AROUND THE WORLD.ORG

travelling the seven parts of the world
Feb 17th, 2008
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This is the place everyone's talking about. Milford Sound is New Zealand's best known tourist attraction, and offers some of the best views in the country. The cliff above is the Mitre Peak, which is everywhere the moment you arrive in NZ, starting from postcards and ending with the cover of my travel guide.

Milford Sound is the place where the Southern Alps reach into the sea, so the water you are seeing there is actually the Tasman sea. The Mitre Peak is over 1600 meters high, so yes, that is a cliff that stretches straight out from the sea over 1.6 km upwards. Places like this were supposed to exist only in fairytales. You can see in the above picture that the peak is shrouded in fog. There was no fog at all, it was a perfectly clear day, its just that the peak is so far away, its difficult to understand how big it is. The largest man made building in the world fits into this mountain 4 times over. Latvia's largest hill fits into it 5 times over.



We took a Red Boat cruise through the sound, which went for 2 hours from the start of the sound out to the Tasman sea. The Tasman sea can apparently be pretty awful to navigate through, with waves 12m high being a regular occurrence.



But the day was beautiful and we saw nothing of that, though it was extremely windy. This was great, not just because it blew away all the flies, but because this is rare in Milford Sound - the average rainfall is 7000mm (comparison: Latvia's average is 800mmm), with some years being as high as 9200mm.



Milford Sound, just like Doubtful Sound, is not a sound but a fiord. A sound is a flooded river valley while a fiord is a flooded glacier valley, so Milford Sound is actually Milford Fiord, and it has formed during all the ice ages that have hit the world in the last few hundred thousand years. A total of 5 ice ages have passed through the region, and each has brought its own glacier. Each glacier made the valley deeper, and was a bit narrower than the previous one. In the above picture, you can see a couple of ice ages passing over, each being indicated by a ridge in the valley.



Because the sea levels were much lower during ice ages and because of the huge weight of the glaciers, the valley doesn't end at sea level, but goes straight down. Milford Fiord is 400m deep, so if sea levels were 400m lower, Mitre Peak would be a 2km high cliff, and not a 1.6km one.

To that end, since the fiord is deep right from the start, it is possible for ships to go straight to the edge of the fiord. Here the ship went under a high waterfall that was falling off of one of the saddles in the mountain range.



Here's a picture of another ship doing the same:



Wildlife also comes in abundance in Milford Sound, though the most visible ones were, again, the fur seals:



Overall, Milford Sound is a very enchanting place. It is more touristy than other places in Fiordland, but this is swiftly compensated by some of the most magnificent scenery in the world. The cliffs, such as Mitre Peak, are so large it is sometimes difficult to appreciate their size, as our brain can't quite compute it, because the mountain appears smaller and closer than it is, while actually it is very far away and is huge.

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