Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is one of the top tourist destinations in New Zealand, but this was the first time I made it there because it is so remote and difficult to access. We were treated to snow-covered valleys on the drive in because a big storm had rolled through very recently. The waterfalls were extra powerful and loud, too. We stopped off at The Chasm on the way in, which had rushing water under a bridge and a cool rock with a hole worn through it.

The big waterfall that you can see from the shore when you get to the sound is named Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls or Hine Te Awa -- the Maori saw that it resembled the white plumage on the New Zealand wood pigeon (kereru). It is the highest waterfall in Milford Sound (162 m or 531 ft) and provides the area with power and water.  
Hine Te Awa waterfall
Believe it or not, the sound from the waterfalls was so loud that it and the wind woke us up several times during our first night there! There were waterfalls all over the mountainside next to the lodge. The following day was when we were supposed to go on our evening kayak tour. The weather was drippy in the morning but we went out for a short nature hike anyway. We hiked a little ways on a very rain-drenched trail, with puddles and slick branches everywhere. It was one of, if not the most rainforest-y spot we had been to -- very wet! We also walked to the visitor center (the only thing in Milford Sound apart from lodging and tours) and found some cool orange lichen-covered rocks on the way back.
view from Milford Sound Lodge

the shores of Milford Sound

Thankfully the weather cleared up in time for the twilight kayak tour, so it wasn't cancelled. They gave us a safety briefing and then took us via boat aways out into the sound, and then we spent the next few hours kayaking back. It was a workout for sure! The views were amazing, and being on a kayak makes you feel so small compared to the sheer cliffs and giant waterfalls. We put all the kayaks together and went under the spray from the second highest waterfall, Stirling Falls. It is 151 m (495 ft) tall - three times that of Niagara Falls. The cold water pelts you with incredible force -- I had to close my eyes for fear of my contacts falling out. It was super cool and an unforgettable experience. Our guide told us some interesting stories and we would go near the shores to look at various features. It was cool to see the pink from the sunset over the mountains.

preparing to go under Stirling Falls

successfully made it through Stirling Falls!

The next day, the sun was out and the mountainsides had a lot fewer waterfalls. It was almost a different place, and it is constantly changing like this all year round, no matter the season. We really lucked out with the bad weather having come in right before we arrived and staying away so we could enjoy this remote place (no cell reception or free internet).

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