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Published: August 24th 2009
Everyone we spoke to about New Zealand before we came told us Milford Sound was a must see so we dully obliged and we can see why everyone raves about the place, it is truly amazing. As the weather had been so rubbish for our trip to Mt Cook we watched the weather forecast so that we could get to Milford Sound on a good day, and thankfully our luck was in. The captain of our boat told us it rained on all but 80 days a year on average in Milford Sound so we were lucky to get one of the dry days. We stayed in Te Anau the night before, 120km from Milford Sound (which doesn't really have any accommodation) so that we could set off early for the "obscenely scenic" drive to Milford beside mirror lakes that perfectly reflect the mountains above, through steep sided glacial valleys, through a tunnel dug into the mountains and past waterfalls and avalanche creep perilously close to the road.
Milford Sound is not actually a sound, it is a fiord (the former being a flooded river valley, the latter a flooded glacial valley - I'm such a geography nerd (Sarah not
Joe)!), so it is essentially a thin inlet of the sea surrounded on three sides by sheer, towering sides, many of which have waterfalls thundering down the sides into the water. At one point, the captain edged the boat right up to the bottom of one of the biggest waterfalls so we were close enough to feel the spray. It certainly makes you feel pretty small and brings it home to you how tiny you are in the natural world. The best way to see the fiord is to get out on it on a boat cruise so we opted for a two hour scenic cruise that included a stop at a deepwater observatory.
We got very lucky with the wildlife on our cruise with a hat trick of seals, penguins and dolphins. It is not usual to see all three so we were very happy about this, particularly as none of us had seen dolphins in the wild before.
We stopped briefly at the Milford Sound Deep Observatory, which is an observation tank about 10m underwater that allows you to view the fish, coral and other sealife found in the water here. As the Sound is a
flooded glacial valley the first metre or so of water is actually fresh water, fed from the Cleddau River at the top of the valley, whilst the water underneath is saltwater. This makes for an interesting mix of life in the water. The steep fiord walls also mean that there is very little light in underwater so corals that normally grow below 40m depth grow at just a few metres depth here. The observatory allows you to see this coral planted in window boxes, and we also got to see some starfish and a fish that Joe misheard as a "Muggle Fish" cuing a rubbish Harry Potter based joke, that was even less funny as they are actually called Marble Fish!
A few miles along the road on the drive back from Milford Sound we stopped at The Chasm, a torrent of water that is etching out the underlying rock to leave a scooped out effect that was pretty cool.
Again, it's very hard to convey the beauty of Milford Sound in words alone so hopefully the photos will again show this better than I can describe.
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