Harrison Cove, in Milford Sound Piopiotahi, is a unique and lovely area. Shaped like the head of a roaring lion, with the magnificent Harrison River pouring into its throat, this is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most visited and scenic places. The relative difficulty in getting there only seems to add to the attraction as the Milford Road itself is quite wonderful, and the cove can only be reached by boat.
With so much on offer, it is worth making the most of, so why not take advantage of a cruise-and-kayak package which includes entry into the Milford Discovery Centre & Underwater Observatory.
Harrison Cove is sheltered and calm, with crystalline waters – perfect for family, friends or small groups to enjoy kayaking beneath the majestic mountains. Kayaks for all ages and experience levels (minimum age four years) are available from the Milford Discovery Centre. Your guides will show you all the tricks to ensure that you and yours have a wonderful, safe adventure in the beautiful cove. All you need is a hat, sunnies, a bit of sunscreen and some comfortable, warm clothing, a bottle of water and your trusted camera. You are likely to get wet – remember, this is one of the wettest places on earth! – So having a change of dry clothes awaiting you on your return is a nice idea. Your guide will also give you information and interesting facts about the area, so be prepared for an exhilarating and informative day out on the water.
The top attraction in Harrison Cove is the Milford Discovery Centre & Underwater Observatory, the only floating underwater observatory in New Zealand. From the comfortable viewing area, some ten metres below the surface, you can view colourful fish and the abundant plant life in its natural state. Nowhere else can you see such untouched marine life so close, without getting a drop of water on you! Starfish, waving sea anemones and the icicle-like black coral (which is actually startlingly white) are just some of the sights you can see under water, while up on the surface, there are displays and commentaries about the Milford area and history. Situated in Piopiotahi Marine Reserve, the Observatory provides an environmentally sound viewing and educational platform to enjoy the natural phenomena which are part of the region. One such phenomenon is ‘deep water emergence’ – a condition where a layer of fresh water, stained golden-brown with tannin from the beech forests, floats on top of the fiord. This creates a natural light-screen, allowing deep water corals to grow in relatively shallow places, so you can see red and black coral from the viewing gallery. When you’ve had your fill of below water level, there is an informative display of local history and staff to assist with any queries or information you might require.
If diving is your thing, Fiordland is fascinating. Dolphins, seals and other sea mammals abound, and can be seen up close and personal on a scuba excursion. Swimming deep under the chill golden waters, surrounded by amazing coral colonies and kelps, with a multitude of marine life alongside is an experience you won’t forget. The sharp underwater cliffs provide a unique backdrop for diving, and the beautiful coral trees growing against them are a sight to behold. Eels, crayfish, octopi and stingrays swim alongside around 150 different species of fish, making diving in Harrison Cove yet another great reason to visit. You will need to have some diving experience and certification for most diving in the reserve. While there are guided dives in the fiord, you may need bring your own equipment and be prepared to stay overnight in Milford Sound. The only land access to Milford Sound is via the Homer Tunnel at an altitude of 900 metres, so all diving must be planned using altitude tables and divers will be required to wait 12 to 18 hours following dives in accordance with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) guidelines. No hunting or gathering is allowed in the reserve; as the saying goes, take only photos and leave only bubbles!