Milford Sound

New Zealand: Day 10 – Milford Road and Milford Sound

Among the things that are very popular here in New Zealand that I truly love:

  1. Heated floors. The tiled floors in every bathroom have been heated. Oooooh! This is so nice! In Akaroa, even the carpeted floors were heated. I had never encountered that before!
  2. The shower heads in the bathrooms produce a generous amount of water, evenly spread out. (Sydney was a notable exception with a shower head that peeled the flesh right off of your bones!) I’m not sure if New Zealand has bathroom shower head restrictions like we do in the US or not. I’m thinking they don’t. Water seems to be abundant here. More on that later.

Today we had a lovely breakfast and met another couple (from Pebble Beach, CA) who are also guests here. We then began the 120 km drive to Milford Sound, which is really a fiord, not a sound. (Notice the interesting way New Zealand spells “fiord.”)

Dawn gave us a map and highlighted several places she suggested we stop for pictures. The first place I shot was here at the lodge (See yesterday’s post’s picture which was shot today.). The fog lifting from the farm land, the lake, and around the mountains was beautiful.

Mirror Lakes
Mirror Lakes

On our way to Milford Sound, we made numerous stops for photos, but one of my favorite stops en route was at Mirror Lakes. These extremely small, roadside lakes (more like ditches filled with water) are very still and provide a gorgeous reflection of the snow-peaked mountains just a short distance away. This was a very scenic stop!

This drive is, like so much of this country, stunning and filled with expansive, breath-taking views. I’m not sure how many photos I shot today, but I ended up completely filling my 64gb card.

The road, at times, was very frosty. In many places, the road was shaded by large trees. We even went through what I consider to have been forest. Numerous places never saw the sunlight though today was a cloudless sky. As we got closer to Milford Sound, the plants seemed to become more tropical.

Ferns the Size of Trees
Ferns the Size of Trees

Even in areas that obviously freeze every night in the winter (We hovered around 2°C most of the day.), the plant life looked tropical. The birds looked tropical, including the super large “parakeet” looking bird that can not fly. The ferns grow to become trees with tree trunks. Yes, many were taller than I am, to be sure! Gorgeous ferns! Some are 40 – 50 feet tall!

We shot waterfalls, a gorge with rushing water, and stunning mountains, lakes, rivers, and fields at every turn. Then came the scary tunnel. Shortly after the tunnel, you reached “the end of the road”—Milford Sound. Additionally, I shot several pictures of a Kiwi-like bird in the wild as well as 2 Kea. The Kea are the large parakeets that do not fly. They all wanted us to feed them.

We have encountered several groups of young 20 somethings traveling New Zealand. What a glorious thing to do when young, and when digital cameras and GoPros abound. I’ve seen them mounted on car hoods, boat railings, and the ends of extending poles (for selfies and looking over the edge of things) documenting their trips.

We arrived just before time to queue up to board the 3 level boat (and were at the front of the line as it turned out). The boat even included cabins aboard and could be as easily considered a ship. The cruise was wonderful. The views… The waterfalls…

Milford Sound
Milford Sound
Milford Sound Waterfall
Milford Sound Waterfall

Because the sound is so deep (almost 1,000 feet in its deepest place) and just drops horizontally straight down into the water, the captain could pull up within just inches, literally, from the waterfalls. The photos should be interesting. The last waterfall (shown) created too much mist all over the bow of the boat for me to have the camera out on deck. I shot this as we pulled away.

We saw several seals and lots of birds. On the way back to the main departure dock, we were dropped off at the Milford Discovery Centre and Deep Underwater Observatory. This “building” sits more or less anchored in the sound and goes 30 feet down into the water. At the low level are 16 incredibly thick windows that allow visitors to view the diverse, wild sea life.

Among the many things I saw today: a small shark (3 foot), numerous fish of different colors and sizes, large starfish, sea anemone, black coral (which is actually white), sea cucumber, etc. The water is pristinely clear, even at 30 feet depth. A couple of days ago, a whale swam by.

An astonishing thing I learned today: the Milford Sound gets an average of 21 feet of rain a year! This is hard to imagine! (By comparison, the Amazon Rain Forest only gets 9 feet of rain a year.) It can rain as much as 10 inches in a 24 hour period. I suspect this vast amount of rainfall contributes to the abundant, rain forrest-like jungle that grows here, including those gorgeous ferns the size of trees.

The cruise primarily focuses on the dramatic fiord, but we also went out just a bit into the Tasman Sea. We didn’t see any of them, but during tourist season about 3 cruise ships a day come into Milford Sound, which is the northern most of 15 fiords in New Zealand.

Along this entire area is the Australian Plate, which is going under New Zealand, creating the Southern Alps, and bringing New Zealand closer to Australia every year. New Zealand is highly geologically active, having over 1,000 seismic events every month, or between 12,000 to 17,000 quakes a year.

Upon our return to Te Anau we stopped for dinner at the Fat Duck. I had the Fat Duck burger, which is venison. Deer are actually farmed in New Zealand in an effort to control the deer population. So, yes, we actually did pass several deer farms en route.

At the Lodge

Dawn, our proprietress at the lodge, was delightful. She recounted, at our request, how they started their business. They built the lodge and planned to get things up and running in about a year. But, a lodge in a neighboring town burned to the ground one night shortly after their’s was built. The other owners had guests with no place to stay and called them. Suddenly, they had to hang curtains, unbox the bedding, etc. and were booked solid while the other lodge rebuilt. This put them on the map, so to speak. A nice problem to have when starting a new business.

Another couple stayed at the lodge with us. They were elderly and didn’t appear to be having a good trip. Dawn described them as sitting around, with no planned itinerary, dissecting everything they did. They ranted about how bad The George, in Christchurch, was because the sliding frosted glass bathroom door wouldn’t close all the way, lacking a full quarter inch!

The man appeared very old (older than the woman), and Dawn said she was worried when they suggested they might go horseback riding!

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