Many visitors to Fiordland don’t believe in Mitre Peak. The tour guide on their launch trip points to a bluff rising vertically into the curtain of low cloud and announces that if only it were clear, that’s where the majestic vista familiar to consumers of postcards the world over could be seen.
Yeah right, the sceptics mutter, and depart, darkly suspecting that the pictures of the great triangular peak rising from its inverse in the mirror-smooth waters of the Sound were cleverly put together in a suite of image manipulation software.
But even those who miss out on seeing the area’s A-list celebrity peak won’t leave Milford Sound disappointed. When you visit in the rain – and with rain falling on over 200 days out of 365, there’s a pretty high chance you will – you’ll see it with all the taps turned on, and that’s a sight to behold. Over 100 waterfalls start gushing from the sheer walls of the Sound. The largest of these, Stirling Falls, crashes 146m from the rocky cleft from which it issues to the glassy sea.
The Sound – okay, for the pedants, it’s really a fiord – is the sight for sore eyes that greets walkers emerging from the Milford Track, but it can be reached by road via the Homer Tunnel and by air as well. To appreciate it fully, you need to get out on the water, whether on one of the many cruises available or by kayak.
The intrepid can join a guided scuba party, and be rewarded with a close-up look at black coral. This usually occurs well below the depths to which recreational divers can safely go, but at Milford a layer of tannin-rich fresh water sits atop the seawater, recreating the twilight of the abyss in the shallows.
Or you can cheat: anyone who can handle a descent of the spiral staircase of the Milford Sound marine observatory can get the same view.
Many of the other peaks crowding to the margins of the long waterway nudge 2000 metres. The highest of Mitre Peak’s five summits rears 1683 metres from the water, and the water itself at its deepest point is 420 metres straight down. But in the end, the numbers mean nothing. The ineffable scale and grandeur of this landscape has to be experienced to be believed.
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And if Mitre Peak does deign to reveal itself on the day of your visit, prepare to have your flabber well and truly gasted.