A nat­u­ral won­der

The jour­ney to Mil­ford Sound pro­vides al­most as much en­joy­ment as the des­ti­na­tion, writes Rob Dun­lop

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - LONELY PLANET’S COLOMBIA -

TO VISIT Mil­ford Sound is to visit the Fiordland Na­tional Park.

For it is the na­tional park, New Zealand’s largest, that en­com­passes the won­der of the fjords and pro­vides the only ac­ces­si­ble path.

This truly is a des­ti­na­tion that is as much about the jour­ney.

The 120km Mil­ford Rd be­gins at the South Is­land’s largest lake, Lake Te Anau, flanked by three fjords.

We’re at the edge of Fiordland, deep in the south­west of the South Is­land, where more than 20,000 years ago, glaciers carved out 14 fjords from the moun­tains.

To­day, it is one of the most pris­tine places on Earth. Lush rain­forests of beech trees ap­pear with car­pets of green moss that cling to gnarly trunks, which later gives way to grassy flats. We never lose sight of moun­tains, in­clud­ing a stop at a lake to ad­mire the mir­ror re­flec­tion of the South­ern Alps.

There’s no mis­tak­ing this is an alpine road, when grass even­tu­ally gives way to tow­er­ing gran­ite and snow caps.

Even the 1.2km Homer Tun­nel, which was carved out of a ridge, is a mar­vel to stop and ap­pre­ci­ate. The road at this point is al­most 1km high.

The road even­tu­ally winds down to Mil­ford Sound. The big­gest sur­prise is the lack of a true set­tle­ment. I expected a high street with a row of shops sell­ing wind jack­ets and sou­venirs. Al­though, there is a busy vis­i­tors cen­tre and a wharf, at which day-trip­pers trans­fer out on to the sound for boat trips.

Blis­tered, bare-footed walk­ers line the gut­ters, af­ter be­ing fer­ried in from the Mil­ford Track, which fin­ishes at the far edge of the wa­ter. Along with the park’s other fa­mous walks – Route­burn Track and Ke­pler Tracks, the 53km Mil­ford Track taken over four or five days is con­sid­ered one of the world’s best.

But what about the sound (which is tech­ni­cally a fjord)?

Well, what can one say when you’re awestruck. It’s big. And strangely the wa­ter is black – be­cause the 1.2km high dark-gran­ite cliffs also plunge hun­dreds of me­tres be­low the sur­face.

Mitre Peak (pic­tured cen­tre) stands stall at al­most 1.7km. And forests cling to the cliff faces. Fur seals play on the rocks while we get sprayed by the per­ma­nent wa­ter­falls of Lady Bowen and Stir­ling.

Mil­ford Sound is one of the wettest places on Earth, where rain­fall is mea­sured in me­tres, and when it rains hun­dreds of wa­ter­falls spring into ac­tion.

A large open-air view­ing deck on the boat al­lows us to take it all in.

We spend about two hours cruis­ing around the sound, which flows for 15km from the Tas­man Sea. As we ap­proach the en­trance, the boat starts to get the wob­bles – the Tas­man Sea is no­to­ri­ously rough.

Fur­ther south along the coast is the en­trance to New Zealand’s other well-known fjord, but not as ac­ces­si­ble, Doubt­ful Sound.

It’s dif­fi­cult to de­scribe the won­der of Mil­ford Sound. It’s prob­a­bly best that some­one puts a pho­to­graph in front of you.

Words can’t do it jus­tice. This hack cer­tainly can’t. Even UNESCO fum­bled with in­sti­tu­tional lan­guage when it be­came a World Her­itage Area in 1986. They went for ‘‘ su­perla­tive nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena’’. Best leave it to the ex­perts. One of Bri­tain’s great­est writ­ers, Rud­yard Ki­pling (1865-1936) also had a crack at it af­ter he vis­ited. He won the No­bel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture in 1907 dur­ing a pure time of writ­ing. So how did he de­scribe it? Cun­ningly. ‘‘ The eighth won­der of the world,’’ Ki­pling de­clared.

There you go. You re­ally need to see it for your­self. The writer was a guest of AAT Kings and Air NewZealand.

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