Saturday, February 27, 2016

Milford Sound Scenic Cruise


Milford Sound Scenic Cruise

Continued from MILFORD SOUND IS AWESOME Part 1: The Road to Milford Sound 

A Travelogue


Around 180 million years ago New Zealand broke away from a giant landmass called Gondwana and drifted nearly 3,000 kilometers south to its present location.

Till the 1300s – New Zealand was uninhabited – and no human had visited these islands.

Polynesians sailed here in the early 1300s, following their ancestor Kupe, who had named the country “Aotearoa” – “Land of the Long White Cloud”.

Dutch explorer Abel Tasman arrived in 1642 – naming the land “Nieuw Zeeland”.

European settlement began in 1769 with the arrival of British Navigator Captain James Cook.

However – Fiordland was still undiscovered by the Europeans.

Fiordland’s west coast is deeply indented by 14 fiords spanning 215 kilometers of coastline – and you see an awesome sight of steep mountains rise up from the ocean.

The Fiordland area was well known to the Maori – but there were hardly any permanent residents due to the rugged landscape and unpredictable turbulent weather conditions in Fiordland which lies between Latitudes 44 and 47 degrees South (The “Roaring Forties”). The Maori established well worn trails linking seasonal food-gathering camps and gathered koko-takiwai, a translucent gemstone found in the area.

More than 4 years after landing in New Zealand – Captain Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to visit Fiordland in 1773 – and they spent 5 weeks in ‘Dusky Sound’.

Captain Cook’s maps and descriptions soon attracted sealers and whalers who formed the first European settlements of New Zealand.

In mid-19th century – explorers, surveyors and prospectors began to explore and discover the unexplored interiors of Fiordland.

Are they “Sounds” or “Fiords” (also spelt “Fjords”)

These early European explorers saw the spectacular sight of steep mountains rising from the ocean creating deep water-filled valleys – and they called these water-filled valleys as “Sounds” and gave them various names (Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Dusky Sound etc).

However – in the case of these water inlets from the sea – the word “Sound” was a misnomer – because a true “Sound” is a river valley that has been flooded due to the land sinking below sea level – whereas “Fiords” is created by glacial action that produces U-Shaped valleys with steep cliffs – as is the case in Fiordland.

Hence – “Fiords” is the correct terminology to describe these “Sounds” (Milford Fiord, Doubtful Fiord, Dusky Fiord etc).

The confusion in calling “Fiords” as “Sounds” may be due to the fact that many of the early sailors who discovered this area were of English and Welsh origin and were not familiar with Fiords – and named these “Fiords” as “Sounds”.

This misnomer while naming the famous “Sounds” continued as a legacy, but the region was renamed “Fiordland” to recognize the true nature of these rugged water inlets from the sea.

Legendary History of Fiordland

There is a Maori legend regarding the formation of Fiordland.

According to Maori legend, Tu-te-raki-whanoa carved out the fiords with his adze (right angled axe) Te Hamo.

He started in the far south where he created a rough coastline with many islands.

By the time he reached ‘Milford Sound’ he had perfected his technique and carved an awe-inspiring fiord which he called Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) which was his greatest achievement.

The Goddess of the underworld, Hine-nui-te-po, came to see the place and was so alarmed at seeing the awesome beauty of Piopiotahi, that she got worried that once people see this magnificent fiord they would be so attracted by it beauty that they would settle down here and spoil the pristine beauty of the place.

So – to deter humans from settling down here – she released the ‘Sandfly’ into Milford Sound.

(Sandfly is an insect which bites human beings). 

Maybe  that is why there is a place called “Sandfly Point” where the Arthur River enters the Milford Sound.

The Maori called the fiord ‘Piopiotahi’ after the thrush-like piopio bird, now extinct.

Welsh Settlers baptized it with the current name after ‘Milford Haven’ in Wales.

Rudyard Kipling called it the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

As explained earlier – Milford Sound isn’t actually a ‘Sound’ but a “Fiord” – an inlet of the Tasman Sea – the length of Milford Sound is more than 12 Kilometers - it is 7.5 miles long – and the depth is upto 400 meters  with an average of around 320 meters (1,050 feet) deep.

8th Wonder of the World

Milford Sound is the northernmost and most accessible of the fiords – by the spectacular Milford Road – which begins from Te Anau, skirts the western bank of lake Te Anau, meanders through Eglinton Forest, climbs up to glacier dominated mountains, then, goes through the long Homer Tunnel under the Southern Alps, after which the road descends sharply to sea level to Milford Sound.

Cloud-piercing cliffs, snowcapped mountains, lush rainforest and spectacular waterfalls adorn this glacier-carved pristine wilderness. The fiords and lakes, deepest in New Zealand, are amazing. In Fiordland – the sea water is permanently covered by a layer of fresh water as a result of heavy rainfall and run-off water flowing downwards from glaciers – and – due to this – there is extraordinary marine life in Fiordland. While fiords can be upto 400 meters deep – marine life tends to occupy only the top 40 meters – so you can see dolphins, seals and penguins.

