Friday, January 02, 2009

The Sound of Milford

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At 7am, one member of Team America's two-car fleet stopped to collect me from the B&B for the long drive to Milford Sound, New Zealand's most famous fjord. Although it's not far as the crow flies and is actually north of Queenstown, the geography of the island requires a 4 hour long drive south and then a loop back to the north west. We were booked on a lunchtime boat, and gave ourselves plenty of buffer time.

We followed a brilliant double rainbow south, stopping for some excellent coffee at Five Rivers, and then at the final petrol outlet  at Te Anau, southern gateway to New Zealand's fiordland. After here is the slowest part of the journey, but it covers amazingly diverse and scenic terrain, especially as we ascended into cooler mountainous climes, where we find the world's only alpine parrot, the kea, hanging out at roadside turnouts to cadge food from motorists and coach passengers.

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The last phase of the journey is marked by the Homer tunnel, completed just over 50 years ago. Prior to that, access to the fjord was either by foot or by sea. Exiting the tunnel we crossed the Gulliver and Donne Rivers, which led me to surmise a literary thread in the geographic naming. Looking into this now, it seems this may be coincidental as the tunnel is named for William Homer, one of the discoverers of the saddle it penetrates. It's worth noting that the novel Erewhon, satirising a utopian society, and frequently compared to Swift's Gulliver's Travels,was authored by one-time South Island resident, Samuel Butler.

Nothing of this region stirs a connection with John Donne, save maybe the small exploratory traces of the twin compasses in A Valediction Forbidding Mourning, or more cheekily:

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,

So begins his poem The Flea, which if written in Fiordland would be titled The Sand Fly. Merely cracking the window of the car at one of our rest-stops was sufficient to invite a brace of these little monsters to sup on any exposed skin.

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I took this photo around midday, the scene eerily reminding me of the setting for another Peter Jackson film: King Kong. I printed this picture back in Queenstown, and the store proprietor said that she'd seen this scene shot a thousand times, but never looking so monochromatic.

Milford Sound was named by a Welsh sealer after Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, a place I now know reasonably well after visiting(1) with(2) cousin Alison back in January 2007.

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It started raining heavily before our cruise started and only ever cleared up intermittently. As we approached the sea-entrance, the wind gusted at 200kph (120mph) with visibility along the tops of the fjord severely curtailed by swirling mist and low cloud. The rain fed a furious flow into the countless waterfalls covering the fiord's slopes like veins in black marble, with many of them blown back up into the air before completing their final descent into the sea.

After our 2 hour outing, the remaining boats for the day were cancelled due to the difficulty of operating under these weather conditions.

For a comparison with a Norwegian fjord experience, see my entry on Gerainger.

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Evening view over a calmer Lake Wakatipu back in Queenstown.

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