Waking up in the middle of the night, I slide open the van door, slip on my flip flops and stumble my way towards the outhouse, which is never close enough. I don’t bother to use the flashlight. It is so peaceful here in Fiordland National Park, with more than 2 million acres it is New Zealand’s largest park.
We’ve stopped for the night at a Department of Conservation campground, Cascade Creek.
We’ve got a really nice spot set back in a grove of trees with a picnic table looking over the creek. When I slipped on a rock and fell into the creek, I found out how cool and clean the water is. Thanks to two young men I was able to retrieve my hiking boots, too.
We had a N Z Robin visiting us during the day. He even flew up into the camper at one point.
The woods around us are filled with beech trees, ferns, and moss. The ground is springy from the moss and it tires us easily. It is a nice hike to the lake where we sip water, eat scroggin (a trail mix) and take in the sites and sounds of the park.
Now in the dark with my arms wrapped around me and my eyes set on the path in front of me, my goal is making it to the bathroom. I’m not looking around me. It is not until I look up to see if I’m actually heading in the right direction, that I finally take in the amazing view around me.
Standing in the clearing, gazing up, I see a million, gazillion, gazillion stars. The only constellation i recognize is the hunter Orion. I feel small as the Milky Way arches high overhead. “Civilization” seems so very far away, if one doesn’t include all the other campers parked on the other side of ours.
Next morning our jaws are still open as we wind our way through the park, past mountains, lakes, open fields, rocky outcroppings, down through a long tunnel and out into Milford Sound, which is a misnomer.
Milford Sound is really a fiord. A fjord that gets up to 8 meters of rain per year.
We arrive on a rare, sunny day. Perfect for a cruise on the ice blue waters.
Without the rain there aren’t as many waterfalls as usual, but the ones that are falling are putting on quite a show.
Kevin got a bit close to one and had his glasses knocked off.
Seagulls are busy trying to catch fish who jump out of the water to get away. Fur seals are sunning themselves on the rocks and playing along the waters edge gathering energy for the night time hunt.
Trees cling to the cliffs, with no soil to support them, only moss, sometimes whole sheets of trees tumble into the water.
The water is clear today and we can see far down to the bottom, but usually the rains wash silt into the water making it cloudy. It also becomes cloudy because under the top layer of fresh water is sea water.
As we find out later at The Discovery Center, these conditions allow plants and animals that are commonly found deep in the dark ocean to survive here, like Black Coral (which is actually white).
It is from the Discovery Center that we get a chance to get a closer look at the fiord. With a handful of tourists and a guide. Kevin and I paddle around in kayaks.
The waves are unusually calm. The day is sunny and bright. The only nuisance are the sandflies nibbling on Kevin.
We spot a few NZ Shags fishing in the shallows. These birds remind me of comorants. A bunch of gulls and a tern hang out on a buoy.
Kevin brings the kayak a little too close to the gulls for me. I think they are going to all fly up at once and poop on my head. We also spot another Weka. This time we aren’t fooled into thinking he is a Kiwi.
The guide dips his paddle into the water and brings out an eleven fingered sea star. He turns it over so we can see it feeding on a mollusk.
We spot a few more ourselves clingy to the rocks in the water. When we get back to the Discovery Center we see more in their viewing room, along with the coral, sea cucumbers, and more fish than what we could see from our kayak.
Bright stars in the sky. Colorful stars down in the water. Star light. Star bright. There are treasures to be found if we only open our eyes and look around.