Heaven is a place on earth
…and it’s name is Milford Sound! I’ve had the fortune to have seen a lot of amazing places but there aren’t many that can compete with Milford Sound in terms or raw beauty, serenity and sheer remoteness. We’re in Fjordlands National Park, all the way at the bottom of the south island of New Zealand, far away from anything else. There is no cell phone reception down here, no gas stations, no shops to buy food from and no internet. We’re deep in the Kiwi rainforest and also in one the wettest places on earth: Milford Sound gets 6000-9000mm of annual rainfall, much, much more than the Amazon rain forest! The geography is shaped by glaciers and all the valleys here have been carved out by ice, including Milford Sound. That technically makes Milford Sound a fjord because fjords are glacially created inlets and sounds are created by water. The iconic landmark of Milford Sound is the incredible Mitre Peak that rises up straight from the water. Apparently it is therefore one of the highest sea cliffs in the world and when you cruise past it on a boat you feel very, very little looking up at the towering almost vertical flanks. The whole place is breathtaking and very hard to describe in words and hopefully these pictures can convey a little bit what the place is like.
Yesterday night we camped in a beautiful spot on the banks of Lake Gunn, the last public campsite before getting to Milford Sound and got up early this morning to drive the last short stretch to the Sound itself. We had booked a cruise for 9:45am and as we pulled into the parking lot the rain stopped and the clouds lifted a little, perfect timing! Together with a small handful of other passengers we boarded the big catamaran and sailed out onto the flat waters of the sound. There was a naturalist on board who narrated the entire trip and explained everything from the special geological features of the area, the environmental significance of the Fiordland National Park, the marine ecology, the animal and plant ecology and the cultural significance to the local Maori tribes who lived here in the area. The boat took us along the water edge up close to the shore, past beautiful waterfalls and cascades that run down the mountains and then all the way out past the mouth of the Sound onto the Tasman Sea. On the way back we got a real treat when a pod of bottle-nose dolphins came and paid the boat a visit and surfed the wake for a little while. Finally, Luca got to see dolphins up close in the wild! That has been one of his big wishes for a long time and it made the day a complete success in his book! There was also a little action on board when the boat basically sailed into the spray of a big waterfall, dousing the entire bow. I braved the massive whitewashing cascade, my camera wrapped in a plastic bag, and got soaked. And got some sweet shots… We got back at lunch time and headed to the campsite and made some lunch. A little later the rain set in again and since then hasn’t stopped. Fortunately the campsite has a very big, cozy lodge, hot showers and a nice kitchen so we have been relaxing, charging batteries and cooking good food.
We are very fortunate to be here in the winter, I think. During the summer months hordes of day tourists and campers flood the valley and the water ways but Luca and I have had the place virtually for ourselves. The campsites we’ve stayed at have been empty and even here in Milford Sound, at the only campsite, there are only a few people. Some camper vans and a few overnight travelers, that’s it. Sure, the summer is much warmer, but I’d rather have to dress a little warmer and have shorter days than deal with crap loads of tourists and pay even higher prices than we already are.