Land of A Thousand Veils

Today I am both saturated and sated by the watery delights of Milford Sound. I started the day with a headache and a desire to stay in bed as the rain pounded down outside, having been up very late doing an emergency job application last night. However, I realised this may be the only time I’m ever here, so I hauled myself up and just managed to catch my cruise boat. I had paid a bit extra for the ‘Nature Cruise’ but, from what I could tell, above and beyond the standard cruise this constituted a musty old table at the back of the boat containing a few yellowing nature books and artefacts – it reminded me of a neglected school show and tell table. That said, we did see a pod of dolphins and some NZ fur seals – I would like to think that they only made the effort for the higher-paying nature-lovers.

If I could sum up Milford Sound in one word it would be this: WET! It rains most days here, and in fact I discovered that the forested slopes are classified as temperate rainforest, but today was wet even by the Sound’s standards apparently. On the downside, we weren’t able to see the tops of the peaks, but on the plus side the waterfalls were on fine form, gushing out all over the place and sending rafts of spray across the valley. Rudyard Kipling described the area as ‘The Land of A Thousand Veils’, which is perfect, damn him. At one point the boat took us close in to the base of one of these falls and filled up a tray of glasses with the purest water we were probably ever likely to drink. It looked rather brown, due to the tannins it picks up from the foliage on its way down, but it tasted incredible – fresh and ice-cold. We also had the chance to stand almost at the base of the Sound’s most famous waterfall – Sterling Falls. It is the equivalent of fifty stories high, and the power of the water, especially on a rainy day like today, was immense. In a second I couldn’t see through my glasses and was completely drenched.

Other interesting facts I learnt today about the Sound and its inhabitants:

  1. Milford Sound is a misnomer, as it’s actually a fjord, not a sound. Fjords are formed through ice flow, whereas sounds are formed from river valleys.
  2. Only two of the waterfalls are permanent; the remaining hundreds are only present in steady rainfall, so we were lucky, although I had to keep reminding myself of this as I huddled against the thrashing rain and wind on the viewing deck.
  3. The Sound’s deepest point has been recorded as 417m. I used to run the 400m at school, therefore have painful memories of quite how far this is and can’t quite get my head around it.
  4. I also learnt a couple of new facts about the NZ fur seals – they can hold their breath for 11 minutes underwater and they eat their own weight in fish, squid and octopus every night – no wonder they look so lazy and engorged in the day-time.

We finished the cruise by stopping at the Underwater Observatory, where you can descend below the surface of the water and observe the life below. The marine life here is very unusual, due to a phenomenon called ‘deep water emergence’, whereby a thick layer of tannined fresh rainwater on the water’s surface prevents light from penetrating the saltwater below, and fools marine life into thinking it’s deeper than it really is. So it’s a rare chance to see some of the weird and wonderful life that prefers to live in the shadows such as tube-anenomes, sea cucumbers, sponges, various starfish and kina (urchins), and the beautiful, rare black coral (which, weirdly, is pure white – the name comes from the colour of its skeleton apparently).

These dark-hogging critters have some quite unusual habits, including the wrasse fish, which start out their life female and become male once they reach a certain size. Also, the sea cucumber’s defence mechanism is to expel its innards out of its rear end if threatened – not sure what this achieves, except to gross out the attacker enough to send it away. Luckily it can grow new ones pretty quickly. Another innards-related weirdness is performed by the eleven-armed starfish, which feeds on mussels. Once they break the shell open they release their stomach into it to allow the digestive juices to do their thing. Once finished, they then ingest their stomach again. Surely there has to be an easier way?

Anyway, as you can tell I’ve learnt a lot today and am glad I made the effort to explore the Sound (or Fjord). However, I think I am indeed reaching saturation point though – both literally from the rain, and also mentally from having seen so many wonderful sights in such a short time. I’m not sure my tired brain has done the Sound justice, but it certainly is a fascinating, beautiful place, and when we entered it from the Tasman Sea on the way back in on the cruise, I felt for a brief moment the wonder and awe that the first discoverers must have felt when they happened upon this secret world of obsidian water and brooding, sheer peaks.

Anyway, one more burst of energy for kayaking tomorrow, then I intend to draw to a halt in Queenstown and restrict my sightseeing to a culinary tour, seeking out the various sublime foodstuffs that can be found here, notably the Fergburger and the Patagonia cafe’s hot chocolate and ice-cream, which fellow travellers keep raving about with a faraway look in their eyes. I am drooling almost as much as the clouds outside as I write this, mmmm…

View of some of the peaks from the lodge, before the rain came…

View on entering the Sound from the Tasman Sea – pretty awesome…

The mighty Sterling Falls.

A rather bad photo of the ethereal, feathery (and contrarily named) black coral. Looks like a plant, but is actually a whole community of tiny anenomes.

