Milford Sound – one more off the bucket list

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The South-West corner of New Zealand’s South Island is known as Fiordland. There’s a good reason for that – these mountains and valleys were carved through glacial action, just as they were in Norway and other places. Strictly speaking, Milford Sound was created by glaciation – but it fits the definition of a sound. “A sound is wider than a fjord, and it is described as a large sea/ocean inlet. A sound lies parallel to the coastline, and it commonly separates a coastline from an island. A sound can be formed when a glacier recedes in a valley it carves out from a coastline. The sea can also invade a glacier valley and create a sound.” [1]  Whatever you want to call it, we set off early if not very bright for a look at Milford Sound. The weather had settled in with wind and drizzly rain. But snow was settling on the heights and for us snow-deprived Aussies it was nice to see.

We drove for a long time next to Lake Te Anau. It was pointless to even try to take a picture but later the road veers to the right down a valley before turning left again to head through the mountains for Milford Sound. Every hillside sported a waterfall, every creek was full, white water bouncing over rocky beds. Now and then we’d get a glimpse of a snow-capped peak but mainly the misty rain clung close. It would be cold and wet out there.

Driving between the mountains

Dave told us about William Homer and James Barber, who climbed the mountains to reach Milford Sound (and then climbed back again to tell people about it). Homer proposed a tunnel through the Homer Saddle but it wasn’t until 1935 that work commenced. Dug by hand, the tunnel is 1.2km long. It’s had its ups and downs over the years, as you’ll read here, and it had to be deepened and widened to accommodate large tourist coaches like ours. We stopped briefly at the other end in a parking area with a view. Of sorts ????

Despite the weather and that this was just about the end of the season, many people were waiting to take a cruise on Milford Sound. We were booked on the three-masted Milford Mariner. No, she didn’t use her sails. This was a kind of swings and roundabouts voyage. On the one hand we couldn’t see the magnificent peaks reflecting in calm waters. On the other hand, we saw waterfalls. Lots and lots and lots of waterfalls. Streaks of white thundered down every gully on every mountain. The wind was so strong that most of the lesser torrents never made it into the sea. The water was whipped away by the wind, joining the rain. Despite the weather, within the confines of the Sound itself, the ship rode smoothly. But outside the heads we ventured briefly into the Tasman Sea, riding a considerable swell. A few nutters braved the elements and went to stand on the bow. I think they were staff on their last voyage.

George doesn’t think much of the weather
There’s always 1 or more



See the water being whipped away in the wind
A hint of brightness between the peaks
A waterfall from a saddle

We headed back towards port and slowed for a close encounter with a waterfall. That’s a LOT of water.

To get the size of these waterfalls into perspective, that’s another tourist boat on the extreme right of the photo
Late in the cruise we caught a hint of blue sky

I was interested to know that “at 265 metres deep, most of the sound’s water is salty, but the top 10 metres or so is actually fresh water. It comes from the seven to nine metres of rainfall that the area gets every year, emptied into the sound via its many rivers and waterfalls. On its way, this runoff picks up tannins from plants and soil that stain the fresh water the colour of tea. It’s still completely clean and natural, but it blocks much of the sunlight from the lower salty layer.

The seawater layer is calm and a few degrees warmer, if a little dark. When you reach about 40 metres deep there is very little sunlight getting through, so all the marine life hangs out near the surface, including many species that normally live much deeper. We’ve got a unique mix of dolphins, penguins, fish, sea stars, seals, rare black coral and much more, so there’s plenty to look at.” [2]

On another trip it would be nice to visit the aquarium (see the previous link for more information) and maybe stay overnight on one of the boats. Sunrise/sunset would be amazing.

The weather cleared a little as we drove back to our hotel at Te Anau. It’s beautiful, gorgeous country. We stopped off at a place called the Chasm, a mountain stream a short walk into the rainforest. It gives a different perspective on the flora in these parts.

I managed to get a few reasonable snaps on the way back to Te Anau.

Tomorrow we would be heading over to the other coast to the quintessentially Scottish town of Dunedin, New Zealand’s very own Edinburgh.


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