Today was the day I had been waiting for – boat cruise on Milford Sound. The morning turned out to be a fine one – no rain! This region receives around 7 metres of rain annually with over 200 rain days, so a day with no rain is a fine one!
We had booked ourselves for a breakfast cruise. The breakfast was quite good, unfortunately, with the crowds, it took a while for us to eat breakfast and make our way above deck to take in the views.
And the views lived up to expectation – they were quite stunning. Steep cliffs rising straight out of the water and upto a mile high – it’s hard to grasp the sheer scale of the settings. Waterfalls that are 50 metres in height look like they can’t be much over 10 metres, dwarfed as they are by the water and the mountains.
The captain took us very close to one of the taller falls – over a 100 metre high. Close enough that we were drenched in the spray from the falls. We traveled the sound (technically a fjord) right up to the Tasman Sea, from where we had quite superb views back to the Sound.
We also visited the Discovery Centre, a 360 degree viewing cabin situated 10 metres under the water level. Milford Sound has a unique ecosystem because there is a layer of fresh water (due to all the rain) sitting atop the salty sea water. This layer reflects the sunlight back, which causes the sea water to be much darker at the same level that if there were no fresh water atop. This, in turn, enables organisms that would ordinarily only be seen at much deeper levels to be viewed much closer to the surface.
Milford Sound is one of the very few places where this phenomenon, called Fresh Water Emergence, occurs. And the discovery centre enables visitors to view this without getting wet. We got to see a wide variety of marine organisms, including sea urchins, sea cucumbers, black corals, and a few fish species. Very few people actually visit the Centre; I would strongly recommend taking the 45 minutes off to visit and view this quite unique spectacle.
On our way back to Te Anau, we stopped at a few places along Milford Road for short walks. The highlight was being able to observe Kea (the world’s only Alpine Parrot) from fairly close.