MILFORD SOUND
Our day on Milford Sound was clear and sunny with blue skies. That is incredibly RARE! Milford Sound has an average annual rainfall of 7 meters (23 feet). Yes, over 2-stories of rainfall each year. There are approximately 240 days of rain each year. That means, on average, there is only one non-rainy day every three days. And that day is not always clear and sunny. So our day was rare. But on the downside, there were almost no waterfalls on our tour. The ones that existed had very low flow. Many people say that it's best to tour Milford Sound in the rain because there can be over 600 waterfalls. That would be beautiful. So, to reiterate what I quoted on the main page, "There's no bad time to visit New Zealand."
Mitre Peak, seen below in three of the four pictures is probably the most photographed mountain in New Zealand. At 1692 meters (5551 feet), it's a mile high, but it's certainly not the highest mountain in New Zealand. That honor belongs to Mt. Cook at 3754 meters (12316 feet). MItre Peak was named because of it's resemblance to the shape of a Bishop's Mitre. To the left of Mitre Peak is Mt. Phillips. It's only 872 meters (2860 feet). It only looks taller because it's closer in the photo. The valley between the two mountains is Sinbad Gully. All of these pictures were taken from Milford Harbor.

If you ever take a tour of Milford Sound, Genelle & I recommend that you take the Milford Wanderer run by Real Journeys. Any of the boats, mostly catamarans, that tour MIlford Sound will show you the same sights, but the Wanderer is just prettier. It has personality. The pictures below show the Wanderer docked at the Milford Harbor just before our tour.

The first destination on the tour is Bowen Falls, just around the corner from Milford Harbor. The 160 meter (525 feet) Bowen falls has been tapped for hydro power and it supplies all the electricity for Milford. It also provides most of the drinking water for the town. To give you an idea of the height, you can see the Milford Dock in the third picture looking pretty tiny in comparison. Due to the recent lack of rain in the Fiordland, the falls are a bit weak. Bowen Falls is the highest in Milford Sound.

I call these the "synchronized seals" because they remind me of the sport of synchonized swimming. In reality, these New Zealand Fur Seals are cooling down. At this time of year, the water is pretty warm and the seals have a pretty thick coat, so they lift their flippers to dissipate heat. The big bull in the third picture seems pleased with the show.

This is some of the typical scenery in Milford Sound. This water, like all of the sea water we saw in New Zealand, is a very unique turquoise color. It's never cloudy because there is very little surface soil on the surrounding land. In the last picture, notice how there is no seaweed, barnacles, mussels or any other sea life on the rocks at water level. That is due to a rather thick layer of "fresh" water sitting on top of the salt water. It's actually called an LSL (low salinity layer) since there's always a bit of mixing with salt water. In times of drought, like on our trip, the layer is almost non-existant. During heavy rainfall, it can be as much as 15m (50 ft) thick. The normal average thickness of the LSL is 5m (16 ft).

These pictures, taken from the Milford Wanderer, show views through the rigging. To me, this is far more picuresque than photos taken from the deck of a "cat". That last picture shows the "Milford Mariner", a larger sister ship to the Wanderer.

We are now at the mouth of Milford Sound looking out to the remarkable calm Tazman Sea. This is unusually smooth conditions for the open sea. In the second picture, you can see that there's enough salt water on the surface here that some ocean plant life has attached to the rocks at the water line.

The six pictures below are a sequential series showing the "opening" of Milford Sound as seen from the Tazman sea. Because the base of the mountain on the left looks like it blends right into the mountains on the right, it completely hides the opening to Milford Sound. Captain Cook actually missed the Milford Sound two different times even though it was already charted. As we rounded the corner in the last two photos, we were treated to the beauty of Milford Sound.
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This is Fairy Falls and is 80 m (262 ft) high. It is not a permanent falls. It will completely dry up if no rain falls for a few weeks. I think it is close to that now. Fairy Falls is in two parts. The last two pictures show the upper, then the lower section. I the last picture, the area most cleared of vegetation is how wide the falls can be when the rain is heavy.

Stirling Falls, at 146 m (479 Ft) are the second tallest in Milford Sound. It's also one of the few permanent falls here. What's fun about visiting Stirling Falls is that the tour boats drive right up to the base of the falls. The first three photos are of a boat ahead of us. Since that boat is two stories high, it gives a good feel for how high the falls really are. The second row of photos are of our boat, the Wanderer, getting close.

Optional on any tour of Milford Sound is a stop at the Milford Deep Underwater Observatory. You can stay pretty much as long as you'd like since you are allowed to hop on any boat that comes along, even if it's from a competing tour company. You walk down long spiral staircase to reach the viewing chamber that's 10.4 m (34 ft) below the surface. From there you have 360 degrees of viewing windows. The "Black Coral" (which is actually white, but the skelton underneath is black) is quite rare. The black creatures in the coral are "Snake Stars". The coral provides protection for them and, in return, they keep the coral clean of algae and debris. It's rather difficult to get pictures here because flash bounces back at you, so you have to use a slower shutter speed or a larger aperture.
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