The Fiordland National Park in the Southwest Corner of New Zealand is the most remote and inaccessible region in the whole country and home to fjords, high mountains, narrow valleys, dense forests, beautiful lakes, epic treks and the Kea, one of only few species of parrots that live in high-alpine regions. The most visited of the fjords is Milford Sound, and that’s also where we were driving our campervan to.
About Milford Sound
The most famous location in Fiordland National Park is Milford Sound, a fjord that begins around 15 km inland and ends in the Tasman Sea. It is by far not the longest fjord in New Zealand, but due to the existence of a good highway, it is the most accessible one. In addition to its reputation to be one of the most beautiful places in the country, it is also one of the wettest places on the planet with more than 200 days of rainfall per year. As Milford Sound lives from its scenery, a rainy day might spoil the whole experience.
We got to see both faces of Milford Sound: The rainy as well as the scenic one. The evening we arrived at Milford Sound there were some clouds, but the vertical cliffs that fall into the fjords were visible. We were looking forward to the next day when Ilinca planned a cruise and I went diving in the fjord. The next morning however the big disappointment: it was raining heavily for basically the whole day, making Ilinca’s scenic cruise a ride through the fog. The only advantage was that the waterfalls from the cliffs carried much more water than usual. For diving the rain was not too bad as I got wet anyway, but it was still unfortunate to not see the fjord in its full beauty.
After this frustration I had to convince Ilinca to try again next day, so we spontaneously decided to stay another day at Milford Sound. And it was well worth it, as the following pictures clearly show. It is really an amazing place, and even though there were quite a few tourist planes, boats, and helicopters around, we still could enjoy the magnificent views.
The Road to Milford Sound
It would definitely be wrong to only mention Milford Sound though. The whole road to Milford Sound, Highway 94, is basically a scenic route and driving this road in beautiful weather is a fantastic experience, even when driving in a bulky campervan. We were passing wonderful plains of pink and purple flowers, clear mountain lakes, dense forest, stunning rock walls, and waterfalls. And at some of the stops we even got a visit from the Kea, South New Zealand’s high-alpine parrots that are known to be one of the most intelligent birds at all and use their intelligence to damage cars by tearing up the isolation around the windows and cables in the search for food. Also, they are known for hitchhiking, meaning that they are not afraid of moving cars and simply sit on top of a car for a while to not having to fly the whole way.
Diving at Milford Sound
Since my PADI certification in Cairns I have not been diving anymore, and in order to keep up to practice I wanted to go diving again. I was very surprised when I saw online that there are also dive tours in Milford Sound because it did not look to me like an attractive diving spot, firstly because the water is only 17° C and secondly because of the boat traffic and the steep rock walls along the fjord. But I was so wrong about it. It was simply a fantastic experience. Not only did we see lots of wildlife, but we also were diving along underwater cliffs where the rock is disappearing in deep depths while we were diving only at 20m depth. While in the water we encountered a playful seal, lots of huge crayfish (a kind of lobster) hiding below rocks, shark eggs, and from the boat we also spotted a penguin and dolphins.
The most interesting aspect of Milford Sound is that the layer of water is actually freshwater. As freshwater is lighter than saltwater, it floats on top. It was very interesting to dive through the different layers of water, the freshwater being dark and blurry, and the saltwater below crystal clear. Due to the dark fresh water, less light reaches the saltwater layer and therefore corals and animals that usually live in depths or more than 40m can already be spotted at 10m depth, such as the black coral.
I wish I could share more pictures, but I still need to arrange some underwater photo equipment.