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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 4 (August 1, 1933)

Milford from the Sea — A First Glimpse of Fiordland

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Milford from the Sea
A First Glimpse of Fiordland.

The Sea-walls of Milford.

The Sea-walls of Milford.

For over a decade, the sea-road to Milford Sound, one of the world's scenic masterpieces, has been closed. During the past summer, three excursions have been run to Milford from Wellington, the first, by the Wanganella, being described in the following article. Bad weather marred the success of the last trip, in Easter week, but the two first trips of the Wanganella and Monowai were made in beautiful summer weather, and were crowned with a success that augurs well for an extension of the Sounds excursion next season.

All the afternoon, as our boat steamed slowly down the coast of Westland, the promenade deck of the Wanganella was thronged with passengers eager to gain a first glimpse of the Snow Kings of the Alps. But the mountain kings were in sullen mood; a grey bank of cloud stretched a hundred miles down the West Coast, and never a glint of snow-crowned peak gladdened our eyes the long day through. Reefton, Greymouth, Hokitika, then last of all, lonely little Ross—they all passed in turn, backed by the dark Westland forests. Even the tiny cluster of cottages on the edge of the ocean at Okarito, last of all those old-time settlements of the Golden Days, was plainly visible in late afternoon from the ship's deck, but still the crowning glory of beautiful Westland remained hidden—that incomparable panorama of snowy heights that gleam down upon lake and glacier, forest and sea.

We went down to dinner at last, disappointed. Only once in a lifetime might come this splendid opportunity of viewing the mountains from the sea—and the fates were unpropitious. Then suddenly, as we came on deck again, there came a call from a friendly officer on the upper deck. “Quick! Look!” We looked—and the miracle was made visible before our eyes! High in the sky, a rent in the mist-curtain widened. A dazzling gleam of white showed through, and the snowy shoulder of Cook was vignetted against the evening sky. The rent widened, the clouds were torn asunder, and there were the twin monarchs, majestic Cook and Tasman, in all their gleaming loveliness, towering over earth and sea! Through our glasses we saw them from an entirely new angle, with no landmark to take from their towering majesty. Viewed from sea-level, the two peaks towered aloft in unchallenged majesty, their awesome precipices, dark-shadowed ravines and towering heights revealed in new and unimagined splendour. When the setting sun cast a glow of rose-pink over the lofty heights, the picture was one of surpassing beauty, and we felt that for this alone, the trip had been well worth while. Just before darkness fell, a dim white river came winding down from the foot of the mountains, widened out between the black walls of a great ravine, and then disappeared in the depths of the forest—the Fox Glacier, twenty miles south of Franz Josef. Long after the red disc of the sun had slipped down beneath the Tasman, we stayed on deck, watching the last gleam of colour fade from the mountain peaks, until the cold, icy blue of the heights merged in the night-blue darkness of the skies above.

When I looked out my porthole next morning, we were circling slowly in grey, murky seas, off a grey, mist-hung coast. Somewhere in that frowning wall of rock lay the entrance to Milford Sound, but no sign of it could we see from the ship. Straight opposite was a heavier mass of cloud, hiding some mighty sky-piercing peak. Soon after nine o'clock, we stopped steaming round in circles and headed directly for the rocky barrier beneath the hidden peak. On and on, past steep wooded headlands, past Anita Bay and into a sea-canyon walled with towering precipices thousands of feet in height. Gradually the mist-clouds dispersed and uplifted high in a sky of silver we saw the Palisades of Milford, glorious Mitre Peak, and the dazzling glitter of Pembroke Glacier above the mighty shoulders of the Lion. The ship's siren sounded, page 47 and the echo travelled far down to the head of the Sound, coming back to us from the opposite shore. A rocket was fired, and the roar of artillery rent the quiet morning air. Closer and closer drew the ramparts of this vast sea-for-tress, until there was a bare quarter-mile between them. And now a great calm settled over mountains, sky and sea, so that the silver clouds, glacier, and waterfalls, and the black rock walls were mirrored deep in the shining sea-way down which our ship was passing. The illusion of this double picture confused all ideas of height and distance, so that great forest trees at the foot of those terrific heights were no more than garden shrubs, and the Stirling Falls, at a distance of two miles, appeared so close that it seemed as though a turn of the ship would bring us beneath that snowy curtain of spray.

On and on past Stirling Falls, the Lion, and beautiful, placid Harrison Cove, with the clouds still lifting, and silver sky and sea changing swiftly to the blue and gold of a bright summer day. And now, beneath stupendous heights directly ahead, we could glimpse a tiny cluster of buildings—the Milford Hostel. The roar of Bowen Falls came clearly across the still waters, the white splendour of its leaping column gleaming against the black rock walls of a 500 foot precipice.

The trip, surely one of the most glorious sea-trips in all the world, was ended. It had been infinitely more beautiful, more impressive, than anything we had imagined. For over a decade, the sea-road to Milford had been closed; now at last it was opened, and within the heart of every voyager there surely echoed the thought… “I must come again!”

The Bowen Falls, Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand.

The Bowen Falls, Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand.

New Zealand on the Map.

World tourists are finding New Zealand to be the prize tit-bit of all their travels, and no promoter of long cruises can now really afford to leave this Dominion out of a really worthwhile itinerary. In February, the “Lurline” landed a train-load of happy tourists for Rotorua.

The travellers were delighted with the wonders of the Thermal Region. Special trains were run, and the Auckland “Star” remarked that the efforts of the Railway Department were much appreciated by the visitors, who said that the appointments of the train, and especially the carriages, were the equal of anything they had been used to in their own country.

The Auckland District Manager of the Government Tourist Department also wrote on behalf of the tourists to express thanks for the excellent train provided and the general arrangements made for the comfort of these visitors on the journey. “The many I spoke to,” he said, “were enthusiastic about the carriages and the smooth running of the train. They also appreciated the assistance of the Railway Business Agent (Mr. Orton), Guard Wallace, and the attendant.” It appears also that the meals provided at Frankton Railway Refreshment Rooms were favourably commented on by all the tourists.

Then, in the same month, the “Carinthia” had a fine train party of eighty-five tourists who were making a longer stay in the Dominion. The Department sent a Business Agent to accompany this party on their run, by special trains from Auckland to Hangatiki (for Waitomo Caves) and Rotorua, and from National Park to Wellington.

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