Kayaking in Milford Sound

Seeing Milford Sound from a cruise sure makes you feel small in this giant mountainous landscape… But seeing it from a kayak?! Well, we’re about to find out (but we have a pretty good idea already).

We wake up before the crack of dawn nestled in the rainforest powersites of the Milford Sound Lodge and… Wait, has it stopped raining?! Yesterday, it rained like we’ve never seen before. Big hard heavy rain blew in all directions non-stop. (Honestly, just look at the chaotic weather of yesterday. And we still went on a Milford Sound cruise). We can’t believe this is the very next morning. We did have doubts, but we might just be able to go on our Morning Glory tour with Rosco’s Milford Kayaks! Wahoo!

Sunrise over Milford Sound

We drive just before sunrise down to Deepwater Basin – our starting point for our kayaking trip out to Milford Sound. The sun is starting to catch the very peaks of the mountains battling through the clouds to put some rays of light on the landscape.

Our guides, Callum and Ollie, greet us at the Rosco’s Milford Kayaks tent. The tent is full of kayaking gear, from thermal layers to life jackets. They have all the equipment to keep you warm out on the water. We find out the final touch when Callum pulls out a box of wacky hats. We go for a cap and beanie with earflaps combo and are ready to hit the water!

After a quick paddle stroke lesson, we are being fitted into our double sea kayaks. Then it’s out onto the water, following a current of freshwater leading to Milford Sound!

Callum telling us the history of Sinbad Gully Callum telling us the history of Sinbad Gully
A moody Milford Sound A moody Milford Sound
Tiny kayakers in a big fiord Tiny kayakers in a big fiord
Robin rocking his Rosco's Kayaking hat Robin rocking his Rosco's Kayaking hat

Dwarfed by a fiord

You know what we said earlier about feeling small? Well, we feel miniscule in our kayaks compared to the giants that surround us. Mitre Peak is the highest of them all out on the sound, which Callum tells us about how it got its Maori name. As we see noteworthy features of the fiord, Callum shares his knowledge of how they got their names, how the steep cliffs were formed, and how high and far everything is away from us right now! Because Milford Sound is so vast it creates this weird dwarfing effect where things look a lot smaller and closer than they are.

We find out how close they are not when we paddle towards them… When Callum points across the width of the fiord and says: “Aim for that waterfall,” it feels like we are paddling forever! But like hiking to a summit, the effort you put to get there makes the view all the more rewarding.

Kayaking under Stirling Falls

Stirling Falls rages, still heavy with all the rainfall Milford has been having. Usually, Milford Cruise ships casually stick their nose under the waterfall to soak their passengers. When Callum says we are going to do the same thing with our kayaks, we think he’s joking!

Nope, Callum and Ollie are demonstrating how to paddle as far as you can get into the falls before being forced to turn around and paddle out again.

We go for it, paddling onwards until we can’t see any more for the spray. We come out of Stirling Falls dripping from the tip of our recently acquired caps. Feeling fresh from the glacial facial we just received (as this waterfall is fed by a glacier), we are starting to understand more and more why this trip is called “Morning Glory”.

Watching the sunrise over milford SOund’s mountains

Catching air

Sure, we’ve done the classic “Stirling Falls dip”, but that doesn’t that mean that cruise ships will be here to do the same thing at any moment? Yep! Three are on their way right now. Our guides keep us out of the traffic flow as one-by-one the ships dip their nose in the falls. We use the opportunity to paddle head-on into the wake of the boats and catch some air!

Closer to the fiord, the mountains and sea

What makes kayaking Milford Sound different from a standard cruise option is how much more intimate it is with the fiord. For instance, we are literally kayaking along the walls of magnificent mountains inches away from small cascades of waterfalls making their way into the sea.

At one point, we are faced with a sheer vertical cliff face reaching 1,700m from sea to summit. We sit back, look up and just try to fathom its size.

Looking up at the mountainside Looking up at the mountainside
A seal just chilling in one of the most stunning places in the world. No big deal. A seal just chilling in one of the most stunning places in the world. No big deal.
Loading up the kayaks for a speedboat journey back Loading up the kayaks for a speedboat journey back

Mingling with the seals of Seal Rock

Our next “intimate” moment comes when we kayak to Seal Rock. This is the famous rock in Milford Sound where seals never seem to move all year round! They just lie here and sleep. However, that was always our interpretation on top of a cruise ship. From a kayak, we are right next to them, watching one leap from the water and jump onto the rock multiple times until it finally gets on top of the protruding rock. Yay, you made it, buddy!

We have never got so close to this many New Zealand fur seals, which are fighting/playing with each other, calling across the colony at one another, and, of course, sleeping.

Our wildlife encounter marks the end of our trip today. Usually this trip continues out of the fiord to the Tasman Sea but the swell has really picked up making it too dangerous to kayak out. Plus, we can literally see the hazy cloud of rain coming our way.

From kayak to boat

As if it couldn’t be better timed, the rain only hits once our guides have put us and all the kayaks onto the Rosco’s Kayaks boat and we are heading back to Deepwater Basin. Travelling back by speedboat really makes us appreciate how far we have paddled today (and how annoyingly quickly we can do that distance in a speedboat).

The tent is now cranking with a super-powered heater drying out the clothes we have been wearing. Plus, we get to get changed in the warmth. Mmmm.

Tomorrow?

So, the rain is back and back to stay for a while. We have no idea what we are going to do tomorrow with such unpredictable weather. If we can hike in this beautiful landscape without the threat of avalanches, then we will. Find out tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

Rafting up before we make a plan to kayak through Stirling Falls
Rafting up before we make a plan to kayak through Stirling Falls Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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