It is said that Rudyard Kipling referred to Milford Sound as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” when he visited at the turn of the 20th century – but it was only after the opening of the 1.2 km long Homer Tunnel in 1954 that tourists could easily access the fiord. Once you visit the awesome Milford Sound, you will realize why Milford Sound has been called the “8th Wonder of the World”.

Milford Sound Scenic Cruise

We visited Milford Sound on the 27th of December 2015 – luckily it was a bright summer day with clear sky and lovely weather.

We opted for the Milford Sound “Coach and Cruise” Day Tour – which includes a 10 hour road journey by comfortable sightseeing bus from Queenstown to Milford Sound and back – and a scenic cruise of 2 hours sailing around the entire Milford Sound from Milford Wharf to the Tasman Sea and back.

The road journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound and Back to Queenstown covers around 600 kilometers.

The Road Journey has been described in Part 1 of this travelogue: MILFORD ROAD 

Now – let me tell you about the scenic cruise in Milford Sound.
Since I do not have words to describe the awesome beauty of Milford Sound – I will post a few pictures which I clicked on my smartphone for you to appreciate – with a bit of description.

Our cruise vessel was a Catamaran named ‘PRIDE OF MILFORD’ 

Pride of Milford
The cruise started from the small “harbour” in the Freshwater Basin (which thanks to the inflow the Arthur and Cleddau Rivers and glacial streams  contains more freshwater than saltwater from the sea – and so is named accordingly). 

Freshwater Basin
Milford Sound Cruise Begins
In front of us – we had a spectacular view of the fiord with the 2, 014 meter high snowcapped Mount Pembroke towering majestically above – the glacier on Mount Pembroke is the remnant of the glacier which carved its way through the fiord and is upto 27 meters in depth. 

Fiords and Mountains
Several streams from the melting snow flow down into the fiord – giving it a layer of freshwater which sits on top of the seawater facilitating the unique marine life found here in Milford Sound. 

The cruise vessel then skirted the southern side of the fiord via scenic sights like the 161 meter high “Bowen Falls”.

Then we see a hanging valley called “Sinbad Gully” on the slopes of Mt Phillips.

Sinbad Gully (a Hanging Valley) 
Of course – dominating the landscape is the 1692 meter high Mitre Peak – the highest mountain in the world to rise directly from the ocean floor – which resembles a Bishop’s Mitre (headdress)

Mitre Peak
We then cruise past mountains called “The Lion” and “The Elephant” because of their shapes.

Lion (Left) Elephant (Right) with Mt Pembroke in background
Then – sailing through the narrowest section in the fiord called “Copper Point” because of very high deposits of copper found on the slopes. This narrow part of the fiord is very windy – wind gusts in excess of 140 kmph have been recorded here. 

Copper Deposits on Mountainside
Then we saw one of the prettiest parts of the fiord – “Fairy Falls” – which have a natural rainbow.

Fairy Falls
Mitre Peak and Fairy Falls from Tasman Sea Side
Now – the fiord opens up towards the Tasman Sea at Dale Point – via “Anita Bay” (where Maori explorers visited for greenstone) – and “St Anne’s Point” at the entrance to fiord where the Milford Sound Lighthouse is located.

Sailing Towards Dale Point (Entrance to Milford Sound from Tasman Sea)

Anita Bay (Tasman Sea can be seen ahead)

Entrance to Fiord from the Sea

St. Anne's Point on Tasman Sea
Once we reached the Tasman Sea – the cruise vessel made a broad sweep and then turned around – and here – where the fiord meets the sea – we saw a few Dolphins jumping out of the water.

Tasman Sea
Can you spot the Dolphin wake

On the way back – the cruise vessel skirted the northern side of the fiord.

We stopped at “Seal Rock” we saw a number of Fur Seals basking on the rock.

See the Seals on the Rock to the left and in front

Seals Basking in the sun at Seal Rock
Then we saw the 155 meter high majestic “Stirling Falls” (the vessel got so close that we were almost drenched under the waterfall)

Stirling Falls
Then  we entered Harrison Cove (which has an underwater observatory)

Harrison Cove (See the "Titanic Style" Honeymoon Couple LOL)

Milford Sound Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory 
After a halt at the Milford Sound Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory  the boat turned around at the end of the cove  and we made our way to the east – past Cemetery Point – towards the Freshwater Basin – while enjoying the stunning evening view – with the sun behind the mountains of the awesome Milford Sound from the aft of the top deck of the boat. 

Soon we were back at the Milford Sound Cruise Wharf to disembark from the boat and board our bus for our return journey via Homer Tunnel and Te Anau to Queenstown.

Dear Reader: 

I had planned to write this travelogue in one go. 

But  as you can see  it is became too long. 

So  I wrote PART 1 pertaining to the road journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound yesterday 

And – I wrote PART 2 pertaining to the awesome Cruise in Milford Sound today.

I have written this travelogue based on my own personal experience during my visit to Milford Sound on 27 December 2015 – of course – I have referred to Visitor Guides and Tourism Sites for cross-checking and background information. 

However – all the photographs in the travelogue have been clicked by me on my smartphone.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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