First things first, a huge thank you to everyone who has sent messages and well wishes lately! I'm doing pretty good and trying to keep as active as I can. We're planning a trip to Arrowtown in the next week or two which we're both really excited about, as well as walking the Lake Hayes circuit. They both look so beautiful at this time of year and the leaves are falling fast, so we need to get a wriggle on!
Kayaking in 50,000 year old water. As you do...
However, before I waffle on about any new adventures I really need to bring you up to date on the last couple of months as we've seen and done heaps. I haven't even finished telling you about Liam's visit back in February, shocking! I really need to do that because in just a few short days we managed to experience some truly amazing things, which all of us will remember forever. One of the highlights was definitely kayaking at Milford Sound. Kayaking is one of my favourite things to do. I would happily do it all day, every day and over the years Liam and I have been lucky enough to do it everywhere from Rotorua and Taupo to Kuaotunu and Tokaanui, as well as many an excursion down the estuary and across the sea to Donut Island (official name Whenuakura) in our old home town of Whangamata. They are all awesome in their own way, but none have come close to Milford Sound. Without a doubt, this was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.
On a wet day there are so many waterfalls the mountains look as though they are covered in spider webs!
There's no such thing as Milford Sound on a bad day (which is just as well, seeing as it rains there 250 days of the year) but conditions couldn't have been more perfect for our tour. Having rained on and off all morning, the mountains streamed with dozens of waterfalls and combined with the dark and brooding landscape it couldn't have looked or felt any more ethereal.
Just the three of us, with our guide, Tiger
Our kayaking experience began at Harrison Cove, which is only accessible by boat and is also home to the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory. We were lucky enough to have just three in our group; Gareth, myself and Liam, ably led by our tour guide, Tiger. We glided gently into the water and set off at a leisurely pace around the fiord. Our first stop was at an inlet, where Tiger encouraged us to taste the water. 'This is the best water you will ever get', he said. 'It's glacial water. Until around 4 – 5 hours ago, this water had been frozen for over 50,000 years'. He was right, it tasted better than any water we'd ever had!
Where else in the world can you go kayaking in cold tea?!
One of the things which makes Milford Sound so otherworldly is the colour of the water. It's actually sort of tea coloured but looks black. This is caused by something called deep water emergence. The water in the fiord is salt water; however due to the result of the high annual rainfall in Fiordland, there is a layer of fresh water overlaying it and the light is not allowed to penetrate past that layer. This is just one of the many things we learned from our friendly and informative guide. We also learned all about tree avalanche scars and I learned more about Maori legends and our nation's history than I had done in 26 years of living in New Zealand! I can't resist sharing a couple so please indulge me...
The poor wee lonely Piopio. Rather like a thrush, this native bird was sadly declared extinct in the early 1900's.
The Maori name for Milford Sound is Piopiotahi, which means 'the lonely Piopio', and the story behind the name goes a bit like this. One day, a chap called Maui - a Polynesian demigod and one of the most famous identities in Maori legends – set out on a quest to try and make humans immortal. He was accompanied in his mission by a small bird known as a Piopio, which sadly is now extinct. Unfortunately for Maui, he failed in his quest and was killed. The poor wee Piopio was so heartbroken, he flew to Milford Sound to mourn his friend's death and lived out the rest of his days alone. As for the sandflies the area is also notorious for? They were released by the goddess of the underworld, Hine-nui-te-po, to prevent humans from lingering too long in such a beautiful place. It certainly did the trick! Despite receiving more than half a million visitors every year, the mystical place now more commonly known as Milford Sound remains pure and unspoilt.
The tui is still my favourite bird, despite being a scaredy-cat!
My favourite story however, as we sat there bobbing about in the silent water, was how some of our native birds came to look the way they are. Tane Mahuta, the god of the forest called all the birds together and asked if they would please come down from the tree tops to help clean up the bugs on the forest floor, as they were eating the trees and making them sick. None of them offered, so Tane Mahuta asked each one in turn. The tui refused, saying he was scared of the dark and was too afraid to come down to the ground, away from the sun. The pukeko also refused, claiming the forest floor was too cold and the earth was too damp. As for the shining cuckoo, he was too busy building his nest to come and help.
The pukeko is a common sight in swampy, boggy areas. Now you know why!
But the kiwi agreed, even though it meant leaving his family. Tane Mahuta was overjoyed, but warned the kiwi what lay ahead. 'My friend, you will have to grow thick, strong legs so that you can rip apart logs on the ground. And you will lose your beautiful coloured feathers and wings so that you will never be able to return to the forest roof. You will never see the light of day again'. Still the kiwi agreed. Just as he promised, Tane Mahuta bestowed him with thick, strong legs to suit his habitat. However life was also never the same for the birds who refused to help. From that day on, the tui has worn two white feathers at his throat, the mark of a coward. Pukeko has lived forever in a swamp, with wet feet, and the shining cuckoo never got to build another nest, instead she always lays her eggs in other birds' nests. But because of the kiwi's great sacrifice, he went on to become the most well-known and most loved bird of all.
Looking towards Harrison Cove, home of the Underwater Observatory
True or not, I've always loved myths and legends and the fact we were out on the water, being treated to the most incredible display from Mother Nature made them even more magical. While we weren't lucky enough to see penguins, they are frequently sighted by kayakers. I could have happily stayed there out on the water; surrounded by the mountains and waterfalls forever but Tiger promised there was still a heap more to see at the Underwater Observatory. The kayak station is conveniently located in the same building, so we glided gracefully into the dock and climbed out. We then headed inside, where Tiger led us 10 metres down into the viewing area. It was amazing to see all the marine life which had been swimming right underneath us as we had been kayaking. Who would ever have known that the sea bed was covered in delicate looking black coral? Unlike most aquariums, you are the ones in the tank and the fish swim around freely outside. As a result, you never know what you might see! Enormous starfish, marble fish, spotty's and varieties types of wrasse are commonplace, along with John Dory and kingfish, but it isn't unheard of for the odd shark to make an appearance. I'm glad I learned that after we got out of the kayaks!
There's no place in the world like Milford Sound!
Cruising Milford Sound in a kayak was an experience that is hard to put into words but I don't think I have ever felt luckier, or more awestruck by anything in my life. A big thank you to Southern Discoveries (www.southerndiscoveries.co.nz) for giving us the opportunity. Not only is the tour excellent value and reasonably priced, some things really are priceless. If it's not already on your bucket list, be sure to add it!