We woke up early, around 7:00 A.M., as we had about a six ½ hour drive to catch our 4:30 P.M. cruise out of Milford Sound. We left Wanaka and began the drive to Milford, making a short stop in Queenstown for gas. The weather was 70 degrees and sunny, and the features we saw on the landscape were spectacular.
On the drive from Queenstown to Milford we observed several different physical formations. We saw several rock outcrops with visible stratigraphic differences. Horizontal layering of fluvial sediments was visibly layered over glacial sediments.
The vast landscape surrounding Queenstown was scattered with sheep farms, ski resorts, and small towns. Torlesse rock (below) deposits were visible throughout this landscape.
Around noon we reached the Red Tussock Conservation area (below). This area was characterized by its dry, sparse low-bush vegetation. The mountains became rolling and continued to have outcrops of rock and torlesse deposits.
At 12:30 P.M. we stopped at Te Anau and ate lunch on beautiful Lake Manapouri (below). There was a stunning example of a hydroelectric power system on the lake. After lunch we continued the drive to Milford Sound. As we entered Fjordland National Park thick vegetation began to emerge and led to rainforest and fjords.
Fjordland National Park is a 1.25 million hectare, or 3 million acre area. This national park is double the size of NZ largest park. Fjordland has World Heritage Status. This means that the park contains unique characteristics and features that deserve special protection and recognition. Fjordland is one of the wettest places in the world. Milford Sound averages over 6 m of rain a year. The first 2 to 3 m of the fjord is freshwater from the heavy rain and resulting freshwater runoff.
We arrived at Milford Sound around 3:15, giving us enough time to explore the area (below) before boarding the Milford Wanderer (second below) cruise ship. The weather was gorgeous, 65 degrees and sunny with a strong southerly wind. We boarded our cruise ship and set out into the fjord.
The first afternoon/ evening of the cruise we viewed various landforms and wildlife.
Along the face of the fjord there were obvious glacial abrasion marks (striations, or scrapes) along the rock faces. These striations result from the glacial movement nearly 14,000 years ago, over 300m up from the sea.
The tallest mountain in Milford Sound, Mitre peak, rises about 6,000 feet (1682m) out of the feet. Mitre Peak is believed to be one of the world’s highest mountains to rise directly out of the sea.
The day before we arrived at Milford Sound it had rained, impacting the waterfalls. The extra water increased the volume of water rushing from the falls, increasing their beauty. The tallest waterfall in Milford Sound, Sterling Falls (below), rises 50 stories high, or three times the size of Niagara Falls.
Along the cruise we also viewed fur seals (below) bathing on rocks in the sun. Fur seals are found throughout south & western New Zealand with a population around 60,000. The fur seal has over 40,000 hairs on their body. They feed at night, using their whiskers to sense the fish under water.
We also had a sighting of one Fjordland Crested Penguin (below). The penguins live and breed in the sounds located on the South Island. They hatch only two eggs and care for the dominant of the two babies. Only 2,000 breeding pairs are currently left in the sound and their numbers are declining. Penguins feed out in the sea during the day and return to land at night. They molt during the summer and early autumn.
We also viewed a glacially carved overhang (below) on the side of one of the mountains. The overhang rose 634 meters to the top (2,300 ft) and another 200 m under the water.
After cruising through the sound for several hours the Milford Wanderer dropped anchor in Harrison Cove (both below) for the night.
Passengers were allowed several choices of evening activities, such as kayaking, a motorboat ride around the cove, and jumping/ swimming in the sound.
Video of Group Swimming
Video of Beth Jumping
Our group (below) went kayaking and then most of our group jumped off the top platform of the ship into the icy cold waters of the Milford Sound.
Topical Research Paper on Milford Sound written by Adam Rubach
After drying off we ate a tasty dinner, played cards, and talked with some interesting people. Soon after we crawled into our bunks and went to sleep.
Written by: Jackie Ebert