About 2 hours away from Te Anau by road lies Milford Sound. Part of Fiordland National Park, it is not actually a Sound at all (which are made by rivers) but a Fiord (or Fjord if you are in Norway) which are made by glaciers.
It is a beautiful drive along which you drive through the mountains before descending via the Homer Tunnel – through the granite landscape at a 1:10 gradient – to come out into the beautiful surroundings of Milford Sound (named after Milford Haven in Wales).
This is one of the wettest places on Earth with over 6m of rain each year. It rains on 2 out of every 3 days. We were therefore fortunate to go on a dry day, albeit a bit cloudy, and for me to be able to give you some decent photos to have a look at.
One thing that struck me about the area (on this, my second visit) is how little wildlife you see. There are New Zealand Fur Seals and the odd bird in the undergrowth but not much else. If you take away the noise of the boats and the strong wind funnelling down the Fiord, the result is somewhere very quiet indeed. I reflected on the man-made disaster that has afflicted the NZ native species over time and the ongoing conservation work to ensure they have a place on pest-free islands in the future. When NZ was cast adrift of other land masses millions of years ago, in a land where ground-based predators were not present (and indeed the only native land-based NZ mammals are bats), birds lost the need to fly and unique species were evolving.
With the arrival of the Maori and later the Europeans, the local species did not really stand a chance. Stoats, rats, dogs, cats and possums are all quite fond of bird eggs or birds and when those birds cannot fly away you have a disaster. You are actively encouraged to buy possum products or indeed kill possums here as there are so many (introduced from Australia due to the fur trade but with nothing to predate on them in the wild!).
It makes you wonder how many species have been obliterated over time without our even being aware of them. I feel sad that human beings are so ignorant and that the solution to the problems of the past are not to live in harmony with nature but to move it somewhere where we can’t damage it any more. At what point will man stop concreting over the world and stamping life out?
NZ is seen as something of a natural paradise from the outside looking in and it is jaw-droppingly beautiful…but it masks a very unpleasant truth about mankind which I can only hope is a precipice from which we can return.