Fiordlands National Park - Cruise of Milford Sound
(back to Glenorchy)
Monday, March 20, 2006
I woke up in Te Anau, and went directly to the iSite in that town with no clue of what I wanted to do. 20 minutes later I had a plan for the next few days, as well as a cruise of the sound booked. Those iSites are GREAT! I had a gorgeous 2-hour drive along the Milford Road to get to Milford Sound. I had to fill up with gas before I left because there was no gas available in Milford. There were signs everywhere warning folks to get gas... so I imagine it's a problem.
I checked in for my cruise and waited for the skipper to take our tickets. While I was waiting, a plane flew by and I took this photo to the left. You can see the plane almost in the center of the photograph - it gives the photo scale and a sense of how impressive the place is... again, imagine this all around you, except for an opening in the mountains to the open sea... actually, that's what a sound is - where freshwater meets the ocean water. In fact, water came off of glaciers that were on the mountain tops all around the sound and went directly into the sound . A sound versus a fiord is based on how the place was formed. Originally it was thought that the park was was a series of fiords, so it was called Fiordlands National Park. But now folks have figured out they are sounds, not fiords, but the name has stuck.
There were so many choices for sound cruises, it was a bit overwhelming, but the iSite made it easier. I chose a slightly more expensive nature cruise which included more emphasis on the natural features and natural history of the sound. I'm glad I did because the skipper and crew invited me into the cabin to eat green grapes with them. We chatted quite a bit and I got to hear some more stories. And they showed me the different equipment the boat uses - radar, GPS, etc. Plus it was raining more often than not during the cruise, and the wind was incredible - but the cabin was warm and dry, yet I had a much better view of everything from there than I would've gotten from the main cabin.
The huge gray bluffs covered with rainforest were dotted with waterfalls like this one in the photo to the right. One of the waterfalls falling right into the sound, was at a place where the water was deep enough for the skipper to take the boat right up to its base. A good number of the passengers went up to the front of the boat to feel the spray from the waterfall.
I asked a lady to take my photo with the waterfall when we were near it, but she didn't quite get what I was hoping for, so To the right, I'm putting a photo of the waterfall above and a photo of me below that.
Below are a few more photos of the waterfall we were under... I just couldn't resist including them... sorry to the folks with slow Internet... Look at the amount of water!
After the cruise I needed to get water for camping. I went into the women's restroom and there was a faucet labeled "drinking water", which I thought was strange because I thought all the tap water would be REALLY clean here... but just the same, there was "out of order" written across the label. I went out to ask someone where I could get good drinking water and the woman told me the "special" faucet was just to put tourists at ease about drinking it. She said, "see the waterfall right there?" I glanced out the window. "THAT's where all the tap water comes from. It's cleaner than this!" and she held up a bottle of Avian water. That was enough for me. I filled up my container and was set. The same glacier water in the waterfall in the photos below, supplied my drinking water for the next few days...
Above is a photo of the skipper (Dave) and the naturalist (John) in the back. They were really nice - both kiwis, of course. It was John's birthday, so Dave let him steer for a little while.
We also saw some seals on some rocks and the skipper steered us close to them. The photo at the right was the boat ahead of us having a look at the seals. The photo below is of the seals as we went by.
Near the end of the cruise, we stopped off at the underwater observatory so folks with tickets could get off - I got a ticket for that because Kris recommended it. It was expensive, but worth it. It's basically the engineering equivalent of an empty soda bottle turned upside down in the water. To the right is a photo of the underwater observatory. The large building on the left is a large room with some information about the observatory - and the small, attached building to the right is the observatory itself.
There was a group ahead of us, so we had a to wait a few minutes in the large room. But it was okay - the sun came out and there was a striking rainbow across the water - I tried to catch it in the photo to the left. Also, we watched a short video about how the observatory was built and how it transported to the sound. The sea is generally very rough here, so it was actually quite a tricky process.
When it was our turn, we walked down a spiral staircase - the photo to the left is of the top of the staircase. To right right is a photo of how it looked as we went down...
About half way down, the guide stopped us at one of the windows to show us something. There was a sort of line in the water... The photo I took of it is below. The top half of the water you could see out the window was brownish, the bottom half of the water was bluish. She asked us to try and figure out why that might be... and none of us could come up with it.
Turns out we were at the point where the freshwater that ran off from the land was on the top, and was mixing with the salt water of the open ocean below. Right where they met it was sorta blurry... The freshwater was brown because it had tannins in it that were picked up as it ran across land.
We went down about 40 feet total, and when we got to the bottom of the spiral staircase, it opened up into a small, circular room with about 20 windows looking out into the water. This photo below is two of the windows.
The views from these windows were very interesting. The observatory has shelves all around with corals that were nurtured for 15 years before they were transplanted to the observatory. Also, the observatory has lights that are intended to show the lifeforms at their best. Besides the lifeforms on the shelf, everything else is open ocean and uncontrolled. The fish decide if they're going to swim by or not.
I took a ton of photos out of the windows, below are a few of the better ones I took - and it was difficult to narrow it down to this handful. The photo to the left shows a starfish on the rock face behind the observatory - I circled it in yellow for you. Our guide said that seals and sharks have also swum by occasionally.
The photo to the left and the photo above each have a big fish in them - can you spot them? Even in person it was difficult to see the fish - they are well camouflaged.
Below is a photo of our guide (I think she was Dutch) waving good bye to us as our boat pulled away from the observatory. She was really nice. Unfortunately, I don't remember her name and I didn't write this one down... She really liked that we really liked her - I think she was relatively new in the position and we got her off to a good start.