Fiordland Day 2 and 3 – Milford Sound leaves British author ‘out of words’

9 Dec

Monday

Lunch time start on the bus – it’s a pretty cool vehicle with seats edged to face the windows, transparent roof panels and an arrangement of tiered seating.

Skirting round Lake Te Anau past scenery that would make us gasp if we came across it in England, we drive into  Fjordland.  It takes my breath away.  From the beauty of the Eglington Valley, past the Mirror Lakes (too windy in the middle of the day for a good reflection of the mountains).

Fiordland (Te Wahipounamu, The Place of Greenstone (jade)) is a Unesco world heritage site, and deservedly so.  We wind our way up to the Homer tunnel, carved with explosives through solid granite… and into a series of hairpin bends down the other side that would make James Bond freak.  The granite’s worth a mention – it doesn’t wear away like other rock, so waterfalls don’t form as easily – in fact, when it rains, the entire cliff face becomes a sheet of water. One of the few places where it has eroded the rock is The Chasm, where the River Cleddau plunges through weirdly sculpted rocks.

In the distance is Mt Tutoku, Fiordland’s highest peak.. And by the side the river gaily bounces along, scudding over boulders and occasionally slowing down to create a wider stream.  The water is ice cold and pure.. preferable even to Speight’s fine ale. When the river floods, it often simply changes course.  Nothing seems to stay the same from moment to moment

Eventually the river loses its adolescence  and calms down and we pull into Miford Sound (misnamed – a sound is created by a river – these are fjords and were created by glacial action over many millenia),

Immediately the scenery is astonishing.  Mitre peak rises into the clouds, the walls of the fjord rise vertically from the deep jade sea.  There are only four permanent waterfalls in Milton Sound, but there’s been some rain the day before (hoorah!) and water cascades over every cliff face like teardrops.

Our boat sets off down the Sound, seemingly inconsequential against the granite walls.  Even the planes landing at New Zealand’s busiest airstrip (300 flights a day at Milford) look like moths against the mountains.

Every turn is achingly, heartstoppingly beautiful, and every new sight threatens to reduce me to tears, overcome by the immenseness and the serence beauty.  A bunch of fur seals are lazing on the rock at Copper Point (also called Windy Point – winds through the Sound can reach 100 knots)

We’ve got an exchange group from around the world on board – these 6th formers come from round the world and are spending a year in New Zealand . . . Why didn’t they do this kind of thing when I was a kid?

Eventually the boat stops, and they unrig the kayaks – we set off in search of penguins which are often sighted along the coast.  Sadly, none today, but we do find Captain Jack Sparrow’s island from Pirates of the Caribbean.  We find sand flies though – little buggers that need orcs setting on them (Sir Ian McKellern’s words, not mine).  And then back to the boat, jumping in off the top deck to the sounds of squeals (the schoolgirls), applause (a swan dive from our german delegate) and stoic silence followed by a larger splash than strictly necessary (yours truly).

After a fabulous dinner, and a look at the sky – the sunset is amazing, as the sun finally disappears behind the cliff face and lights the coulds with pinks and red.

By 11pm the stars are out, but it’s a bit cloudy, so we retreat to our bunks… and I can’t sleep.  At 1am I am up and on deck.  The clouds have cleared, and it’s an incredible sight.  Dust clouds and far off galaxies whirl in the unfamiliar sky.  The Southern Cross is hidden behind the fjord walls, but the starfield shines brightly in the inky black velvet of the night sky.  As I drink in the incredible beauty, I marvel at what God has created, at what wonders I have had the privilege to see.. And as if to underline the incredible wonder, shooting stars plunge from the heavens.  Humbled and awed, I make my way to bed.

Tuesday

Rising early, I rush my breakfast to make it back onto deck.  We travel the Sound again, looking again at some of the sights of yesterday – the peaks of Mt Pembroke and its glacier, Bowen Falls and Stirling falls, and out into the Tasman Sea – passing a cruise liner as we go.  The liner dwarfs our small boat – but still fails spectacularly to look significant against the granite walls.  Amazingly, some of the passengers are watching TV. The seals are having a whale of a time though, racing the cruise ship into harbour, leaping through the water like dolphins (and creating much temporary excitement for the schoolkids).

We drive the boat into some of the falls on the way, getting up close and personal to the waterfall in a whole new way.

And then back to the bus, and the incredible drive back.  Somehow it seems tame compared to the awesomeness of the Sound.. And still incredibly beautiful.  I’m tempted to hop onto the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise to repeat the experience… but it’s left already.

This country is just unbelievable… I’m not sure I can manage another day of this without my heart exploding from wonder. I’ve got nothing.  Words aren’t working, and I’m trying my best.  Even the pictures are a poor reflection of reality, and I’m struggling to pack all the memories into my poor little memory.

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