it’s easy to understand the popularity.

Take our word for it: this is one of thosebucket list places that totally lives up to the hypeand an absolute must for yourSouth Island itinerary

Will you be visiting both islands on your trip?We also have a2-week North Island itinerarythat you can copy!

English language note:In this article, we’ll be using “fjord” and “fiord” interchangeably.

Wildlife on the Milford Sound

Dusky dolphin Kaikoura New Zealand
We saw dusky dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand. They occasionally make an appearance in Milford Sound!

From the treetops of the surrounding rainforest to the depths of the pristine water, Milford Sound is teeming with a不同一个rray of flora and fauna, including several rare species found nowhere else in the world.

Marine mammals

Seal Rock Milford Sound New Zealand

On your Milford Sound tour, there’s a good chance you’ll seefur sealssunbathing on Seal Rock and curiousbottlenose dolphinsfrolicking around your boat.Dusky dolphinsoccasionally make an appearance, and whale sightings are rare, but not unheard of.

Psst!If you want to see dusky dolphins on your trip to New Zealand, don’t miss our guide to (ethically!)swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura


You’ll no doubt seegulls and cormorantssoaring overhead, and you might think,been there, done that.But there’s another bird commonly found in Milford Sound, and it just may steal your heart…

TheLittle Blue PenguinYes, that’s its real name!Also called Fairy Penguins, these cuties are the world’s smallest penguin species and they are stinkin’ adorable!

Also endemic to the area is theFiordland Crested Penguin, one of the rarest penguins in the world. You’ll know you’ve spotted this endangered species if you see a penguin with a funky hairstyle.

Meanwhile, on land…

The famous New Zealand kea

As if the diversity in the water wasn’t enough, there are more than700 species of plantsin the rainforests around Milford Sound that can only be found in Fiordland.

Venture into the trees and you’ll likely see a kea or two. Thisalpine parrotis known for its high intelligence and mischievous behavior (like stealing things from tourists!). Less likely to be spotted are the colorfultakaheand the whimsicalkakapo, both of which are critically endangered.

Best time to visit Milford Sound

Milford Sound Cruise New Zealand

In our opinion,the best time to visit Milford Sound is in November.Deciding on when to take your Milford Sound cruise can be tricky, but here’s why we think November is the sweet spot:

  • Temperatures are comfortable.This is the shoulder season between New Zealand’s spring and summer, so things are starting to warm up and the days are getting longer.
  • You’ll avoid peak tourist season.December to February is New Zealand’s summer, which sees bigger crowds and higher prices.
  • You have a better chance of seeing wildlife, as marine life such as penguins and seals are more active in the spring and fall.
  • You actuallywantsome rain.That’s right, with atmospheric mists and too many waterfalls to count, Milford Sound is at its best in the rain! The South Island’s west coast is notorious for rain at all times of year, but December and January are the wettest months.

We would personallyavoid visiting during peak tourist season(December to February), when Milford Sound will be at its most crowded and huge cruise ships might be coming into the fjord. We would alsoavoid visiting in the winter(June to August), when you may be faced with icy driving conditions and closures on Milford Road.

For an in-depth guide on the regional seasons, weather patterns, and other factors, check out our complete guide to thebest time to visit New Zealand

How many days do you need in Milford Sound?

Milford Sound New Zealand

You shouldn’t need to spend more than a day in Milford Sound. However, its remoteness means you’ll need to add extra time for travel.

Most tourists do a Milford Sound day tour from Te Anau or Queenstown. Since Queenstown to Milford Sound is a 9-hour drive round-trip, we recommend staying1 or 2 nights in Te Anauor at a nearby campsite to give yourself more time to explore.

  • Day 1:Drive from Queenstown to Te Anau (4.5 hours). Spend the rest of the dayexploring Te Anau
  • Day 2:Drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound (2.5 hours) for acruise & kayaking tour.Drive back to Te Anau, making stops along the Milford Road. Spend another night in Te Anau.
  • Day 3:Drive back to Queenstown or onward to the next destination on your road trip.

