Monday, March 06, 2017

sounding off

"I'm looking out on a cold and dreary, rainy Portland day from our 19th floor rental on the south waterfront. I think I'd rather be on a cruise ship!!!"

So said my high school friend Joe yesterday. Well, it certainly is not hot here off the coast of New Zealand's southern island, but it is neither rainy nor dreary.

Even before the sun was up, we slipped into Milford Sound. "Sound" does not do it justice. When I hear that term, I think of the vast expanse of Puget Sound and its associated islands.

Milford Sound is one of the star attractions of Fjordland, New Zealand's largest national park. Three milion acres of park -- 5% of the entire nation of New Zealand.

The fact the park is named Fjordland marks paid to the use of the term "sound." Milford Sound was created by repeated glacial activity during the Ice Age. And it is not alone. There are a total of 14 fjiords in the park. We are visiting five of them today.

Fjords are not new to me. I have seen them in Scotland, Norway, and Alaska. And, of course, there is the glacial formation I know best -- the Columbia River Gorge.

Each is spectacular in its own way. As is Milford Sound.

There is something about deep water, steep cliffs, and soaring mountains (that tower high enough to be known as the Southern Alps) that appeals to our aesthetic side. I felt the same way boating through Sumidero Canyon in Chiapas. But that feeling was multiplied by a factor of a hundred this morning in Milford Sound.

The fjords played a major role in the European settlement of New Zealand. There were people here, of course, before the Europeans arrived. The Maori had been on the island about 400 years before Captain Cook arrived in the 1770s with his English expeditions.

In an attempt to corroborate the accuracy of his ship clock, Cook stopped in Dusky Sound (currently to the south of us), and cut a timber swath to create an observatory to obtain an accurate navigation reading. In the process, he mapped Dusky Sound -- along with a comment that the fjord was full of fur seals.

Before long, English sealers were plying the waters and setting up processing settlements. It was not a flood of settlers. But it was the beginning. Other than taking seal pelts and fish, industry has not done well in the area. Farms, gold mining, and timber mills have all failed.

I suppose that has been fortuitous because the failure has left the park in a rather pristine condition. That is, if you can ignore the 5000 daily visitors to Milford Sound. And half of those were on our ship today.

Roy and I are now sitting on the ship's fantail watching the park slowly unfold on our port side. People can (and do) make fun of cruising. But I am not certain it would be possible to see the whole grandeur of this natural gem any other way.

And, Joe, the temperature may only be in the mid-50s, but the sky is clear, and the warmth of the sun is strong enough that I am tanning in a short sleeve shirt.

Yes, you should be on a cruise ship.

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