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The Fjord Disappears

The Fjord Disappears
 
 

ONCE around the next point, the terrain suddenly eased. Although the mountains were still precarious and near vertical, they were now covered in mountain beach forest. There were more seal colonies on the small ledges where the cliffs met the sea and continued plummeting hundreds of metres into the black depths of the water.

Looking north from outside the fjord entrance
Looking north from outside the fjord entrance

The entrance of the fjord was incredibly narrow, perhaps only a few hundred metres wide. A low headland swept about half way across the sound concealed much of the entrance. The mountains on either side of the headlands dropped steeply into the sea to the main alpine fault which lay submerged just offshore. The main alpine fault runs diagonally down the length of the South Island and crosses the coast just north of here. The mountains of Fiordland are part of the Pacific Plate which is overriding the Australian Plate. The Australian Plate is barrelling northwards at around five centimetres per year. All the land that had been down here had moved over four hundred kilometres northwards to the top of the South Island, where I had been just two days ago.

Looking out over the Tasman Sea
Looking out over the Tasman Sea

We sailed out towards the fault line. Now that we were in exposed waters I could feel a heavy south west swell generated from massive subantarctic storms somewhere over the horizon.

The mountains were terraced showing the huge uplifts of past massive earthquakes. Once over the fault line we briefly stopped. Below us in the deep blue water, the ledge at the edge of the fault line some two or three hundred metres deep dropped a couple of kilometres at the start of the trench which continued southward to near Antarctica. This was the edge of the Zealandia sunken continent.

Looking back the entrance to the sound had completely disappeared. The towering hulk of Mitre Peak and other even taller mountains rose vertically out of the sea with almost no indication of the low headland sweeping in front of it. The coastline was as rugged as anything I had ever seen with the mile high peaks towering straight out of the water.

Looking south from outside the fjord entrance
Looking south from outside the fjord entrance

In fact Milford Sound had remained undiscovered by the early explorers. The other sounds in Fiordland all had distinctive entrances. Milford didn’t. It was not discovered until one stormy night when a sailor was caught in a ten metre swell off the coast and had lost control of his ship. He was blown towards the mountainous coast by the hurricane force winds  and at the very last moment before thinking he was going to get dashed on the rocks, he was fortunate to see a shelter from the low headland. He navigated the ship into the relative shelter to find this was the entrance to the sound. He sailed in for repairs and later called this Milford Haven after his hometown in Wales.

Entering the Fjord
Entering the Fjord

We returned into Milford Sound around the low rocky point. The rocks were smooth and rounded no doubt from much battering by the huge swells that happen here. It was a little rougher heading back with the cold southerly now a head wind breaking the waves. The air temperature was no more than twelve degrees, but with wind chill it was a lot colder. Surprisingly there were still a lot of people on the decks.

There was another boat ahead of us, but we were going a little faster. As we ventured further into the sound we caught up to it and overtook it. We followed the shaded north side of the fjord giving a bigger view of the massive mile high cliffs we had earlier passed. One large waterfall plunged down the cliff, remnant of last night’s rain no doubt.

Seals sunning themselves on a rock
Seals sunning themselves on a rock

This side of the fjord had deep vertical and overhanging cliffs cut into them from the more recent ice ages. There were a few rocky points where seals basked in the sun warming themselves up. No doubt the water was very cold from the Antarctic currents running northward along the coast.

Looking up the valley where we had driven down from the Homer Tunnel, cloud was beginning to form. The weather had been clear up until now thankfully.

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15 February 2008

 

Milford Sound

New Zealand

 

44°36'S
167°51'E
Sea Level

 

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