Psst!We have a massive guide packed with insider tips to help youplan the perfect New Zealand itinerary

How to get to Milford Sound

Milford Road New Zealand

While some tours include transportation to and from Te Anau or Queenstown, you might be driving to Milford Sound yourself if you’rerenting a caror doing acampervan road trip.There’s only one way in, and it’s pretty freakin’ spectacular: the Milford Road.

From Te Anau

  • Distance:118 km / 73 miles
  • Time:2.5 hours minimum

The section of State Highway 94 from Te Anau to Milford Sound is known as theMilford Road.The route is straightforward since you’ll be staying on 94 the whole time, but there are some important things you need to know before making this drive:

  • Give yourself more time than Google Maps says.Traffic will be heavy as everyone makes their way to their Milford Sound cruises. Plus, this drive is so astonishingly beautiful that you’ll want to stop at landmarks along the way.Trust me.
  • There are no services on this road.Make sure you have a full tank leaving Te Anau, as well as snacks, water, and anything else you need for the drive.
  • There’s also no cell service, so download your maps before heading out.This articleexplains how to download offline Google Maps if you’re not familiar with the process.
  • It can be dangerous in the winter, and the road will close if there’s an avalanche advisory. Check conditions before leaving and bring emergency gear, including snow chains.

From Queenstown

Devil's Staircase Queenstown New Zealand
  • Distance:288 km / 179 miles
  • Time:4.5 hours minimum

Though it may look closer on a map, there’s no route to Milford Sound from Queenstown as the crow flies, so you’ll still need to go through Te Anau.

Take State Highway 6 out of Queenstown, heading south along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. In Lowther, turn right onto Highway 97. Turn right again in Mossburn onto Highway 94, which you’ll stay on all the way to Milford Sound. Don’t forget tostop in Te Anau for gas and supplies

Staying in Queenstown?You’ll definitely want to read our list of thebest things to doin this adventurous city!

Getting around Milford Sound

Milford Sound ferry terminal New Zealand

There are no taxis, rideshares, or public transportation once you arrive in the township of Milford Sound.

Walking is super easy and the best way to get around.From the car park, it’s just a 1-minute walk to the Information Centre & Cafe, 2 minutes to the Milford Sound Foreshore Trail, and about 10-15 minutes to the ferry terminal.

If you require assistance getting around, we recommend booking a Milford Sound tour that includes transportation, as tour buses can park right at the ferry terminal and your guides will be able to help out.

If you’re staying atMilford Lodge, you can take advantage of their free shuttle service to bring you right to the ferry terminal, or walk the 2 km (about 30-35 minutes) and take in the scenery.

Things to do in and around Milford Sound

Milford Sound South Island New Zealand

Whether you’re looking for a few hours of sightseeing or an overnight cruise adventure, there’s no shortage of ways to experience the staggering beauty and wild nature of Milford Sound.

1. Cruise Milford Sound

South Island New Zealand Milford Sound

巡航是最受欢迎的方式之一to experience Milford Sound. This is what we personally did, and we were happy with it, though we wish we had done a nature cruise that included kayaking (likethis one).

On a Milford Sound cruise, you’ll see many highlights of the fjord, includingBowen Falls, Seal Rock, and Stirling Falls.Be sure to have your camera ready for wildlife sightings.

There are tons of tour operators offering similar cruises with minor differences (e.g. boat size, food options). Then there are tours that offer additional experiences, such askayaking or helicopter rides.Some also include transportation.

