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Southern Discoveries will operate the kayak operation from the Milford Discovery Centre & Milford Deep underwater observatory, which the company has operated since 2006.
The new single-storey kayak facility will sit right alongside the observatory, joined by an elevated walkway. The kayak operation will sit on a new pontoon that features a hydraulic platform to lower and raise passengers into and out of the water in their kayaks.
The pontoon is in the same location as the base for a small tourist and scientific research submarine which ceased operation nine years ago.
Southern Discoveries General Manager John Robson said the kayak operation was planned to start in October this year in time for the busy summer season.
He said the aim was to provide a guided kayak activity in the calm, sheltered waters of Harrison’s Cove as a great alternative to open water kayaking. A maximum of 12 passengers will be guided on up to four trips a day lasting about an hour-and-a-half. The total Milford experience will include a Southern Discoveries cruise, interactive visit to the Discovery Centre & Underwater Observatory, and kayaking experience.
“This is the perfect trip for people who want to have a short, gentle paddle,” said Mr Robson. “Experienced kayakers and those with a relatively high degree of fitness are well catered for in Milford, but we’ll be offering a slightly ‘tamer’ experience.”
Mr Robson said it would be an estimated four-and-a-half-hours duration for the complete boat, observatory and kayak ‘package’.
“The full trip will be unrivalled in Piopiotahi Milford Sound in giving visitors the most complete and knowledgeable experience,” he said. “I guarantee they’ll leave as fervent exponents of the natural values of the fiord andFiordland National Park.”
Mr Robson said the Discovery Centre & Observatory fulfilled Department of Conservation objectives of educating international and domestic visitors about the necessity of having World Heritage Areas with extremely limited access, and the kayak facility would take that one step further.
“Empathy with the overwhelming landscape and this wild and unpopulated valley will be greatly enhanced from the perspective of a small kayak at a quiet ‘water level’ experience,” he said.
“Coming as it does after a boat cruise and a visit to the Discovery Centre, the kayak trip will be the final link in the educative experience.
“The growth of kayaking is directly related to visitors wishing to have a greater range of active experiences, as apposed to the passive cruise experience, and their desire to feel as though they are in the wilderness.
“Many international visitors, approximately 85% of all Milford visitors, have never experienced such a pristine and rugged environment. The kayaking operation will deliver this without impacting on the environment in any way.”
Each trip will have a designated guide, and groups will be divided into manageable sizes. Inexperienced paddlers will be ‘buddied up’ with either the guide or an experienced paddler. Mr Robson said levels of ‘average fitness’ would be required.
Trips will not venture out into the main sound used by daily sightseeing vessels.
Mr Robson said the kayak guide would be the final link in the interpretive chain, giving accurate information on the rock formations, flora descriptions and name of peaks within the Pembroke Valley and Harrison Cove.
Harrison Cove is a naturally sheltered bay with Milford Sound that has provided shelter for vessels from early whaling and sealing days from the 1800’s to the present. The mouth of the bay faces south and is open to the fiord. The northern beach end of the bay is bisected by the Harrison River which runs down through the Pembroke Valley. The western wall is the base of Williamson Point and eastern is the Cascade range, both of which are typical of the steep walls within Milford Sound, covered by indigenous bush and scarred by tree avalanche paths.