Wa­ter log

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - News -

HE last 20 min­utes of our drive into Mil­ford are a bit tense. We’re run­ning late for our cruise and the road that corkscrews down the moun­tain in a se­ries of hair­pin bends to the lit­tle vil­lage and its boat har­bour is not of the kind for mak­ing up time. We have al­lo­cated 21/ hours for the 120km jour­ney from our ho­tel in Te Anau to Mil­ford Sound in the South Is­land of New Zealand’s Fiord­land Na­tional Park. It’s ad­e­quate time, ac­cord­ing to our guide­books, but we haven’t fac­tored in the se­duc­tive charm of the scenery along an alpine road where ev­ery bend in­sists we stop to take a pho­to­graph. The road snakes through forests and along­side lakes. It criss­crosses river gorges and moun­tains, even pass­ing 1.2km through the base of one peak in the nar­row, steep and slightly ter­ri­fy­ing Homer tun­nel, an en­gi­neer­ing tri­umph when it was com­pleted in 1953. My hus­band and I are booked on a Real Jour­neys na­ture cruise that’s due to leave Mil­ford at 12.30pm and take us on a 21/ hour af­ter­noon cir­cuit of the sound. It’s as we emerge from the tun­nel that we re­alise we’re cut­ting things a bit fine. But some­how we make it in time to board the pretty blue and white two-masted ves­sel Mil­ford Wan­derer. It’s late sum­mer and there’s hardly a cloud in the in­tense blue mid­day sky. The wa­ter of the sound, which stretches like a vast lake, sparkles in the sun­light and we can’t be­lieve our luck: ap­par­ently it rains more of­ten than not in Mil­ford Sound, the wettest place in the wettest cor­ner of NZ. It seems our fleeces and rain­coats won’t be needed. The Mil­ford Wan­derer, like its sis­ter ves­sel the Mil­ford Mariner, is de­signed to look like a tra­di­tional trad­ing scow. But hav­ing been pur­pose-built as tourist cruise boats, they are com­fort­ably fit­ted with cafe-style ta­bles and chairs next to big pic­ture win­dows that give pas­sen­gers spec­tac­u­lar views with­out the per­ils of the of­ten-wild weather. But to­day there’s no way we’re go­ing to stay in­doors. Most of our fel­low cruis­ers feel the same: it’s stand­in­groom only and some pas­sen­gers clam­ber across the rail­ings to take up po­si­tions in the bow. But there are spec­tac­u­lar views in all di­rec­tions and the boat’s big enough to give ev­ery­one a van­tage point. Mil­ford Sound was de­scribed by Rud­yard Ki­pling as the eighth won­der of the world. We can see why. As the Mil­ford Wan­derer pulls away from the har­bour and out into the sound, moun­tain walls tower above us, their sheer rock faces ris­ing starkly from the wa­ter. Amaz­ingly, some of the moun­tains are densely forested, the trees cling­ing pre­car­i­ously to the steep slopes. The im­mense scale of the nat­u­ral ar­chi­tec­ture is over­whelm­ing. There are other tour boats in the dis­tance but, dwarfed by the moun­tains, they look like toys in a boat­ing pond. The tallest of th­ese moun­tains is Mitre Peak, so named be­cause its sum­mit looks like a bishop’s mitre. At 1682m, it’s one of the world’s high­est moun­tains to rise straight out of the sea. When it rains, our tour guides tell us, the moun­tain­sides be­come gi­ant cur­tains of wa­ter cas­cad­ing into the icy depths be­low. To­day, af­ter an un­usu­ally dry sum­mer, we’ve traded tem­po­rary wa­ter­falls for per­fect weather. But the per­ma­nent wa­ter­falls that re­main are still im­pres­sive. The Wan­derer pulls in close enough to give us the full, drench­ing sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence. We pass the first, Bowen Falls, soon af­ter leav­ing the har­bour. Called Rere Te Awa (wa­ter­fall of the girl of the stream) by the Maori, the falls drop a spec­tac­u­lar 160m from a hang­ing val­ley. Two young guides are on board to pro­vide a pot­ted ac­count of the area’s nat­u­ral and hu­man his­tory but, out­side, above the wind and en­gine noise, we pick up only snatches of what they are say­ing. But the scenery speaks elo­quently for it­self and the guides are happy to an­swer any ques­tions we put to them. They dis­abuse us of the no­tion we’re in a sound. Be­cause Mil­ford and the other Fiord­land wa­ter­ways in NZ’s rugged south­west were carved out of the moun­tains by glaciers and flooded by the sea when the ice re­treated, they are re­ally fjords, not sounds, which are flooded river val­leys. Ap­par­ently, the views we are en­joy­ing are the re­sult of 500 mil­lion years of vi­o­lent ge­o­log­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. It’s fit­ting Mil­ford Sound re­mains one of the planet’s great wilder­nesses and a World