Milford Sound | NZ Adventure

Oct. 16, 2016

Our chatty guide pointed to the waterfall, which he’d just finished telling us was three times the height of Niagara Falls. The peaks around Milford Sound are so huge, they have a dwarfing effect, making everything else appear much smaller than it actually is.

“Pick a point on the waterfall and stare at it until I tell you to stop,” he instructed. The six of us stared in silence from our kayaks, eyes bouncing to keep trained on the same spot as the water gushed over the rocks.

“Now look at the trees to the left,” he said after a minute or so. We shifted our gaze and let out a collective gasp. For a few seconds, the trees seemed to bubble and flow up the sheer rock face. Then our eyes readjusted to the stillness. The illusion was over.

“Yeah, there’s not much to do in Milford,” our guide said.

Milford is about a two-hour drive from any other sign of civilization. There’s only one place to stay in the township, only one restaurant (inside the lodge), and one gas station (which mercifully took our American credit card). There’s no cell service, and you have to pay to get even limited WiFi at the lodge.

Mel and I had driven in the evening before, through the eerie one-lane tunnel that work crews blasted through a mountain in the 1950s. Before that, the only way to get to Milford Sound was to walk for four days through Fiordland National Park.

The Maori name for Fiordland is “Shadowlands.” It’s not hard to see why. Milford Sound is one of the rainiest places on earth, and true to form, it was drizzling the morning we got up for our kayak tour.

We filed into a sparse room, outfitted with threadbare couches that looked like they belonged in a college dorm room. The guides had us sign waivers, then handed out our kayaking gear—long underwear, fleeces, jackets, kayak skirts, paddles, hand covers. Then we headed out on the sound, freezing and soaking, but excited.

Sometimes, the trees in Milford do actually move. The rain causes the intertwined tree roots to lose their grip on the cliff face. In a matter of seconds, a whole strip of trees thunders down the slope into the water, leaving a bare patch of rock behind.

The water stills, silence returns and the rain keeps falling, creating new waterfalls around the sound.