This entry was originally written for the Rough Guides Travel Competition 2016.
Tu-te-raki-whanoa swung his legendary adze mustering all his strength, hoping that his final effort would produce a gobsmacking masterpiece. 400 million years later, I stood atop a fast-moving ferry, awed by the Maori demigod’s finest accomplishment – a 17 km-long, twisted glacial fjord. Milford Sound or Piopiotahi in the Māori language, located deep in the heart of Fiordland National Park is New Zealand’s crown jewel. As I breathed in deeply to smell the fresh petrichor, the alien landscape made me feel I was home.
Travel guides and blogs might espouse otherwise, but to me the verdure Piopiotahi looked the best when drenched, appearing mysteriously radiant despite the melancholic setting. The spectacular dark-green mountains seemed to blend naturally with the still waters of the Sound. A cloudy, slate-grey sky loomed overhead and a white mist hung over the dark, inky waters, making for a theatrical backdrop. I shivered in the cold fjord air and pulled my jacket tighter around me. It did little to ebb the thrilling shudders that went down my spine as our ferry boat cut through the mist, chugging deep into the heart of the Sound. Suddenly, without warning, the haze began to lift, and the silhouettes of the towering giants guarding the Sound began to appear. All eyes were affixed on the iconic Mitre Peak, which rose majestically out of the waters.
I wasn’t really looking at Mitre Peak – I was beginning to witness Piopiotahi’s sheer raw spirit. Thin snow-white streams of water slowly made their way down the precarious, forest-covered cliffs, meandering through gnarled tree roots and jutting chasms. The deafening silence was broken only by the roar of the swollen waterfalls that seemed to carry with them the lifeblood of the Sound, plunging from dizzying heights. On the other side of the mountain, a striking tree avalanche was in the process, as the trees at the upper echelons made their slow yet terrifying descent. As I watched riveted, they wrenched all the ones underneath and slid down the mountain, splashing into the unfathomable depths of the Sound. As the bare face of the mountain revealed itself, I began to see just about how untamed Piopiotahi could get.
The complex ecosystem of the Sound is like yin and yang in the flesh, with its wild environs complemented by the thriving marine life. I was lucky to catch a few adolescent boy seals flopping aimlessly on a hot rock, enjoying their afternoon siesta. A pod of bottlenose dolphins cruised alongside the ferry, even as a paddling of ducks swam near the mountain’s face, trying to hide from civilization.
Whether it was created by icy rivers or a demigod’s adze, legend transcends reality in Piopiotahi. You’ll see a lot of transfixed gazes, for it tells the tales of an eon when the primeval earth thrived in its natural state, untouched by civilization. I finally understood what Piopiotahi’s essence was – its timeless beauty which made the humanity feel ephemeral – and grateful.