March 2011


Milford Sound



Part Two




March 7, 2011


Only the mountains of Tahiti have more rainfall than the Milford Sound which receives 7-9 meters annually. That's more than 42 feet!



Our daughter-in-law's parents, Cindy and Orrin, met us in Te Anau.  We did a beautiful hike through native beech trees with stunning view of Lake Manapouri one day and the next took a cruise of Milford Sound with a stop at the underwater observatory. 



The dramatically scenic road between Te Anau and Milford, which takes 2.5 hours to drive without stopping for pictures, accentuates the remoteness of Milford Sound and the vastness of Fiordland.



We booked the boat ride with Cruize Milford and were very happy with the small boat, excellent, informative commentary and time spent viewing the sights and wildlife.  The day was absolutely beautiful with blue skies and no wind.  Apparently Milford Sound is at its best on a rainy day but we were not complaining.



Mitre Peak is one of the tallest mountains in the world to rise directly from the sea floor, to a height of 1692 meters.  It is the mountain most featured in advertisements for New Zealand.



During the plentiful rainfall in Milford Sound the mountain walls are covered in waterfalls and they pour out of hanging valleys everywhere.  However, there are only two permanent falls.  This one is Bowen Falls.



Jim was chatting with Roger, the captain, about sailing in the area as he steered the bow into Fairly Falls, one of the few waterfalls to drop straight into the fiord.  Cindy and I rushed up for the best experience and were completely doused!  Several times!  It was quite cold but, hey, how many times can you get a shower under a waterfall in Milford Sound?  Roger commented that he'd never seen anyone get so wet and Jim had to say, "yup, that's my wife and our friend."



Fortunately I had on synthetic "boat" clothes and Cindy had shell pants and a fleece top stashed in her pack.  We were dry and comfy in no time.



Roger did a great job getting us close to a group of rare and timid Fiordland Crested Penguins.    A little while later he took the boat so close to a rock where several juvenile male fur seals (really sea lions) frolicked that we could have stepped off and joined them.  It was amazing!



When we reached Harrison's Cove the four of us were the only passengers to disembark to visit the fascinating Milford Underwater Observatory.  It offers an opportunity to view the unique conditions and marine life in a sound. 

Because the sounds receive so much rainwater and the flow of saltwater is restricted by the shallow sills at the entrances, an unusual underwater environment exists.  A layer of 2-5 meters of fresh water heavily laden with tannin from the runoff sits on top of the saltwater blocking out much of the light.  This allows organisms that would normally grow at much greater depths to survive closer to the surface.

An amazing cylindrical viewing station was built and towed from Invercarghill to Harrison's Cove.  Attached to a floating dock, it allows visitors to descend 10 meters for a view of the artificial reef that has formed outside the observatory.

Black Coral is normally found at depths of 80 meters but is present here from 5-15 meters.  White, not black, and not really a coral at all, the skeleton is black and covered with tiny white polyps.  It was a treat to see something that we would never see diving ourselves.



We were so happy Cindy and Orrin made the effort to meet us so we could have some fun together.  Only wish they could have met Tenaya and gone for a sail!

The highlight for Cindy (besides seeing us of course, ha ha) was her thrilling morning helicopter ride hugging the steep mountains, plunging over the edges of the waterfalls, and skimming the surfaces of glaciers in the stupendous Milford Sound. 





While checking into our site at the Milford Sound Lodge after the fabulous cruise, I spotted a flyer for kayaking Milford Sound.  What a great way to spend more time and get a different perspective of this awesome place! 

Two spots were available for "Morning Glory", a trip in double kayaks the length of Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea.



Our guide, Eve, met us in the lobby of the lodge at 0700 and drove us the short distance to their base at Deep Water Basin where she fitted the six of us out with all kinds of high quality, warm gear.  Eventually we shoved off and were immediately greeted by a porpoising fur seal. 



We glided along under the smooth water under an almost cloudless morning as the sun crept higher into the sky. 



Before long we spotted a group of about 20 bottlenose dolphins jumping and splashing.  We paddled over which caused them to stop immediately.  Guess they weren't in a playful mood!  

When they surfaced again Jim and I paddled quickly towards them in hopes of attracting some bowriders.  Two came over and swam directly under our kayak rolling over on their sides to have a look at us but were not interested in playing and continued on their way.



We paddled down the middle of the fiord early until the cruise boats awoke with their first passengers of the day.  Then we hugged the southern edge for an incredible paddle right next to incredibly steep, vertical rock walls.



In places water trickles down the monumental walls and in others, like Fairy Falls, it falls quite steadily.



With a tiny bit of prodding by Eve, I found myself once again doused by Fairy Falls!  This time Jim got wet as well.




The weather was absolutely perfect, sunny and wind from behind.  The sea was unusually calm and no swell found its way into the end of the sound.



Once out in the Tasman Sea it is easy to see how Captain Cook missed Milford Sound each time he sailed by.  Mountains descend into the sea on both sides of the fiord in overlapping fashion so until one is very near, it looks like continuous land.



What a fantastic way to see Milford Sound!  Four and a half hours paddling along at an easy pace admiring the incredibly beautiful and dramatic glacial carved surroundings.



Next stop:  Queenstown for a day and then Clyde to do our 4 day, 3 night Central Otago Rail Trail bike ride.  The adventure continues....


Go to March Part Three - Otago Central Rail Trail


Land Birds of New Zealand

Water Birds of New Zealand

Go to New Zealand Route Map



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