Milford Sound Cruise New Zealand
Bowen Falls Milford Sound New Zealand

Here are a few important things to know before booking your Milford Sound cruise:

  • Book your tour in advance.Whether you’re just doing the cruise or a longer tour, book as early as you can to avoid disappointment.
  • The boats run in rain or shine, so don’t worry if your forecast looks wet. In fact, locals say the scenery is even better in the rain!
  • There’s only one ferry terminal, and it’s shared by all the cruise operators. Each company has its own check-in desk inside.
  • The public car park is 300 meters from the terminal, so be sure to give yourself an extra 15-20 minutes before your check-in time to walk down.
  • Most Milford Sound cruises take about 2 hoursand follow the same basic route from the ferry terminal to the mouth of the Tasman Sea and back.
  • Tour prices varydepending on what’s included, but the cruise itself is usually around $80-90 USD per person.
  • Lunch may or may not be included.Be sure to double check with your tour provider so you know if you need to pack or buy lunch.

2. Go kayaking in Milford Sound

Milford Sound kayaking New Zealand

如果我们有更多的时间花在米尔福德声音,wedefinitelywould have booked a kayaking tour.

Gliding along at water-level, you can fully appreciate the scale of this dramatic landscape.

Watch mountain peaks disappear into the clouds, marvel at the cliffs towering above the fjord, andhear the thunder of the fallsas they seem to plummet from the sky. You might even get up-close and personal with some of the wildlife, as dolphins and seals are notoriously curious.

Unless you’re a local Kiwi or living here on aworking holiday, chances are you won’t have your own kayak and you’ll need to join a tour. For safety reasons,kayaks are not available to rent independentlyat Milford Sound.

There are plenty of tour options catering to all experience levels. Guided excursions range from 1 hour of leisurely paddling in Harrison Cove to kayaking the length of the fjord on a 6-hour adventure.

除非你是一个超级有经验的皮划艇爱好者,你赢了’t go as far into the fjord as you would on a cruise. That’s whywe’d recommend booking a tour likethis onethat offers the opportunity to kayak and cruise, aka the best of both worlds!

3. Walk to the Mitre Peak Viewpoint

Milford Sound Cruise New Zealand

Also known as the Milford Sound Lookout,this stunning viewpointis the culmination of theMilford Sound Foreshore Walk, an easy 1-kilometer trail that takes about 15 minutes round trip.

Thetrailheadis across the road from the Southern Discoveries Information Centre & Cafe. There are a couple of picnic tables at the trailhead. From there, it’s a combination of boardwalk and crushed gravel to the viewpoint, with some educational signs along the way.

At the end of the trail, you’ll be rewarded withuninterrupted views of the spectacular Mitre Peak.

4. Snap a photo on the Milford Sound Swing

If you love collecting Instagrammabletravel photos, this iconic swing is a popular spot for influencers and travel bloggers. (We should know!)

Located on a picturesque, sandy beach just off the Foreshore Walk, this natural log swing is set against the backdrop of the mighty Mitre Peak.Visit during golden hour or sunsetfor some truly breathtaking photos.

Do it yourself:

Start out on the Milford Sound Foreshore Walk. After the bridge, hang right. Further down, you’ll see a gap in the railing where you can hop off the boardwalk. Keep the water on your left and follow the beach until you reach the swing.

重要提示:This spot is easier to find and access at low tide. If you’re visiting at high tide, be prepared to get your feet wet.

5. Hike the Milford Track

Milford Track New Zealand
Image by Mac Gaither via Unsplash

The legendary Milford Track is one of thebest hikes in New Zealand, and also considered a Great Walk (one of 10 in the country!).

This4-day adventurestarts with a boat from Te Anau Downs to the trailhead at the northern tip of Lake Te Anau. You’ll spend 3 nights on the trail, sleeping in the designated DOC huts (camping is not permitted). Note thattickets for the huts can sell outwithin minutes of bookings opening.

Day 3 is the most exciting, including aclimb up and over McKinnon Passand a side trip to Sutherland Falls,新西兰’s highest waterfall

Be prepared for lots of sandflies (New Zealand’s native version of mosquitos, with a very itchy bite). Also be prepared for some wet weather, but don’t worry about the rain – that’s when the waterfalls really come to life!

