Thursday morning the rains came again and again, so I changed from plan A, hiking in Fiordland National Park on the way to Milford Sound, and settled for plan B – driving to Milford Sound. Weather permitting, there are interesting long and short hikes available along the way.
The Routeburn Track is a popular three-day hike to Lake Wakatipu over a high alpine pass. The shorter Key Summit hike follows the Routeburn Track. It passes through the native forest over open ground with alpine tarns, shrub, bogs, and spectacular views of the Hollyford, Greenstone, and Eglinton Valleys. The rain was too hard to hike any of these trails. If I had more time, they are certainly hikes I would enjoy.
The drive was challenging but the view was clear and unobstructed by mist and clouds, making it easy to focus on the winding road. On the summit at Homer Tunnel it was snowing but not sticking to the ground.
I stopped to take a few photos and several Keas (large colorful parrots) perched on top of my car. At first I wasn’t sure what was making the noise on the roof and then one of them peeked over the side and looked right at me – very funny. Tourists on a bus were watching and laughing. Other birds found at Milford Sound include the Tui, Bell Bird, and endangered Takahe.
Milford Sound (Piopiotahi in Māori) is a fjord southwest of the South Island. It’s one of New Zealand’s most famous and popular tourist destinations. Many interesting species of bird life are found in Fiordland National Park. “The Māori named the sound Piopiotahi after the now extinct thrush-like piopio bird. Piopiotahi means a single piopio. According to Māori legend, when someone died attempting to win immortality for humanity, a single piopio flies to Milford Sound in mourning.”
Milford Sound runs 9 miles inland from the Tasman Sea at Dale Point – the mouth of the fiord. It’s surrounded by spectacular sheer rock faces that rise 3,900 feet or more on either side. Among the peaks are The Elephant at 4,977 feet, said to resemble an elephant’s head, and The Lion, 4,272 feet, in the shape of a crouching lion. Lush rainforests cling to the sheer rock cliffs. Seals, penguins, dolphins, and sometimes whales frequent waters in the sound.
Milford Sound has two permanent waterfalls year round, Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls. The rainfall creates dozens of temporary and major waterfalls cascading down the steep rock faces of the fiord. After the rain stops, the smaller temporary waterfalls fed by rain-drenched moss disappear.
Milford Sound has a mean annual rainfall of 268 inches 182 days a year and is known as the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world. Rainfall can reach 10 inches during a span of 24 hours.”
Friday I’ll take a bus to Doubtful Sound and then board a boat that cruises the sound for several hours. Doubtful Sound is much more isolated than Milford Sound, but after driving to Milford today, I can’t imagine that!