It’s still dark on a cloudy morning when the Holland America Oosterdam enters the waters of the southern fjords of Fjordland National Park in New Zealand. Because the passage is narrow and dangerous it requires a special pilot to navigate the narrow passage. He arrives in the dark of night . The ship does not stop to let him onboard. He must board from his vessel while the ship is in motion. He will stay on board through Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound until we exit Dusky Sound into the open sea. The ship quietly glides through the water. Being up early to witness the tall tree-covered rock walls of the fjord as they surround the ship is an eerie sight, and creates a slight claustrophobic reaction. They rise hundreds of feet above the deck. As the morning begins to dawn, a collective audible “Ooh” escapes from the people having breakfast on the Lido deck when they suddenly realize how close the walls of the fjord are to the ship. Some grab their coffee and head out to the back deck only to return to the dining area after they discover the temperature is about 5ºC . It is the fall season in this area of the world so early morning temperatures can be quite chilly.
As the sun rises over the walls the beauty of the fjord is revealed. The waters are calm except for the wake of the ship going at slow speed toward Milford Sound. There are scars where the trees have lost their tenuous struggle to maintain their hold. As the day progresses, we see boats of varying sizes come from Milford Sound. Some are fishing boats. A number of them are pleasure boats, including sailboats. We pass Stirling Falls as it cascades 100’s of feet down the fjord wall. We are serenaded by the roar of Bowen Falls as we arrive in Milford Sound. The sight of the falls is testament to the power of the rainfalls each year in this area. Milford Sound receives an annual rainfall of 20 ft/6.1m. That is a lot water rushing down the mountains to the fjord.
A few passengers will depart the ship at Milford Sound to spend the day exploring down narrower passages where the Oosterdam can not sail. They will spend the night and travel overland to meet the Oosterdam in Port Chalmers/Dunedin on the following day. Once the passengers have disembarked the ship, the pilot maneuvers the ship to turn it around. It’s a delicate situation because of the narrow passage. He slowly turns, backs up and turns again until he is able to get into position to head out of the fjord. Once out of Milford Sound, we head to Doubtful Sound and Dusty Sound, and then out to sea for our journey to our next port of call – Port Chalmers.by