Do it yourself:

  • Distance:53.5 km (33.5 miles), 4 days
  • Elevation Gain:~850 m (2,788 ft)
  • Difficulty Rating:Hard
  • View the trail notes

重要提示:For this hike, we highly recommend using AllTrails+ to download the offline map, as the trail is not well-marked in some places and can be difficult to follow. You can get your first week of Alltrails+ for FREE when yousign up using our link!

6. Stay at the Milford Sound Lodge

Milford Sound Lodge (Booking)
Image source: Booking

The only accommodation in Milford Sound, thishighly-rated luxury lodgeboasts cozy chalets in the breathtaking setting of Fiordlands National Park.

Enjoy incomparable views from your doorstep in amountain, riverside, or garden chaletwith all the amenities. With breakfast included and Milford’s only restaurant onsite, you’ll have a chance to trytraditional New Zealand foodswhile taking in the natural beauty around you.

This property is also the site ofMilford Sound’s only campground.Exclusively for self-contained vehicles (no tents, trailers, or caravans), this is the only place you can park yourcampervan rentalovernight in Milford. Spaces are limited, to be sure tobook well in advance.

7. Discover the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory

Milford Sound Cruise & Underwater Observatory (Get Your Guide)
Image source: Get Your Guide

Few places on Earth boast an underwater realm as unique as that of Milford Sound. Here, a fascinating natural occurrence known as ‘deep-water emergence’ takes place, where the mingling of freshwater and seawater allows species typically found at great depths to thrive in shallower waters.

One example is theBlack Coral, traditionally associated with the deep sea, yet in Milford Sound, it flourishes just 10 meters beneath the surface.

Possibly one of the most unique attractions in Milford Sound is thefloating underwater observatory.Accessible only by boat, exclusively forSouthern Discovery tours, this is the only observatory of its kind in New Zealand.

The observatory allows you toexperience the unique biodiversity of Milford Soundfrom a completely different perspective—10 meters under the water! It’s just like visiting an aquarium, except all the fish and marine life are roaming free and you’re the one in the enclosure.

8. Explore Te Anau

Te Anau New Zealand
Image by Richard Lin via Unsplash

Located 2.5 hours from Milford Sound,Te Anau is the nearest townand well worth exploring. We’d recommend spending a night or two here to break up your drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound.

There are lots of fun things to do in Te Anau:

  • Enjoy coffee and pastriesat theSandfly Cafe
  • See adocumentary about Fjordlands National ParkatFiordland Cinema
  • Try the bao bunsatDitto
  • Photograph Lake Te Anaufromthis dock
  • See Glow Wormsas you explore theTe Anau Glowworm Cave
  • Stay in anAirbnb with a hot tub,like these:
    • The O2 Yurt:This super unique and luxurious yurt boasts a private patio and outdoor bath. (Our top pick!)
    • Offgrid Rural Retreat:This off-grid tiny home has a hot tub and earns rave reviews.
    • Tui Rise:This budget-friendly stay is everything you need (and more!). Relax in your own private hot tub without breaking the bank!

Tips for visiting Milford Sound

Milford Sound cruise New Zealand

There are a few things you should know before planning your visit so you can get the most out of your Milford Sound experience.

  • Book all tours in advance.Cruises, scenic flights, and kayaking tours fill up quickly in the summer. Even in the off season, it’s always a good idea to book as early as you can to avoid disappointment.
  • Bring water and snacks.With the exception of the cafe at the Information Centre, there are no shops in Milford Sound. Even if your tour includes lunch, we recommend bringing plenty of snacks.
  • Have some cash on you.It’s always a good idea to carry some cash just in case. Some boat cruises may have food and drinks for purchase that don’t take cards.
  • Download everything you need.You won’t have cell service for a lot of your visit, so download any maps, tickets, etc. that you think you might need before leaving your accommodation.
  • Enjoy the journey.The Milford Road is an experience in itself. Take your time, make stops, do some of the scenic walks, and immerse yourself in this incredible landscape.

