Saturday, October 22nd, 2011: Fjordland, New Zealand
As we completed two relatively calm days in the Tasman Sea, headed southeast from Sydney, we arrived into Milford Sound early on Saturday morning for scenic cruising of Fjordland National Park in the southwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island. Onboarding our ranger and pilot for the sounds, though it was quite cool and with a stiff breeze, we were able to see all five sounds on today’s scheduled itinerary.
It was shortly before 7am as we picked ourselves up out of bed and made our way on deck with camera in hand, buried under multiple layers of clothing. The days of hot tropical sun and thick humidity were long behind us as we were now closer to the South Pole than in any of our previous cruises. The chill in the air was evident as the most minimal hints of sunrise were just beginning to make their presence known.
As we pulled into Milford Sound, the furthest of the fjords to the north, we quickly found it to be the most picturesque of the lot. As the sun slowly began its climb into the sky, we were presented with jagged mountain peaks rising over 5,000 feet straight into the air as the ship passed in between. Green trees, snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, many types of birds, some seals, and even a pod of dolphins were out and viewable as the ship made its way into the sound, completed a 180 degree turn and began its slow departure along the same path.
Over the course of nearly 8 hours, we passed through 5 different sounds or fjords. Some are dead ends where the ship enters, then turns around and retreats along its original route, while others seem to allow the ship to get lost amongst thousands of possible passages in between countless islands, mountains, and curves within.
The fjords themselves have different characterstics as we worked our way from north to south, seeing lush green trees in some, while barren wind-worn rock faces were present in others. Even the weather was unique to each with some containing blue skies and calm and serene valleys, while others where gray and dark with wind-whipped white caps on the water as fiercely bitter winds reached over 50 knots.
One of the great enjoyments of scenic cruising is the ability to see everything right onboard from the comfort of your favorite spot on deck. We found a seldom used doorway on Deck 11, just below the bridge that allowed us to have a front row seat on the day’s sights while encountering very few other passengers as they battled for limited deck space just a few floors above our heads. When we were ready for a break, we were able to go into the dining room for breakfast or lunch, and enjoy the view from our tables with a view.
It was a great first day, seeing some of the most remote and beautiful areas of New Zealand as the sounds provided an exciting introduction to the next 7 port days as we make our way north to close out our final cruise of the journey.