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Cruise on Milford Sound

Cruise on Milford Sound
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Date:
Location:
Country:
Latitude:
Longitude:
Altitude:
26 February 2017
Milford Sound
New Zealand
44°40'S
167°50'E
Sea level
Google Maps Link
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

CLOUD still clung to the almost vertical mountains from the overnight rain. The bright blue sky was otherwise clear. The air was cool and crisp up on the top deck of the boat as it prepared for departure from the Milford cruise terminal. Looking out into the harbour the summit of Mitre Peak was just beginning to show, revealing itself through the dissipating cloud.

Cloud over Mitre Peak

Cloud over Mitre Peak

The catamaran pulled out and sped across the water, only slightly ruffled by the gentle southerly breeze. We cleared the low forested headland sheltering the bay, to reveal more mountains on the right-hand side of the fiord, namely the Lion and the Elephant, and behind it the snow-covered Mount Pembroke towering over two kilometres high. It was strange seeing so much snow here at the height of summer. It was already late February, but the locals here were saying summer had only begun in the past few days.

Mt Pembroke

Mt Pembroke

Rounding the low headland the spectacular Bowen Falls appeared. Leaping off a hanging valley 150 metres above the sea, the waterfall seemed to come from nowhere. It was fed by a river flowing down a long valley. The water thundered down the rock face onto the low forested headland where the water flowed the short distance into the sea.

Bowen Falls

Bowen Falls

Milford Village and the flat land around the mouth of the Cleddau River quickly disappeared behind us under the giant mountains as we headed towards Mitre Peak. A forested ridge led down from the jagged mountaintop towards us, reaching sea level at the mouth of a low valley carved deep between the mile-high walls or rock on either side. This was Sinbad Valley. Although it was so close to us it was very remote being cut off from the rest of New Zealand by the walls of rock towering around its sides and back. It can only be accessed by sea into the mouth of the cascading stream running out of it.

Sinbad Valley

Sinbad Valley

A glacier once flowed through this valley, meeting the main glacier flowing through what is now Milford Sound. The ice would have been at least a kilometre thick, its weight carving out the sound with its bottom now over four hundred metres deep.

Sinbad Valley

Sinbad Valley

Reaching the end of the ridge, we followed the steep scrubby mountainside just a few metres offshore. The forest plummeted from the top of the ridge all the way down to a point about two metres above the river. Then the bush abruptly stopped in a clean shaven line with the rock below that completely bare as it plunged into the water and continued heading straight down for hundreds of metres into its black depths.

Cliffs rising from sea

Cliffs rising from sea

We rounded the first point before heading offshore for a few minutes to see a couple of rare penguins frolicking around in the water. We returned towards the mountain wall under Mitre Peak. The wall of rock towered almost vertically to its 1692 metre high summit with only two breaks of rock heading across the side of it. Towards the top of the mountain the rock was completely free of vegetation. Vertical lines of rock extended all the way from the top to the bottom as part of the formation of the rock deep beneath the surface before it was abruptly thrust above the surface only a few million years ago.

Mile high cliffs

Mile high cliffs

As the mountains have been raised, enormous glaciers have played their part in eroding deep channels, to below sea level.

Penguins

Penguins

Across the other side of the fiord another hanging valley extended between the Lion and the Elephant. From the lowest point of the valley Stirling Falls plunged over the side. It looked rather small from over this side of the fiord, but a large boat, hardly more than a dot from here, put its sheer scale into perspective.

The Lion and the Elephant

The Lion and the Elephant

We continued following the edge of the mile high cliff. Small waterfalls were flowing down the cliffs, bringing down the rain that had fallen overnight. The waterfalls were obvious at the top where they plunged over the side of the lower part of the cliff. The water fanned out into a fine mist looking like rain falling into the deep seawater.

Waterfall

Waterfall

We headed around Copper Point, named for the greenish blue copper deposit in parts on the rock. Small shrubs clung to cracks in the vertical rock wall. Moss and ferns grew in some of the smaller cracks. Despite this impossible terrain, life has managed to find a way to survive here.

Green copper at Copper Point

Green copper at Copper Point

At the end of Copper Point was a small rocky outcrop jutting out towards the entrance to the Tasman Sea. Several large seals were resting on the rock with a few more swimming in the dark surrounding water. We hovered here for a little while before heading out towards the entrance.

Seals at Copper Point

Seals at Copper Point

Upon leaving Copper Point, we headed a short distance towards Fairy Falls, a temporary waterfall catching the light creating its own rainbow through the fine mist falling from the scrubby forest above.

Fairy Falls

Fairy Falls

We approached very close to the waterfall, where the falling water looked like heavy rain falling over the rock wall with the bright sun shining through it.

