By Charlotte Greener
There are perhaps few places further away from Geneva than Milford Sound, New Zealand.
I was there a few years ago on a holiday with my brother, as part of my visit back home to Australia. The highlight of the New Zealand trip, for both of us, was a kayaking excursion to Milford Sound.
I have never been so wet in my entire life. And I count the times when I’ve been swimming. The rain was something else, pounding down from the sky like a waterfall – and we sat on the ocean in a kayak filled with a good 10cm of water (keeping the water out was a fool’s errand). It may not speak well for my photography skills, but I find appropriate that every single photo I took features the blur of water.
In case you don’t know, Milford Sound is a fjord on the West coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It is sandwiched between the ocean and mountains that rise right out of the sea like a great mossy wall. It’s one of the wettest places in the world – it rains on average 182 days a year, usually receiving around 7m of rain in that time.
So there we were, in our little orange kayak, with the grey sky opening above us, the dark shadows of the mountains rising out of the mist around us, and the walls of the valley turned into a thousand waterfalls.
The water running down through the steep rock walls of the Sound collects dark-coloured tannin from the moss, and stains the water a dark blue-grey, almost black. Each fresh water rain drop takes a moment to mix with the salt water of the sea, so for an instant it sits on the surface, turning the entire ocean into a fizzing pan, like shifting silver stars on a sea of inky black.
We passed the many waterfalls in awe. When we approached the mouth of the Sound we powered across the increasingly wavy water, our arms burning with the effort of paddling. When we stopped for lunch on a small beach between the sea and the impenetrable jungle, we gave up on our sodden crackers and just passed back and forth a block of cheese and a sausage of salami that both ran with water as we ate them.
Towards the afternoon, the rain eased. The sun poked through the clouds in places, never quite showing its face. There was a breeze across the water, running up the rocky walls to distant heights. Before we dragged the boats ashore, we sat in our kayaks for a while next to the rock wall, watching the waterfalls. Tired. Content. At peace.
If you look for pictures of the Sound, you will find gorgeous images of quiet, towering peaks – we never even came close to seeing the tops of those peaks in the shifting cloud. But I’m glad we saw the rain. And I’m glad we didn’t opt for the ferry tour of the Sound, where we would have been ensconced comfortably in a warm cabin, looking at the scene through a glass window. There is a wildness to the Sound, and to submit to it is to know the place.
Geneva is a world away from Milford Sound – geographically and metaphorically. But I still like it when it rains hard here – I love watching it shimmer on the surface of the lake, reminding me of the calm, vast wild that is Milford Sound.