Monday, April 28, 2014

Milford Sound: Breathtaking Fjord Land, and Home Again

  Remember all the bleating sheep I mentioned missing since I had begun traveling by car rather than foot? Yep, I'm talking about these guys and gals right here.  I know this photo looks photo-shopped, but really, getting the attention of an entire field of sheep for the perfectly captured photo op is quite easy. Honk your car horn :)  All bleating ceases while they pose for the camera.

  We were now making our way up the west coast toward Milford Sound, which every Kiwi or tourist you meet on the south island, as well as many parts of the north, will tell you is a place "you have to see!"  All directions to visit the fjordland are accentuated with raised expressive eyebrows and flailing exaggerated arm gestures to emphasize the importance of their suggestive urgency.  But to be fair, after having actually seen it, if you ever make it to the south island YOU HAVE TO GO SEE IT!!! (Insert rapid arm movements and raised expressive eyebrows here ---> !! )  You will soon see why it's a must.

  What isn't the most glamorous thing about traveling the beached areas of the islands, and particularly the west coast of the south island is the number of ferocious sandflies.  Think mosquito bites that itch more intensely and for weeks rather than days. Think waking up in the middle of the night having unconsciously scratched yourself into a bleeding frenzy.  Think tiny scars across your body, reminiscent of childhood chicken pox.  I'm fairly certain if there is a tortured place in the afterlife, then sandflies reside there, and are well fed.

   A beautiful creek for a lunchtime stop, and an even better creek, Jeff found out, to soothe the bites of the sandflies.

  We drove along the west coast heading north toward Te Anau which is basically the last town with options for road deviation.  From here you can only travel SH94 north to Milford Sound, east toward the center of the island, or back south toward Invercargill.  There is only this one road to Milford Sound and your timing must be precise to get the best photo ops since the tour buses start making their way towards the mountain passes very shortly following the sunrise in a procession reminiscent of a circus parade.  So unless you want a bus load of tourists gaggled in your photos, a collection of wondered travelers ill-equipped with appropriate clothing for the weather and overly burdened with cameras and impatience, you had better get a move on with the rising sun.

  We decided to camp in one of the DOC campsites very near the sound so the next day would be visually stimulating to its maximum potential.  We were NOT disappointed!

A road section of State Highway 94

I'm certain faeries and other magical creatures of the earth gather here under moonlight for festivals and dance.

    We posted up at DOC campsite Kiosk Creek and after having satisfied our bellies with dinner, went for a walk along the Eglinton River, marveling at the clarity of the glacial runoff as the cold air descended upon us and the shadows cast by the setting sun devoured the valley whole.  


Dusk and flora

  As quickly as the harsh cold descended upon the valley the night before, it lifted in a blanket of light, steam rising from the morning dew.

Daylight's ascension

    With the day's drive underway we stopped along the road for a grand view of the surroundings and were greeted by two Kea parrots.  Found in the forested and alpine regions of the South Island the Kea is the world's only alpine parrot.  They are known for their intelligence and curiosity, their ability to solve logic puzzles and their cooperative efforts in working together to achieve objectives…but they happen to also be very well known for chewing on any rubber part of cars they can get their beaks on.  Tires, windshield wipers, door trim…whatever they can get their beaks on! And boy did they stay true to their description.

  It was proving difficult to stay in the van, just a spectator to the beauty around, so we did clamber around some rocks and falls.  How could you not want to be a part of this!?

Falling Clarity
You drive for a bit up the highway already impressed with the sights and you come to a stop sign in the side of the mountain and wait your turn to travel through the pass.

It takes a couple minutes to drive through the dark, dank, wet tunnel.

And when you emerge these mountains greet you.  Glorious breath-takers of old.

So finely displaying the steepness of their magnitude.  

  Welcome to Milford Sound

Cloud hat!

    It was time to begin the journey back toward Christchurch, toward an airport, toward planes that would carry us home…which is strange to think of.  After being a part of a place for so long, this was my home…but when it is time, I suppose it is time. Forward and onward, the journey continues.

  We stopped to marvel at Mirror Lakes, but as our timing for optimal viewing wasn't quite right, it was just a lake amid the mountains.  And I stupidly responded to this sign by saying, "Man they need to go out there and fix that sign!"  My stupidity quickly pointed out to me, that once reflected on the water, it would probably read quite clearly…haha!!!