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8 Responses to Land of A Thousand Veils

  1. ambulavitz says:

    How come more people aren’t leaving comments?
    Here’s some:

    Job application!!?? what? where? when?

    Don’t get a tattoo. (If you had a fern, they’d call you Fern Briton.) (Not sure who she is.)

    It all sounds totally amazing. I’m envious of your fitness to be able to enjoy your adventures. Since my metatarsals decided to collapse my own adventuring has been severely curtailed 😦
    How long are you staying in New Zealand? Do you think you will become blase about pods of dolphins, albatrosses, glowing bogies, blubber monsters and bloody kiwis once you’ve seen a few?

    Did you find your union jack?

    I really like your writing. It’s most descriptive, poetic, sincere and amusing and is brightening my days, so thanks.

    The photos are superb too. (Though please try in future to get the sea horizon absolutely horizontal) What sort of camera is it?

    Carry on having a lovely time and keeping us entertained. Three cheers for modern technology! How fantastic it is.

    Glacial erosion produces u shaped valleys – I’m getting mixed messages.

    It’s warm and sunny here!…but no mollyhawks. A x

    • beckymayhem says:

      Thanks for all of that Andy – it is really nice to get comments – makes me feel I’m not just rambling into nothingness!

      So, answers:

      Funnily enough, the job app was for Michelle’s maternity cover at good old ‘The Butts’ – suddenly realised it was the deadline yesterday, and thanked my guardian angel that we were 12 hours ahead not behind, so just scraped in there! Not sure it’ll come to anything, but worth a try as it’d suit me really well when I get back.

      Tattoo-wise, I’m afraid I’ve paid the deposit so it’s pretty much a done deal – I’m really excited, and a bit scared!

      This is actually my last week in NZ – I fly out to Oz on Monday for 5 weeks, then Thailand for 4 weeks, so hopefully the blog will continue with me… 🙂

      Do you really think my photos are good? I’ve never felt I’m much of a photographer, so that’s made my day. My camera is a LUMIX make with a fantastic zoom – don’t have it on me but can give proper details if you want them. (As for the horizon angles – I seem to take lots of my photos from boats on rough waters, so cut me some slack!)

      And finally – hey, I’m just a geography graduate – I can’t be expected to get all my landscape-formation facts right!

      And indeed – hurrah for technology! 🙂

  2. beckymayhem says:

    Oh yes – and no, I never did find my union jack badge – I’m trying not to read too much into it…

  3. Abi says:

    Hi Becky,

    I have been provoked into leaving another comment by your friend above who complains about their lack. I am also definitely going to call you Fern Britton, just because it made me laugh.

    I definitely think that losing the badge was a sign, if you need more signs that suggest you stay in this hemisphere then I’ll be happy to provide them next week. Also from what I read in the (clearly impartial) Grauniad, the tories and their yellow public school mates are doing their best to ruin blighty so really what’s there to go back for?

    See you very soon.
    A xxxx

    • beckymayhem says:

      Thanks for the comment Abi! Yes I do keep pondering the many pros of living in this neck of the global woods – life just seems happier here, certainly compared to dismal UK at the moment. And I am so looking forward to seeing you next week – can’t wait! Hope you’re feeling better… xx

  4. Pru says:

    One word…. NOOOOOOOOO!!!!
    Only kidding becks but my premonition that you would find NZ life very compatible with you has seemed to come to fruition! I have a sneaking feeling that you will find yourself back in that neck of woods before too long…..
    Also, just wanted to say ER HELLO? you ARE getting a tattoo?!! Where is this fern going to be?!! I think you should also go for a Union Jack and then you won’t lose it!!!!!
    Enjoy your last days in NZ- how are you feeling about Oz?
    Love you like a sister! xxxx
    PS. Did think eh? when you had your rant about chocolate manufacturers but you did redeem yourself the next day!!! Keep blogging! x

    • beckymayhem says:

      Hi Pru – gutted I lost your union jack badge, but I do admit that your suspicions have ended up being not far from the mark! Yes, I’m booked in for my tattoo session tomorrow afternoon – ER…HELLO? indeed! I’m getting it done at the top of my back I think – very scared but also very excited. I am fed up of dreaming about doing things and not following through, so this year is all about giving those dreams a go – hopefully the risk pays off!

      In answer to your question, I’m sad to be leaving NZ, but really looking forward to seeing Abi and getting to grips with a new country, so also feeling excited… 🙂 And I felt terrible about my chocolate comment – totally wasn’t personal at all, I suddenly just noticed the link between the sky and chocolate names and just made a random comment about it!

      Love ya like a sister too, Pruey xxx Big hugs to all xxooxx

  5. Pingback: Changing the record | beckymayhem

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