The water started coming down, in a light spray at first, then heavier and more intense, until tiny reflective droplets coated my glasses and I could barely see. The wind picked up too, rocking our little boat precariously as we paddled further into the waterfall.
I suddenly remembered to look up, and saw only a million drops of water coming straight for me over the edge of the cliff, 155 metres above.
I took a deep breath and kept paddling into the storm, hoping that soon, very soon, my friend in the back seat would come to her senses and steer us clear of this madness.
And she did, eventually, leaving me breathless and exhilarated, and relieved that it was done.
We circled around into calm water, rejoining the group, and then I realized with dismay that we were going again.
I had no choice. Sam was in control of steering so if she wanted to paddle under Stirling Falls again, we were doing it.
I was nervous for just one reason. I like water, I like boats, I like kayaking. I even like Sam. But our guide had said, before we paddled under the falls, that the wind could be strong enough under there to overturn a kayak. I did not want to end up in the water.
Right now I should point out that the Sam in question is the very same one from my ‘Canyoning in Dalat: the scariest day of my life‘ post, in which you might remember that she kind of tried to kill me.
The guide gave direction on to how not to capsize, which we followed, but really, I’d have been better off if he hadn’t said anything. Simple instructions are all I need. Don’t tell me about what might (but probably won’t) happen. Doing that just activates the scaredy-cat in me.
When you come to New Zealand one of the ‘must dos’ is Milford Sound. It is one of the icons of this country, one of the most-seen photos in advertising brochures and tourism campaigns for New Zealand.
But how you see Milford Sound is up to you. If you want, you can take a day trip, ending up on a cruise with a hundred other people, all jostling for prime position next to the boat’s railings.
But why would you want to do that? Part of Milford Sound’s charm is its vastness, its emptiness, the feeling of being miniscule amongst the majestic cliffs that loom so very far over your head. I don’t think you can experience that from a big crowded boat. Why not see Milford Sound by kayak, so you can enjoy the stillness, the quiet, and the grandeur of it in peace?
So instead of the giant boat trip, Sam and I got up in the chilly early morning from our beds at Milford Lodge and prepared for a long, cold damp paddle through the fiord.
Our water taxi roared through the grey morning, the sky disappointingly overcast but the clouds only just touching the mountain tops. We went past immense rock faces and waterfalls and other kayakers.
Upon entering the water we found a seal colony, some resting on the rocks, others diving and playing just like puppies would, but in water.
When Stirling Falls came around I wasn’t immediately impressed. It’s hard to get a sense of the actual height of things here. A 155 metre drop is big, really big, but when the waterfall is only a fraction of the height of the surrounding cliffs, it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that far to the top. But then another fairly large boat went underneath it and looked like just a tiny toy, and it all became clear. This waterfall is extremely high.
And as much as I was worried about it at the time, it was thrilling to paddle right underneath Stirling Falls in our tiny kayak. Sam said later that it was her favourite part, and I have to admit that it was a pretty fantastic experience.
After the waterfall it was an easy trip. The sun came out and we leisurely paddled through green water that was so calm we could see our own reflections in it. We would ‘raft up’ occasionally to have a snack, or for our guide to tell stories and point out tree avalanches on the sides of the cliffs.
My arms got tired and I periodically abandoned my paddle, designating myself ‘official photographer’ and snapping one happy selfie after another. Sam, the trooper, always kept on going. Sorry, Sam.
We marveled at the magnitude of the mountains, guessing at their height but always aiming too low.
We were insignificant. The towering cliffs looked down on us with imposing authority, showing us our place in the world, ensuring that we would never forget that we humans are not in charge of the earth.
Near the end of our paddle the water became shallower, and I could see the bottom. In the sunshine we had gotten hot in our many layers of thermals, fleece and waterproofs and the ocean was so very inviting.
So what better way to finish off a glorious morning in such a spectacular spot than with a quick and very cold jump into Milford Sound?
Have you been to Milford Sound? What was your experience like? If you haven’t been, would you go by big cruise boat or by kayak, and why?