Today went from monochrome to Technicolor. We spent the night creeping around the south of the South Island, through Foveaux Strait, past the bright lights of Invercargill in the night, and along the Fiordland coast, around and up from the bottom left-hand corner (south-east to you compass nerds). Shortly after we woke, the ship was easing into Dusky Sound, to glide through the misty, moisty fiord where the tops of the peaks were hidden in cloud. People were impressed, and taking photos, but I held my peace about how Milford Sound would totally eclipse what they were seeing, and make all their pics redundant. I’m restrained like that.
Back out through Breaksea Sound onto the Tasman coast, we soon took another detour into bigger, greener Doubtful Sound for more of the same, luxuriating in the sunshine and the untouched, and untouchable, vertical native bush that could hide anything – takahe, moose, moa… There were certainly seals, as we turned into Thompson Sound to return to the Tasman.
We sailed up the coast a few hours, and I went to a lecture by an American professor about New Zealand’s self-image, fully prepared to bristle and argue, and found myself agreeing with everything he said. Good job, Allan Hanson. The ship then turned right into an unprepossessing-looking inlet, all grey and misty, and we found ourselves heading towards the light: the sun was shining in Milford Sound, the sky was blue, and those high, high, sheer rocky peaks were as spectacular as ever, trails of low cloud below the tops.
We dawdled by a tall, graceful waterfall, watched kayaks and catamaran cruisers, small planes made to seem even smaller by the scale of the scenery, and were smug about how lucky we were to be there at all, especially in bright sunshine.
Tony the Invisible Cruise Director lived up to his name, and I found myself doing his job, telling people about the fiord, the rainfall, the freshwater layer, Mitre Peak, the Milford Track and so on. I might mention this to him, if I ever see him around the ship.
The Queenstown overnighters rejoined the ship, a piano played on the pool deck, the captain announced the strong possibility of “motion on the ocean” as we head across the Tasman Sea to Hobart, and we said goodbye to New Zealand. I think most people were pleased, on the whole, with what they saw here – though, naturally, the weather was often a disappointment on this particular cruise, what with that storm and all.
At dinner we chose to sit at a table for eight, and were joined by a couple from South Georgia, another from California, and a pair of ex-Kiwis from Melbourne. That’s the nice thing about the open-dining option on cruise ships: new people, new stories, new ideas. The not so nice bit is that sometimes your neighbour will turn from you as you’re mid-sentence, to join the conversation at the other end of the table, which he (did you guess it was a he?) had been listening to with one ear and had decided was more interesting. What, mate, the (lite version) history of Aboriginal oppression in Tasmania not dramatic enough for you? Better spend your time in Hobart drinking Cascade beer and keeping your blinkers on, then.