Her­itage-listed area. Mil­ford is the only part of Fiord­land ac­ces­si­ble by road and some­times even it is cut off by bad weather. The wind has picked up and we reach for our fleeces. Clouds are cling­ing to the moun­tain peaks. We can get four sea­sons in a day here,’’ says one of the guides. It’s no won­der. Mil­ford Sound is a large in­let, stretch­ing about 15km from the water­way’s head at the boat har­bour to the Tas­man Sea, where we are head­ing. On our right, we pass two land­mark moun­tains known as the lion and the ele­phant be­cause they are said to re­sem­ble th­ese two an­i­mals. They face each other above a hang­ing val­ley along the edge of which runs the ele­phant’s out­stretched trunk. The con­sen­sus among our fel­low cruis­ers is that any re­sem­blance to African wildlife is vague to nonex­is­tent, but no one minds. Stir­ling Falls tumbles from the hang­ing val­ley across the ele­phant’s trunk into the wa­ters be­low. And be­hind is the grand Mt Pem­broke, at 2014m one of the high­est peaks in Mil­ford Sound. Caught up in the scenery, we’ve forgotten to have lunch. For those who’ve pre-or­dered, a choice of ‘‘ gourmet meals is pro­vided. But we opt for a ba­sic pic­nic lunch; with a sand­wich, cheese and crack­ers, dan­ish pas­try and ap­ple, it’s all we need. And there’s as much tea and cof­fee as we can drink. As we are eat­ing, our boat chugs past Cop­per Point, named for the cop­per in the rock. Just as our guide is ex­plain­ing that we’ve reached a nat­u­ral wind fun­nel where gusts can top 180km/h, a chilly blast whips my tea clean out of its cup. Hats, and even some­one’s glasses, are blown over­board. Past the point, the wind drops a lit­tle. We see Dale Point on our right, which marks the north­ern en­trance to Mil­ford Sound, where it’s only 400m wide. We are told the nar­row en­trance to the large water­way was not no­ticed by whalers and other Euro­pean sea­far­ers un­til well into NZ’s colo­nial his­tory. Maori, though, have been visit­ing Mil­ford Sound for cen­turies, us­ing well-worn Blue-rib­bon views: Sculpted ac­cord­ing to Maori myth by a demigod us­ing a mag­i­cal adze, New Zealand’s Mil­ford Sound com­bines the dra­matic with the brood­ing trails to travel through wilder­ness con­sid­ered im­pen­e­tra­ble by Euro­peans. Ac­cord­ing to Maori mythol­ogy, the whole jagged Fiord­land coast­line was shaped by a demigod called Tu-te-raki-whanoa who carved the in­lets out of a tow­er­ing wall of rock us­ing a magic adze. Pio­pi­o­tahi, or Mil­ford Sound, was his finest cre­ation. We’ve now en­tered the wide mouth of Mil­ford Sound and our boat is about to do a loop out into the Tas­man Sea be­fore a leisurely re­turn to the dock. But first we pull across to Anita Bay on our left, where we can see large orange boul­ders strewn on the beach. The boul­ders are huge lumps of bowen­ite, a form of green­stone found only at the en­trance to Mil­ford Sound; it’s the main rea­son the Maori made reg­u­lar haz­ardous ex­pe­di­tions here. In its nat­u­ral form the rock is orange be­cause it’s ox­i­dised, but when cut and pol­ished it be­comes a beau­ti­ful blue-green stone that was used to make tools, or­na­ments and jew­ellery. Maori artists con­tinue to keep the green­stone carv­ing tra­di­tion alive. Their name for bowen­ite is , or tear wa­ter, a ref­er­ence to its translu­cent wa­tery ap­pear­ance. A Maori leg­end has it that the stone is pet­ri­fied tear drops. Ahead stretches an end­less ex­panse of ocean, but as we wheel around to head back into the sound, we no­tice a light­house on a point, built more than a cen­tury ago to try to pro­tect ship­ping from the wild coast­line. Mil­ford Sound con­tin­ues to sur­prise on our re­turn jour­ney. As the af­ter­noon wears on, its mood be­comes som­bre. Dark clouds pass across the sun and the moun­tains take on a brood­ing pres­ence. It’s a small taste of what win­ter must be like here. Then the sun’s out again and we’re de­lighted to see sev­eral large, fat, glis­ten­ing seals bask­ing on a broad, flat rock just above the wa­ter line. They’re New Zealand fur tangi­wai seals, al­most hunted to ex­tinc­tion last cen­tury. But now they’re pro­tected and their num­bers are grow­ing. They thrive on the abun­dant fish in the sound and th­ese ones cer­tainly seem to be liv­ing the high life. There’s time to linger once more by the wa­ter­falls. On our left we pass Har­ri­son Cove, a pretty, shel­tered spot where cruise boats an­chor for the night. It must be mag­i­cal to wake up in Mil­ford Sound; as we dis­em­bark, we prom­ise our­selves we’ll re­turn.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.