Waterfalls, Fur Seals, Black Choral, and Parrots Milford Sound, New Zealand
The day starts with a drizzle. Weather reports promise more of the same. Yet, tour guides assure us that these are ideal conditions to visit Milford Sound. Many waterfalls along the Sound only flow during rain. In fact, there are only two permanent waterfalls. We see dozens.
Te Anau – Milford Highway
Our first concern is the mountain pass. Snow is not forecast for the pass and the roads are supposed to be open. But the difference between the pass and that day’s snow line is only 100 meters. So, we take off early, hoping to avoid any surprises along the road. Despite, our plans, however, we are more than just surprised at the pass, we are delighted.
Kea are an alpine parrot native to New Zealand’s mountainous regions. While there are only around 5,000 known Kea, they are surprisingly easy to spot. These brilliant birds have recognized a sweet deal in the tourist trade, not unlike their human counterparts. They will loiter around the mountain pass parking lots in hopes of getting a handout from irresponsible tourists or snatching a snack from poorly guarded cars. Visitors are warned to remove their windshield wipers and hide bright objects in the car should you abandon the car for any significant amount of time as the parrots are known to peel away the rubber seals on windshield wipers as well as drop rocks on windows in an effort to access the food inside the vehicle.
When we arrive, the Kea are easy targets for my camera and hard to leave when our travel companions urge us to get back in the car so that we could make our 12:30 boat tour on the Milford Sound.
Cruising the Milford Sound
The last drops of rain ceased as we board the ship for the sound. We even catch the occasional patches of sunlight as we gasp at the sheer cliff faces and hundreds of waterfalls. Why do I even attempt to describe it? Here are some pictures.
Even More Wildlife
As our boat nears open ocean, dolphins join us to glide at the prow of the ship. While I never got a shot of the dolphins, I did manage to capture a group of seals sunning on a rock as we turned back into the sound. I suppose, with so many tour boats out on the sound, they could hardly be bothered to take notice as we passed.
Milford Sound Underwater Observatory
While the boat works its way to the end of our tour, we aren’t there quite yet. For $5 extra dollars on our tour package, we enjoy lunch and a viewing of the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory. The Sound hosts a rather unique habitat. The interaction of fresh and seawater results in very little light passing through. Sea creatures that are usually exclusive to much greater depths can be seen from the 10-meter floating observation platform. After descending a spiral staircase to the platform, we see fish, sea stars, anemone, and the rare black coral.
Black coral is most commonly found at depths of 100 to 200 meters but we see several samples of it from the observatory. Funnily enough, the coral usually appears to be white. It is the hardened skeleton that is black and was popular in jewelry until the species became protected.
Return to Te Anau
As we return from Milford Sound, so does the rain. The Te Anau–Milford Highway has many hikes and scenic attractions along it, but we only make a few quick stops to cross a draw bridge, see a waterfall, and take the very short boardwalk hike to see the mirror lakes.
Relaxing After A busy Day
That night, we make dinner at the rental house we are staying at and relax into the first movie in the New Zealand epic series, The Lord of the Rings. We play, spot the filming location.