Crown Jewel of Fiordland: Milford Sound, NZ

Dramatic glacier-carved cliffs that soar 4,000 feet straight up from the sea and thousands of breathtaking waterfalls that appear like magical faucets after the frequent rains have made this spectacular fiord one of the most popular tourist destinations on the South Island.

We pulled into Milford Sound on the evening of a gathering. I mistakenly called it a “party,” but was quickly corrected by one of our hosts: “Parties in Milford are when people dance naked on the tables.” Nevertheless, everyone in town was in attendance, including the local fishermen, skippers, guides and cruise boat staff.

Jaime had lined up an interview with the founder of New Zealand’s longest established owner-operated sea kayak company: the famous Rosco of Rosco’s Milford Kayaks, who also happened to be hosting the gathering.

MAYOR OF MILFORD

Rosco Gaudin first saw Milford Sound’s potential as a world-class paddling destination in 1988, when he paddled into the fiord on a trip with friends and found himself escorted by a pod of 30 bottlenose dolphins. The experience planted the seed or the area’s first commercial sea kayaking operation, which Rosco has kept small and is still happily helming over two decades later. “I feel extremely privileged to be living my life in an area I love,” he says, “It’s not just the paddling, it is the lifestyle, the people, the vibe and the buzz of showing everyone our playground in paradise.”

Rosco is also the self- proclaimed Mayor of Milford (no one contests the title) and something of a local celebrity. For the past 12 years, he has organized The Great Annual Nude Tunnel Run, which it turns out, is exactly as it sounds.

Every April 1st, around 100 participants run naked—save for headlamps and tennis shoes—through the Homer Tunnel, a nearly mile-long passage that was hand-dug through the mountainside between 1935 and 1953 to provide road access to Milford. The prizes are meager—the fastest woman and man have their names engraved into a nude Barbie and Ken doll, respectively—but entry fees are donated to charity and, as Rosco points out, there are other rewards: “Being naked is invigorating, natural and beautiful; it’s a great way to make new friends.”

Seals sunning in Milford Sound NZ

A REASON FOR THE SANDFLIES

The next day we joined one of Rosco’s guides, Mark Buckland, on a tour of the fiord. We were shuttled by motorboat to just shy of the Tasman Sea, where we hopped in kayaks and paddled the 10 miles back through the steep-sided fiord to the village of Milford. Along the way, we admired 500-foot Sterling Falls and paddled with a pod of playful bottlenose dolphins that leapt into the air all around us.

Every paddler we met in Milford expressed gratitude for being able to spend time in such an amazing place. Of all the stories we heard, one in particular stuck with me: a Maori legend about the origin of Fiordland’s pesky, omnipresent sandflies. In Maori culture, the biting insects were born at Sandfly Point, near today’s kayak launch, to protect Milford Sound from the careless destruction that people often bring to beautiful places. 

TIPS FOR VISITING MILFORD SOUND

The knowledgeable staff at Rosco’s Milford Kayaks (www.roscosmilfordkayaks.com) offer daily trips for all levels of paddlers. Options include taking a water taxi to the mouth of Milford Sound and paddling back, sunset and sunrise tours, or combining kayaking with hiking part of the renowned Milford Track—hailed as “the finest walk in the world.” Whichever you choose, don’t forget your bug repellant. 

This article on tripping through New Zealand was published in the Summer 2014 issue of Adventure Kayak magazineThis article first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. For more great content, subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions here.

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