Rusting in the shade of the batteries
Hanging from a rope in the gallery
Pacing down the balance beam
of half-remembered holidays
Murmurs in the dark confessional
and rides along the road, ephemeral
as an animal life
Our accommodations at Milford Sound were certainly spartan, and the 6:15 am breakfast call was a little harsh. But our eye-opening itinerary made perfect sense once we made it down to the waterfront. We were going sea kayaking on world-famous Milford Sound, and by being out on the water by 8:00 am we were hours ahead of the day-tripper crowds from Queenstown.
But first, we needed to get kitted out for our guided tour. The good folks at Rosco’s Milford Kayaks outfitted us with all manner of neoprene wetsuits, rain jackets, form-flattering skirts, and ultra-stylish striped thermal leggings. We lathered on the citronella-based repellent to try to keep the hordes of sandflies at bay, with mixed success. Our guides gave us some basic instructions on how to paddle, how to steer, and (most importantly) what to do if your kayak rolled upside down. Since we would be paddling in chilly sea water more than 1,000 feet deep, I paid particular attention to the last part.
And with that, we pushed off into the Sound. I knew that Betsy had kayaking experience, so I was happy that she agreed to steer our two-seat kayak while I provided propulsion up front. It didn’t take long to observe why two-seat kayaks are nicknamed “divorce boats”. It’s very difficult for the person in the front seat to turn around and talk to their associate in the back seat. Everything went smoothly once Betsy and I figured out how to work together on paddling, navigating, and steering into the occasional wave or boat’s wake.
The sixteen Rimu tourists split into two groups of four boats, and each group was accompanied by an experienced guide. We went for about a four-hour loop around the head of Milford Sound, our senses revelling in the gorgeous scenery and local wildlife. It was fun to row alongside Cathy and Danny or Colin and Sally to chat or (very carefully) exchange cameras; the situation only occasionally devolved into a demolition derby of amateur kayakers.
We could hear the monkey-like shriek of fiordland crested penguins nesting in the rocks, just above the shoreline. From time to time we would see a penguin in the water, bobbing up for a quick breath before making another dive. After crossing to the other shoreline, we found a baby seal sprawled out on a rock, just hanging out. Not long after, a larger member of its colony swam right past our kayak, doing a barrel roll and inspecting the interlopers. The highlight of the tour came when Sally tempted fate and commented that it would be great to see a dolphin. Mere seconds later, a dolphin obliged Sally’s request and briefly slipped above the shimmering waters off our starboard side. It happened too quickly for me to get my camera out of its waterproof pouch, but the image was permanently etched in my mind.
While most visitors tour Milford Sound by cruise ship, I could see why sea kayaking is considered the far superior way to go. Not only is there less environmental impact, but you can get right up close to the wildlife with minimal disruption to their daily routines. I also thought that the jagged mountains lining the fiord and the multitude of waterfalls looked more dramatic from water level. There were great photo opportunities in every direction.
We were sad to bid such a beautiful place goodbye, but happy to enjoy a hot lunch back at the lodge to help chase away the cold and damp. Around 2:00 pm, we boarded ‘Frank’ for the long trip back up the valley to Te Anau. It was my turn to sit at the front of the bus, which meant I had an unobstructed view of the mountains AND the road tunes were in my hands. I put together a special playlist of songs inspired by the dramatic Milford scenery, and it seemed to go over well with my fellow travellers (especially Sally and Cam). Some of the highlights were:
- Ben Folds Five – “Sky High”
- The Boxer Rebellion – “Both Sides are Even”
- Coldplay – “The Scientist”
- Crowded House – “Four Seasons In One Day”
- The New Pornographers – “The Bleeding Heart Show”
- Oasis – “Little By Little”
- Peter Gabriel – “Sky Blue”
- R.E.M. – “The Great Beyond”
- Shearwater – “Animal Life”
- U2 – “Where The Streets Have No Name”
After a half-hour pit stop in Te Anau, we carried on to Queenstown. We checked into a very nice hotel, which stood in stark contrast to the previous night’s lodgings. Wow, this place has televisions and phones, and tables & chairs, and even laundry machines. Fancy! I think everyone was glad to be back in civilization for the weekend and took a nice, hot shower. My new friends and I ambled over to a restaurant called Ballarat for dinner and drinks. I indulged a craving and ordered a rack of pork ribs, which went wonderfully with a couple pints of South Island dark ale. We closed out the day by checking out the legendary Queenstown Friday night pub scene, and made plans to cross paths again the next day in the adventure capital of New Zealand.
Song of the Day: “Animal Life” by Shearwater