FAQs about Milford Sound

Milford Sound New Zealand

现在您已经为t的事情。我们的建议o do in and around Milford Sound, here are some other things to consider as you plan your trip.

Why is Milford Sound so famous?

Milford Sound cruise New Zealand

Thejaw-dropping sceneryof Milford Sound is what makes it one of the most iconic sights in New Zealand, and its remoteness adds to the mystique. Rudyard Kipling (author ofThe Jungle Book) called it “the 8th Wonder of the World”. It also holds the title of thewettest inhabited place in New Zealandand one of the wettest in the world for the staggering amount of rain that falls here.

Can I visit Milford Sound as a day trip?

Absolutely. This is the most popular way to visit Milford Sound. Whether you join a bus tour, choose a scenic flight, or drive yourself, you can easily do aday trip from Queenstown or Te Anau.

Can you visit Milford Sound all year long?

Milford Sound New Zealand

Yes! Milford Sound is absolutelybreathtaking in every season.

Summer is the warmest and also the rainiest, but remember that rain means more waterfalls! Summer is also peak tourist season, which means more crowds, higher prices, and booked up tours and accommodations.

Many travelers love visiting Milford Sound in the winter, as it’s much quieter and the snow is magical. Just remember road conditions are icy and there may be avalanche closures.

If you plan on hiking Milford Track, the best time is late October to the end of April.

How much does Milford Sound cost?

Milford Sound cruise New Zealand

This entirely depends on the type of experience you want. For instance, you could drive to Milford Sound and just walk around, and you would only pay for parking (about $20 NZD for 5 hours). But you’d really be missing out…

Basic cruises are usually around $80-90 USD per person. If you choose a tour with more to it (e.g. transportation, kayaking, helicopter ride, etc.), you’ll need to budget more.

Are there restaurants near Milford Sound?

TheMilford Sound Lodgehas an onsite restaurant –Pio Pio Cafe.除此之外,选择一个re slim to none. We’d recommend bringing plenty of snacks!

Is Milford Sound really worth it?

Milford Sound New Zealand

YES. Milford Sound is more than just “doing the thing in the place”. It is truly a bucket-list experience and photos don’t do it justice. I personally think Milford Sound is anabsolute must-do

Our biggest regret is that we didn’t domorethan the boat tour. If you can swing it, we’d recommend doing something more immersive than just the cruise, likethis tourthat combines a boat cruise and kayaking.

Is there a difference between Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound?

Doubtful Sound Fiordland National Park New Zealand
Our Director of Content, Amanda, did an overnight cruise of Doubtful Sound with Real Journeys (now called RealNZ)

Despite their similar-sounding names and close geographical proximity in the Fiordland region of New Zealand’s South Island,there are some key differencesbetween these two iconic “sounds.”

Fun Fact:Just as we mentioned earlier about Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is also not a truesound, but actually a fiord.

Milford Sound is more accessible, smaller in size, and renowned for its dramatic cliffs and waterfalls. It’s a popular day trip destination from Queenstown and Te Anau.

In contrast,Doubtful Sound is less accessible, larger, and characterized by dense rainforests and a sense of isolation.It requires a boat trip and bus ride to reach (you can’t self-drive there), providing a quieter and more remote experience.

Both fiords offer beautiful landscapes and wildlife viewing opportunities, but the choice depends on your preference for accessibility and the scale of the natural environment.

Our personal pick:ThisDoubtful Sound overnight cruisesounds magical! It is on our list for our next NZ trip, since we’ve already visited Milford Sound. Our Director of Content, Amanda, did this exact cruise when she visited New Zealand with her family and raves about the experience.

Where to stay near Milford Sound

Aside from the Milford Sound Lodge, there are no accommodations in the township, but you can find hotels and B&Bs in nearby Te Anau. Below are a few options with great reviews.

