Fiordland, is a place where tree avalanches happen. Where a forest that grows on the face of the mountains and clings to steep faces of hard rock can suddenly slide down, bringing with them a thin layer of rich, peaty humus and moss. And more trees. A place where sand flies come to gather food.
We headed our car towards our next destination, Te Anau, known as the gateway to the fiords, where we would stay for the next couple of nights. We just drove through as it was an early morning drive for 4 hours to get to Milford Sound, which is really just on the other side of Glenorchy. There are no roads that go directly there so we have a long roundabout way to go and the drive was very scenic. It was not hard to imagine that this area gets over 1 million visitors a year!
Milford Sound is part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site and it is not technically a Sound, because it is fed by the Fiords. Geologically speaking, a “sound” is a large ocean inlet, larger than a bay, deeper than a bight, and generally wider than a fiord. A fiord is a land feature cut by ancient glaciers. The mountains here are very “Alp-like” to quote Shawn. Even Rudyard Kipling liked it here calling it the eighth wonder of the world. I would love to see them with snow on them but we were very lucky to get a beautiful day. It rains 2 out of 3 days here with 8-9 meters of rain a YEAR. That is a lot-300-350” of rain. Our tour guide explained that if you turned on your faucet at 100% that is how hard it rains.
Because it rains so much, it creates a bounty of waterfalls. Since there has been no rain for 48 hours, the waterfalls we saw were permanent ones. In fact, one of them spews out all the water for the town! On a rainy day, there are 100’s of them all coming down from the top of the Fjords, streaming every which way. Some are very fast while others seem to trickle down the rocks. There is one that is twice as high as Niagara Falls, but because it does a bit of rock trickle it does not count as a full waterfall.
The cruise lasted about 2 ½ hours and we really enjoyed it. We were also very lucky that it was a good day because we were able to go all the way out to the Tasman Sea. Whoo Hoo! Crossing that off the list I did not know I had. When we turned around to go back, it was hard to see where the entrance was. When James Cook and his crew first passed by here, they did not realize there was an entrance and kept on going. The popularity of Milford Sound did not expand until the 20th century with the creation of Milford Track, an early walking track, making it easier for tourists to visit.
The Maori traveled to Milford Sound to find a rock called greenstone and the beaches here were loaded with them. It is Bowenite, an oxidized orange rock that they crack open and it is very sacred to them. They traveled very far to this sound just to get these stones, by hiking and by boat. When the boulders were too big to carry them back with them, they lit a fire under them and when they were at the right temperature, they rolled them down to the water. The cold water cracked them into smaller pieces making them easily portable. They made adzes and chisels from them as well as jewelry. They are now a protected stone and you cannot gather them unless you are Maori. We know the stone as Jade.
We were also lucky to be able to see New Zealand Fur Seals. The ones we saw lying about on the rocks are teenage males who hang out in the Sound eating and getting fatter and older until they are ready to go out into the ocean and find their own turf. They are so cute! It was amazing how well they blended into the rocks.
Speaking of cute, on our way to our next apartment in Te Anau, we noticed that the light was perfect for the cows and sheep on the side of the road. So, we pulled over, parked, got out of the car and the cows started to run away from us! We have never had that happen before. Then, they all stopped at once and looked at us, all of them. At the same time. Kinda creepy. They looked like a bunch of Secret Service Agents with earpieces and sunglasses. They all turned to look at us at once as if someone was cueing them, and they gave us that Ray Ban sunglasses deadpan look. I do not think I would mess with these cows. Finally, it seemed like we were going to get a bit closer when a campervan pulled up, screeching in front of us. They chased the cows away up the hill but they stopped and all turned to look at the campervan from a safe distance. Before we knew it, we had about 4 cars on the side of the road. We had parked in the only pullover spot so it was time to go.
And those sand flies? They bite like horse flies, but they do not carry any diseases. Luckily, we did not see any today, but that would change.