Kayaking an icon

Trip Start Sep 23, 2004
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Trip End Ongoing


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Thursday, January 4, 2007

A very early start saw me boarding a minibus and heading to Milford Sound. This was my second trip to the sound. The first time round, after I walked the Milford track, it was raining so heavily it was impossible to see anything. I was going to conduct my exploration by kayak, in the hope of experiencing a bit more of the peace I'd found at Doubtful. The early start was so we'd have a decent amount of paddling time before the boats, planes, helicopters and other pieces of loud sightseeing machinery began their work.
 
Lake Te Anau shone silver in the twilight. Mist hung over the hills on the far side of the lake. We drove around the lake and over the downs, past huge sheep stations and into Fiordland National Park. We stopped at Mirror Lake, its perfectly calm surface reflecting the glowing tips of the mountains emerging through the mist. At the Hollyford Valley lookout we had a view of miles of dense forest stretching out beneath us. Soon we reached Deep Water Bay where we geared up. I hopped in a kayak with a German girl called Heike, and by 8am we were paddling away. A dark shape moved in the water beneath us- a dolphin? A seal? Something else? Mitre Peak and the Lion loomed in front of us; the clouds soon burnt off and it was a crystal clear morning. The sea was a source of fascination. Like Doubtful Sound, it has a layer of fresh water sitting on top of the salt water. The fresh water is brown in colour, as it is full of tannins collected as it flows through the forests on the hillside. It rippled as it mixed with the salty water below.
 
We looked for fish in the shallows, and enjoyed the lapping of the waves, the singing tuis and the gentle splash of our paddles- until the tourist industry revved itself up to full throttle. The boats started first, but they were soon past us, and there were only a few boats plying the waters. The noise really began when the planes and helicopters started- apparently at full capacity, Milford Airport is capable of launching a plane every 30 seconds. After days of rain and with a backlog of tourists desperate for an aerial view of the sounds, they couldn't have been far off this figure. At times it was hard to get a photo of the Lion without the little dot of a light aircraft somewhere in the frame. I was glad that Milford and Doubtful are the only sounds usually visited by commercial craft, leaving the others as refuges.     
 
We crossed the channel to the other side of the sound before we reached the lion, then rafted up for lunch before heading back towards the boat terminal. We met a fur seal basking on a rock, and another playing in the shallows near our kayaks. We paddled up to the bottom of the Bowen Falls, amongst the highest in New Zealand, but appearing dwarfed by the enormous mountains behind it. We got close enough that I could feel the spray in my hair. Huge scars in the forest revealed the rock beneath. There is no soil on the steep mountainsides, and all of the trees and bushes grow out of a thick base of sphagnum moss which clings to the rock. After rain, the moss can absorb so much water that it can no longer support itself and the load it bears, and it becomes prone to tumbling into the sea. The resulting tree-alanche causes big bare patches, which are soon colonised by moss, then ferns, then larger plants, as the cycle  begins again.
 
The afternoon winds blew up as we neared the boat terminal and began our second open water crossing to Deep Water Bay. The crossing was hard work, but once we were travelling in the right direction, the wind was almost sufficient to blow us back to the bay without interference from us! We were given an hour to rest before we headed back to Te Anau, and I strolled along a loop track which gave views of the falls and forest. Who should I bump into but Mum and Dad, who had decided to drive to Milford for the day, and were photographing koru.
 
On the return to Te Anau, we stopped at the Chasm, where the Cleddau River gushes through a variety of beautifully eroded rock formations. We took a short unmarked bush walk down to a calm blue pool- a contrast to the raging torrent above. The couple on the tour with me hadn't seen a kea so we kept our eyes open going round their favourite haunts- tourist site car parks.  Typically, because we were looking for them, there were none to be seen. Maybe the minibus tyres just weren't tasty enough for them.  
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