Fairy Falls

Fairy Falls

From there we started heading out towards the entrance of the fiord, passing another waterfall plunging into a forested gravel bank that had eroded from above. At this point the fiord was only about eighty metres deep as the glaciers hadn't penetrated so deep here, and had left moraine. This shelf sheltered the inner fiord from the large swells coming in from the Tasman Sea.

Waterfall

Waterfall

As we headed past the waterfall a deep cut appeared along the face of the mountain going almost to the summit of Mitre Peak. This was a fault line breaking the mountain apart.

Fault line

Fault line

Heading out towards the entrance, the mountains suddenly became less dramatic. The headlands pointing out into the Tasman Sea weren't anything unusual at all.

Reaching the Tasman Sea

Reaching the Tasman Sea

We left the mouth of the fiord, causing it to disappear from view under the towering Llawrenny Peaks. No wonder it wasn't known until discovered by accident.

Looking back into Milford Sound

Looking back into Milford Sound

The mountains fell steeply into the sea to the main alpine fault line just a couple of kilometres offshore. This fault line was the separation between the submerged Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate riding over the top of it, creating these spectacular mountains.

South Island West Coast

South Island West Coast

We headed back into Milford Sound. By now all the cloud had dissolved into the warming air. Although the sun was quite high, it was not long before we entered the dark shadow of the huge cliffs of The Elephant. We passed a couple of small waterfalls before reaching another seal colony at one of the rocky points.

Seal Point

Seal Point

A little further along the coast was the thundering Stirling Falls. It had looked very small from the other side of the fiord, but the 146-metre-high waterfall mow looked enormous from close up. The boat almost went into the thick spray of the cold water tumbling over the edge having gently flowed through the old glacial hanging valley.

Stirling Falls

Stirling Falls

From the waterfall we sailed under the Lion, below a kilometre high overhanging cliff. Although this cliff was vertical and received almost no sunshine at any time of year, scrub was still growing in the cracks of the vertical rock.

Wall of rock

Wall of rock

Looking across to the other side of the fiord, the mile high cliff from Mitre Peak formed an impenetrable wall of rock dwarfing the large boats sailing past into tiny dots.

Mile high cliff

Mile high cliff

We continued following the cliff under The Lion until it diminished to a small forested point. We rounded the point into Harrison Cove. Just around the point was a floating building with a jetty where we stopped.

Harrison Cove

Harrison Cove

I climbed out onto the floating building and was led inside. After a briefing and looking around the posters, we were led down a spiral staircase about eight metres underwater. Through the thick glass windows I could see out into the turquoise water at the rocky face dropping deep into the bottom of Harrison Cove.

View from underwater

View from underwater

Fish were swimming around the black coral and sea anemones. Some of these species are only found in very deep water, but they live this close to the surface here due to there normally being a thick layer of freshwater at the surface blocking most of the light. As there has been little rain in the last couple of weeks, the water was unusually clear with good visibility. Usually the water is black when viewed from here making the fish hard to see.

Fish swimming past observatory

Fish swimming past observatory

We returned to the surface and caught a much larger boat heading back to the cruise terminal. We headed out across Harrison Cove with spectacular views up the valley up to the mountain with its ice field at the top and rivers of ice running to quite low levels.

Harrison Cove

Harrison Cove

The boat stopped for a couple of minutes at Bowen Falls, where the sun was now shining on the thundering white water. Then it headed back into the harbour.

Milford Harbour

Milford Harbour

Back on dry land, I decided to walk back to the lodge where I was staying, about a kilometre away. A board walk path led around the harbour through thick mountain beech forest. When the forest ended, the track continued following the coast. The tide was in, with water right up to the red clumps of reeds covering the shore line.

Boardwalk

Boardwalk

The seal ended with gravel marking the start of the Milford Foreshore Walk following the low headland deposited by outflows from the Cleddau River. It led onto another boardwalk over a swampy patch and a short inlet to the forested end of the headland.

Milford Sound from boardwalk

Milford Sound from boardwalk

At the end of the headland I left the track walking through the tussock to the water's edge. Small waves lapped against the thick gravel. The water was crystal clear and fresh, not producing any of the foam expected in salt water.

Bowen Falls

Bowen Falls

From there I looked out to the spectacular mountains, of the long ridge of Mitre Peak extending between the main sound and Sinbad Valley, and of the gap through Harrison Cove to the snow-capped Mount Pembroke looking over the Lion and the Elephant, with the tiny Stirling Falls running between them.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

From there I headed back into the bush heading upstream along the Cleddeau River to the lodge where I was staying.

 
 
 

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