Got up pre-sunrise and waited in the cold for the dive van. I crawled in the back seat with all the equipment, made my self a nest and promptly went back to sleep. Slept most of the one and a half hours to Milford Sound. Woke up just as we were starting to wind down into the fjord (Milford sound is really a fjord). The valley stretched out half filled with dazzeling white clouds - a fantastic view (wish I had taken a picture). At Deep Water Basin on Milford Sound we did battle with the ravenous sand flies as we suited up and loaded the equipment on to the boat.
The first dive was at "The Triangle" - only a ten minute ride out. We got briefed and rolled into the water - it was cold (14°C)! The most exciting thing about this dive was the setting in the fjord - sheer thousand foot walls and five thousand foot peaks plunging into the glassy water. One weird thing was the heliocline - the boundary between the fresh water that runs off the peaks and the salt water from the ocean. It was about three meters down and was very strange - the visibility was fine, but everything was so distorted I couldn't even read the gauges. It was like heat rising from a chimney, or whiskey in water. Other highlights were a four meter high black coral tree (which is actually white in color), some spinney dog sharks, and a ton of big crayfish (lobster). The conditions caused by the steep walls and the fresh water layer means that the life at fifty feet is what you would see at five or six hundred feet in the ocean - but besides the coral I didn't see anything that remarkable.
Between the two dives we had an hour an a half to try and warm up and explore the sound a little. Dave (our skipper and the owner of Tawaki Dive) took us out to the mouth of the sound and dropped us off on a rocky beach. We explored the ruins of an old stone sealing hut and marveled in the fearless birds (mostly fan tails) who would swoop within inches of us to get at the black flies who were attacking. Those flies pretty quickly drove us back to the boat.
The second dive was called "Two Tone" and was about half way back up the fjord. It's called that because there are two very different parts of the dive. The first part was similar to the first dive and included lots of fish and many smaller black coral trees. The second part of the dive was along a wall with lots of little things to see and explore. The highlight there was a giant (three foot?) crayfish and a large red with white spots rock cod(?) of about the same size. The heliocline on this dive was even more apparent and a little deeper.
Because of the thousand meter pass between Milford Sound and Te Anau we have to waste at least three hours after getting out of the water. This is a pretty strange dive profile, because of ascending to altitude - normally you are supposed to wait at least twelve hours - but the dives were short and fairly shallow because of this. We spent the time exploring the sound. Checked out many of the waterfalls, and sat for a long time watching a group of four New Zealand Fur Seals work a large bait ball. Back on shore we took a quick shower, unloaded the boat, and had a quick bite to eat before heading back to Te Anau. The drive back was a bit of a tour - we stopped to take pictures, admire the views, and got to walk around a bit.
Back in town I did a quick gear sorting trying to minimize what I have to carry on the tramp tomorrow. Went shopping for the hike (freeze dried diners, and apples and peanut butter for breakfast and lunch) and had a huge diner. I had lasagna, but was so famished I ordered a pizza afterwards! At least I ended up with some leftovers that will make an excellent lunch on the trail tomorrow. Spent an hour packing, then fell in to bed exhausted.