We made it out safely from our 3 day Routeburn Track in time to find our vehicle safely tucked away in the Lake Marian car park. Thanks to Mike and Kiyomi at Trackhoppers for great service in transferring our camper van and allowing us to get to Milford Sound. As the sun was setting I rushed from the parking lot to capture this photo of the famous Miter Peak.
There are spectacular places on this earth that I have visited , Mt. Everest (Chomolongma or Sagarmatha in Tibetan or Nepali), Yosemite Valley, the Giant Sequoias on the western slopes of the Sierras, Kilamanjaro in Tanzania and Kenya. Milford Sound (really a fjord we learned from our Kayak guide, carves by glaciers, not rivers) has always been one of those places for me and now it was our turn.
After a few snaps in the waning sun we found our camper van site for the night at the Milford Lodge and it was time for our celebratory dinner at the fairly swanky Pia Pia (Maori for Milford) restaurant. Our server Mariah was from Excelsior MN and Sam, the host, knows our friend and Iowa State Senator Rob Hogg’s son Robert. Once again you can run but you can’t hide from our vast network of friends and family. Mariah convinced us that the King Crayfish (actually a Spiny Rock Lobster) was the way to go with some local beer for Paul and rhubarb lemonade for Mindy….it was a meal fit for the occasion.
After the meal a hot shower was a poor second place to no hot tub but still wonderful to wash off 3 days of hiking and the important setting of the alarm clock for 5:30 am to not miss our 7:15 am date with Roscoe’s Kayak Cruises. With my new iPhone set we slumbered off to a very needed deep sleep. When I woke up thinking the alarm should have awoken us sooner, Mindy asked “what time is it?” and I turned on my phone in the dark….6:47 OMG I had set the 5:30 for pm not am and the fire drill was on.
We actually got there and met Toby the host at 7:07 and were early arrivals. Deep breath.
Our group numbered 4 couples and Clay, our fantastic guide from Madison, WI who also overslept on his last day. We went thru the basic protocol for new people kayaking, dress, gear, safety, paddle handling and gear storage in waterproof dry bags. An added attraction to our preparation was a visit from a Kia, the mischievous native bird that steals and shreds whatever they can get their beaks around, no photo sorry…see the guide books.
time to load the boats and push off into the fjord.
We got on the water before the large and small tourist boats started their cruises and it was silent and the surroundings so massive.
Our guide Clay pulled us together and pointed off to Sterling Falls in the distance (not the one in the photo) and asked “how far away do you think that is?” I said a mile and a half, another tour member said 2 km. He told us 9 km. Gives you a sense of the size and immensity of our surroundings.
We visited the other permanent waterfall in the Sound where most of the hydropower for the Milford village electricity comes from (around 98% of NZ electricity is hydro generated). The wind from the 150+m falls soaked us all as we paddled right up to the rocks near the bottom of the falls. To dry off we paddled up the north cliff coast learning about the history of the sound and the relationship between the plant life and the cliff geology when there is a landslide (Kiwis call it a slip). The root systems are so shallow that when one tree falls it can take a huge swath of the neighboring vegetation along with it leaving bare rock that will take over a hundred years to rebuild with natural vegetation. The heavier rains of the climate enhanced era we are now in are having an impact on the area. The week before we came, Milford Sound received 750 mm of rain and wind gusts of 175 knots.
The conditions for the paddle were ideal. Clay says the best time is right away a big rain strom when the sound is filled with hundreds of small waterfalls filling the sound. With tides and rainfall the water level varies greatly in Milford. While paddling Clay told us of a local kayak climber who was scaling Miter Peak (one of the world’s most photographed) while we were on the water. Couldn’t see him but cool for me to know he was up there alone and that this area and all over NZ is where Sir Edmund Hillary got his climbing experience before attempting Everest in Nepal.
Side note, Hillary’s climb in 1953 was one of the dreams I had as a boy in Minneapolis to see the highest mountain in the world and was a deciding factor in which country I chose to do my Peace Corps teaching. Malaysia because it took me as far away as I could go and I could see the world, and Everest 1974, on my way home.
Now the cruise ships were out and we had fun bouncing around in their wake as we made the 2 km crossing to the south side of the sound. We scurried across the transport lane and now the morning sun was warm, the sunglasses came out and we snacked on our dry bag goodies. Mindy was kind enough to let me be the bow man so I could take photos and videos. At the end of our tour a offered to send many of the photos to all and they all signed up to receive them. Clay especially wanted to remember this day as it was his last tour of the season and he heads back to the States soon.
Here’s one for your wall, Clay, and thanks for an unforgettable day in Milford Sound.
and for all of us, whatever floats your boat….GO FORWARD AND GET IT!!!