Underwater Adventure in Milford Sound!

two pictures, one a female figure diving underwater the other a painting of underwater

In the last few weeks since launching the new website, one painting in particular has been getting a lot of attention. The immersiveness of ‘Milford Deep‘ really seems to capture people’s imaginations, so here goes my explanation of the adventure behind the artwork!

Looking for an adventure

In 2010 I worked and saved and bought a ticket to New Zealand. I applied for a working holiday visa, and started daydreaming about the country I’d decided to go to. Within 6 weeks of arriving, through a series of chance encounters, lucky timing, and being a bit bold, I was living in Milford Sound, UNESCO World Heritage site, and working for the tourism company Real Journeys. Simply put, I was a chef for an overnight cruise along a stunning fiord in NZ’s aptly named Fiordland National Park!!

The most incredible place

Aerial View of Milford Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand
The entrance to Milford Sound, Fiordland, NZ

Milford Sound is incredibly special, it grabs the heart of anyone who has visited, and the deep bond to this special place is apparent in anyone who has lived there. In reality, it is hard to describe in words, but I’ll try.

Towering mountains, inaccessible peaks, more waterfalls than you can describe, rain that makes the fiord come alive, penguins, dolphins, whales, mollymawks on the water, keas and wekas on shore….honestly just 15km of primal, prehistoric, fundamental joy.

penguins, kea, and dolphin
Just some of the awesome creatures of the fiord- Fiordland Crested Penguins, Kea, and Bottlenose Dolphin.

And the weather….much better than my words is this pic taken by the mega talented Caleb Bloxham, taken while skippering through this storm. (For more of his spectacular photography, click here)

I’m on the deck of the boat in the pic, by VERY cautious permission of my skipper, clinging on for dear life and loving every second!! Mainly because I didn’t have to steer the boat to safety. And yes, those are ALL waterfalls flowing up instead of down, that’s how strong the wind gets.

boat in a storm with waterfalls blowing up the mountains
Milford Sound does wet and wild….photo expertly captured by Caleb Bloxham.

And here’s me just off the plane from Glasgow to immerse myself in this!!

fiery red pink and purple sunset over snow capped mountains
Oooft….winter sunset in Milford Sound…just snapped on a cheapo outdated mobile phone, you can imagine it in real life!

I could talk endlessly about Milford, so many stories, not all publishable, but relevant to the painting is this:

Not a bad job….

In summer I lived on the boat and cooked for around 70 guests. Before dinner they would be out kayaking and I would leap from the roof, or swim over to the sister boat (crapping myself about sharks all the way). During the winter, I explored the fiord on the wee boats and skinny dipped under all the permanent waterfalls in the fiord. In the mornings I would clamber along the bowsprit of the boat to get right into the waterfalls.

two pictures of a figure on the bowsprit of a boat under a waterfall
Standing on the bowsprit of the Milford Wanderer for my morning shower.

Unique environment

The water in the fiords is very dark, as the sea water is overlaid with up to several metres of fresh water run off from the surounding mountains. After heavy rains this is full of tannins, leaving little room for light to get in. This means that deeper sea life can thrive much closer to the surface. Perfect to leap into!


And this immersion, the full and complete living in the moment, in the water, in the landscape, is what inspired me to make this painting. Imagine the feeling of leaping from high up, bursting into the dark depths, not sure of what was below, kicking hard to come up and breathe.

painting of an underwater scene
So many layers built up to get the effect- six months of marine varnishes and oil paints.

Or swimming between boats, relishing the frog’s eye view, while unduly nervous of previous shark sightings, while telling myself the luch southern hemisphere waters are abundant enough for them to find another snack.

female swimmer with boat in the distance in a sunny fiord
Swimming between the boats….nothing nibbling at my feet yet…..

Or leaping off the back of the stabicraft into icy cold winter fiord water, gasping and laughing and clambering aboard as fast as you can!

That’s where this painting comes from, and I hope it takes you to a similar place too.

Kath Pender wrapped in towel after a swimm gazing at the mountains
Post waterfall swim delight!