Kayaking the Milford Sound

By: Jackie Norman, Photography by: Jackie Norman


If you're heading to Milford Sound, make sure you go on a kayaking tour

Southern -Discoveries -Kayaking

There’s no such thing as Milford Sound on a bad day (which is just as well, seeing as it rains there 250 days of the year) but conditions couldn’t have been more perfect for our tour. Having rained on and off all morning, the mountains streamed with dozens of waterfalls and combined with the dark and brooding landscape, it couldn’t have looked or felt any more ethereal. 

Our kayaking experience began at Harrison Cove, which is only accessible by boat and is also home to the Milford Sound Underwater Observatory. We were dropped off there on the way back from our Encounter Nature cruise (more on that in a future article), but for those who like an early start, there is a ‘kayaking only’ option, which starts at 8am.

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One of the things we really like about Southern Discoveries is that they try and keep their tour groups relatively small to ensure the best experience for everyone. We were lucky enough to have just three in our group: Gareth, myself, and my son Liam, ably led by our tour guide, Tiger. We glided gently into the water and set off at a leisurely pace around the fiord. Our first stop was at an inlet, where Tiger encouraged us to taste the water.

"This is the best water you will ever get," he said. "It’s glacial water. Until around four or five hours ago, this water had been frozen for over 50,000 years." He was right; it tasted better than any water I’d ever had.

Our -tour -guide ,-Tiger -was -a -friendly -and -knowledgable -host

One of the things that makes Milford Sound so otherworldly is the colour of the water. It’s actually sort of tea-coloured but looks black. This is caused by something called deep-water emergence. The water in the fiord is salt water. However, due to the result of the high annual rainfall in Fiordland, there is a layer of freshwater overlaying it and the light is not able to penetrate past that layer.

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This is just one of the many things we learned from our friendly and informative guide. We also learned about tree avalanche scars and I learned more about Maori legends and our nation’s history than I had done in 26 years of living in New Zealand, including the story behind Milford Sound’s other name, Piopiotahi. I’ll let you find that out for yourself.

While we weren’t lucky enough to see penguins, they are frequently sighted by kayakers. I could have happily stayed there out on the water, surrounded by the mountains and waterfalls forever but Tiger promised there was still heaps more to see at the Underwater Observatory.

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The kayak station is conveniently located in the same building, so we glided gracefully into the dock and climbed out. We then headed inside, where Tiger led us 10 metres down into the viewing area. It was amazing to see all the marine life that had been swimming right underneath us as we had been kayaking.

Who would ever have known that the seabed was covered in delicate looking black coral? Unlike most aquariums, you are the one in the tank and the fish swim around freely outside.

Cruising Milford Sound in a kayak was an experience that is hard to put into words but I don’t think I have ever felt luckier or more awestruck by anything in my life. I’ve kayaked in some pretty awesome places but none of them could ever come close to this one.

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A big thank you to Southern Discoveries for giving us the opportunity. The tour is excellent and reasonably priced. If it’s not already on your bucket list, be sure to add it.

For more information, visit southerndiscoveries.co.nz.

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