Strange Geographies: The Fjords of New Zealand

For most people, the word "fjord" conjures up thoughts of Scandinavia and the majestic, frozen North. But New Zealand, unbeknownst to many, can boast some of the world's best fjords -- hemmed by towering cliffs, fantastically deep and stretching like long, crooked fingers from the Tasman Sea into some of New Zealand's most lush and remote scenery. They are to be found, appropriately enough, within an enormous and mostly unpopulated wilderness known as Fjordland. The easiest of the fjords to visit is Milford Sound, and I was fortunate to be able to take a two-day boat trip down the length of it a while back. This is what I found.

Pictured above is Mitre Peak, which towers nearly a mile above the surface of the water. The water in the glacier-carved fjord itself is some 1600 feet deep. The veritcal scale of everything in Milford is mind-boggling.

Milford Sound is also the wettest place in New Zealand, making it one of the wettest places in the world -- it gets nearly 268 inches of rain every year. That doesn't stop tourists from visiting, though, because big rains put on a spectacular show, creating hundreds of waterfalls along the 15km length of the sound, which crash from the peaks a half-mile or more to the water below.

We picked an unseasonably dry couple of days to visit the fjords (wouldn't you know it) but regardless of the drought-like conditions, there were still a few amazing waterfalls to be seen. The captain maneuvered our boat nearly underneath this one, at which point everyone rushed to the bow and got completely soaked.

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The peaks along the length of the sound are so high that they kind of make their own weather. Three-quarters of a mile up: clouds. For scale, see if you can pick out the huge, two-story boat at the bottom-right of the cliffs. (They're that big.)

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When Captain Cook sailed past the entrance to the fjords back in the 18th century, he decided not to explore them because, thanks to their extremely narrow-looking entrances, he doubted they led to anything substantial or remarkable. (That's how another of New Zealand's fjords, Doubtful Sound, got its name.) As you can see, the cliffs overlap so completely as the sound twists its way to and from the ocean that it's difficult to see more than a kilometer or two down its length.

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One unforgettable treat was kayaking on the Sound at dusk, skirting along the edges of the mighty cliffs and checking out all the seals and seabirds that make their homes near the water. Fed by rainfall but also by glaciers, the water was numbingly cold; luckily, this time I didn't do what I normally do in kayaks, which is flip over.

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We spent the night on the boat, and woke up at the mouth of the fjord, where it joins the Tasman Sea. It was a delicate, still morning, and we were blessed with a rosy dawn, a rare thing in this land of year-round rain.

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Looking toward Australia as we headed back:

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Mitre Peak in the morning. I tell ya, looking at this rock never got old.

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My only regret is that we weren't able to walk the nearby Milford Track -- a multi-day backpacking adventure that's one of the world's great hikes -- but if any of our readers have, I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

To order prints or get high-resolution downloads of the photos in this essay, click here.

More 'Strange Geographies'...

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Village Life in Vanuatu
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Almost the Outback

Or you can see all of them here.

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Unwind With 10 Hours of Soothing Ocean Footage From BBC Earth
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The internet can be a stressful place at times. Do yourself a favor by taking a break from the endless barrage of content to focus on the tranquil beauty of nature. The video below, spotted by Motherboard, features 10 hours of peaceful oceanscapes, courtesy of BBC Earth.

Unlike BBC's usual nature documentaries, which almost always include narration, this footage is completely human-free. There are no voices, no music, and no graphics. Instead, you'll find leisurely shots of whale sharks, schools of hammerheads, sailfish, and sea turtles drifting through the open ocean to a soundtrack of sloshing water.

Even if you don't have time to watch the whole 10 hours, just a few minutes of sitting in front of the meditative footage is probably enough to refresh your brain. Just don't be surprised if a few minutes quickly becomes an hour (or a few).

And if 10 hours of relaxing video still isn't enough for you, we recommend checking out some Norwegian slow TV. "Shows" include footage of a sea cruise, a train ride, and migrating reindeer.

[h/t Motherboard]

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Photographer's Amazing Snap of an Osprey Is Holding Two Big Surprises
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As a wildlife photographer, Doc Jon understands the importance of being in the right place at the right time. But it took getting home and really squinting at his own work to realize that he recently captured a “one-in-a-trillion shot” while taking a photo of an osprey in Madeira Beach, Florida. While demonstrating the power of his lens to a fellow beach-goer, Jon pointed his camera at an osprey flying about 400 feet above their heads, and snapped a quick photo.

“I started shooting and my settings were off,” Jon told Fstoppers. “I had no tripod. I was trying to hold it steady, but it was windy out," he said. "I could see the osprey had a fish, but it was far away. It wasn't until I got home, cropped in on it, lightened the shadows, and applied some sharpening that I suddenly saw. ‘Oh my god, that's a shark's tail.’ Then I saw the fish in its mouth and I knew it was going to go viral.”

Jon predicted correctly.

Photos courtesy of Doc Jon via Facebook

Jon’s photo, which has already been shared by thousands of people, features the osprey holding a shark, which is holding a fish—making it sort of like the photographic version of a turducken. News of Jon’s amazing photo spread after he posted it to his Facebook page and a local news station saw it. Since then, he told Fstoppers, he’s been receiving requests for interviews from as far away as Israel and India.

Of course, with all that exposure comes the inevitable question of authenticity. Fortunately, Jon is taking that part in stride.

"The fun part for me is some people are commenting that it's Photoshopped, and obviously, those people don't know the limitations of Photoshop," Jon told Fstoppers. "Then, other people are telling me I should have sold it instead of sharing it online. I'm laughing, because really, it's not a good photo. The photo itself kind of sucks. But it tells a great story and it's getting me a lot of recognition for my other work now."

[h/t: Fstoppers]

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