Psst!Are you staying in Queenstown? We have a guide with a list of the bestQueenstown accommodations


Fiordland Lakeview Motel & Apartments (Booking)
Image source: Booking

Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments

Location:Te Anau

It’s right there in the name – the views of Lake Te Anau from this motel are seriously stunning. Each room has a kitchenette with a full-sized fridge and thenew deluxe suitesboast electric fireplaces and reclining chairs.

Dusky Motels (Booking)
Image source: Booking

Dusky Motels

Location:Te Anau

Enjoydreamy mountain viewsfrom this modern motel with comfy beds and spotless rooms.

Cabot Lodge Manapouri (Booking)
Image source: Booking

Cabot Lodge


If you really want to treat yo’self, this bougie lodge receives rave reviews. Amenities are everywhere, fromarrival drinks and canapesto a farm-to-plate set dinner, daily fresh fruits and baked treats, and a hot tub.

Cabot Lodge is a destination in itself; if you’re just looking for a place to sleep after exploring the Fiordlands, we’d recommend booking somewhere else.


别墅在湖上Te Anau (Airbnb)
Image source: Airbnb


Location:Te Anau

Juststeps away from the lake, you’ll want to plant yourself in front of the large picture windows and admire the view from this cozy bungalow.

Modern House in Te Anau (Airbnb)
Image source: Airbnb

Modern House in Te Anau

Location:Te Anau

Perfect for large groups, this spacious house has a large kitchen, a patio with a BBQ, and gorgeous mountain views.

Fiordland Log Cabin (Airbnb)
Image source: Airbnb

Fiordland Log Cabin

Location:8 minutes from Te Anau

This dreamy log cabin just outside the city provides aquiet and peacefulstay, complete with a gas fireplace to keep things cozy.

Farmstay near Te Anau (Airbnb)
Image source: Airbnb

Farmstay near Te Anau

Location:15 minutes from Te Anau

Thisrustic studio on a livestock farmoffers panoramic mountain and river views. A woodburning stove and fresh breakfast items from your host make it extra special.


Camping Milford Sound New Zealand

Cascade Creek DOC campsite

Location:1 hour from Milford Sound

Just past the southern tip of Lake Gunn, this is theclosest campsite to Milford Sound.Sites are $15 NZD per adult and should be pre-booked online to avoid being turned away or having to pay extra fees.

Eglinton Valley Camp

Location:1 hour 15 minutes from Milford Sound

This holiday park is the only serviced campground on the Milford Road. Their unpowered tent and campervan sites are $30 NZD per adult and they have shared kitchen and laundry facilities, as well as public restrooms and showers. They also have cabins (for a much higher price).

Lumsden freedom camping

Location:3.5 hours from Milford Sound

This is more or less a parking lot near a historic train track, but it has clean bathrooms and is free, which is ideal if you’retraveling New Zealand on a budget.

Psst!Wondering what we mean by “DOC campsite”, “holiday park”, and “freedom camping”? Our新西兰camping guidewill tell you everything you need to know.

What to pack for visiting Milford Sound

Milford Sound New Zealand
  • Wear layers
  • Waterproof rain jacket:choose one that also works as a windbreaker if possible, as it can get very windy
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen:one of the mostimportant things to know about New Zealandis there is a hole in the ozone layer above the country, meaning you’ll likely burn more quickly than you’re used to
  • Water
  • Snacks(there aren’t many food options in Milford Sound)
  • Camera
  • Battery bank:to keep your phone charged
  • Gloves and a beanie:these are nice to have if you’re doing an early morning Milford Sound cruise
  • Pressure point bandsto prevent carsickness (and seasickness on your cruise!)
  • Portable jumper cables:This tiny device lets you jump your vehicle without another car. After experiencing ahorror storyin Iceland, we learned the hard way to always pack these for road trips abroad!
  • Travel insurance: We NEVER travel without it, but especially for a road trip, it’s a good thing to plan for.

Be sure to download ourcomplete packing list for New Zealand! It’s packed with good suggestions and insider tips to help plan your New Zealand trip. And it’s completely FREE, so why not!?


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