  One night of freedom camping in Fairlight, hidden among a nearby grouping of trees, resting along-side an old railway station.

    We had driven to Queenstown, land of outdoor adventures and tourist traps!  Jeff had described it perfectly as follows.  "It's a beautiful well manicured lakeside ski town, but during the summer there will be mountain bike trails full of people, a gondola that you can ride to the top of the city, paragliders, parasailors, bungee jumpers, jet boaters, trampers, and just about any other outdoor sportsman you can imagine."  He was right, and when the sun came out, the tourists and adventurers also came out in full force.

  Our time there was mostly spent eating, and people watching.  We camped at the largest DOC site I had seen yet, Twelve Mile Delta, which had enough space for 100 sites.  We nestled the van down into a gravel pit, which sounds awful, but it kept the neighbors at bay.  In the morning I woke to this beautiful sunrise. Look at it!!!

  I am not a fan of tourist towns and we had places to be, so, onward in a north east direction we drove.

Am I in Idaho?
  Across Lake Tekapo, a gorgeous view of Mount Cook which is New Zealand's tallest mountain.  Standing at 3,724 meters (12,218 feet).

  Regal countryside scenes at sunset.

  Idaho saddles the 44th northern parallel, so I was more than excited when we passed by this 44th southern parallel marker. And more than anything it made me want a 44 North collins.  44 North is an Idaho distilled vodka. Yum!!!  I felt as I was approaching my departure, signs were literally pointing toward home.

  One last night was spent in Christchurch.  We "napped" for a few hours and caught a shuttle to the airport at 4:15AM.  We were both flying into Sydney, but on separate flights.  After I got to Sydney I had the pleasure of being at the mercy of flying home internationally on the standby list for an airline a friend of mine works for.  This game takes a lot of patience, but it's worth it.  Let the game begin!

  With only two available flights leaving Sydney on this particular airline per day, it took me two days to get out of there, and I was the very last person accepted on the flight, and I was so thankful for it!  All I experienced of Sydney was the airport to and from New Zealand.  It's everything you would expect a huge international airport to be…minus the fact that it isn't a 24 hour airport.  So when I found out I wouldn't be able to board the last flight out, I had to make a game plan for sleeping arrangements between the hours of 11PM and 3:30AM.  They have a small room outside of departures where all the stuck travelers are corralled into for the night.  Cold hard seats lined the walls, each with a metal armrest partition, which is handy if you plan on sitting in the seats for a while, but interfering if you plan to try and sleep in them.  A collection of bodies gathered in this side room, for a sleepless night, surrounded by cleaning crews, shop vacs, mops, and luggage.  I was more than glad to have made it on the last flight out the second day and totally impressed with the amount of effort the counter agents offered all the standby travelers.  Kind people make every situation better.

  While I was in Sydney I called home to check in with my sister, who was the only person I told of my return, and she had been sworn to secrecy so that I might get one of life's rare chances at the art of surprise.  I had called my mom, and dad to tell them I had safely made it to Sydney, but had decided to stay a while with some friends I had met on my journey.  I justified this little fib by convincing myself that if I could make a friend while in the airport, then technically I wasn't lying :) Sneaky sneaky!!  After one very sleepless night I met two wonderful people on the flight to LA who were both kind and hilarious!  They made the 15 hour flight a piece of wonderfully delicious cake.  Thanks guys!!!

  I was in LA.  I was so close to being home, but was delayed one more night and was ever so thankful that LA is a 24 hour airport with partitionless seats.  Now if they could just figure out how to keep the temperature at night at least somewhere near above freezing they would have it made!  I paced to keep warm and in the morning watched a classic musical on Netflix, because when computers are on, they generally produce a small amount of heat.  Spooning electronics…maybe that will be the title of this chapter in my book.

  I got on the first flight out the next morning, again the last standby allowed on board.  The emotions were rising!!! How had I already gone around the world on my grand adventure?  It seemed a dream…or maybe I was just obsessed with the idea of sleep somewhere in my near future.  I made it off the flight and was greeted at the arrivals doors by my sister, brother in law and 3 year old niece, whom I hugged and immediately began a game of "chase" with after having set her down.  She hadn't forgotten her Aunt Sara!!!  We stomped in all the puddles we could find as we made out way through the airport parking lot.  What are aunts for?

They call me ante instead of auntie, because when it comes to playing I always up the stakes :)

  I concocted a plan with the help of my sister to surprise both my mom and grandparents, which is a priceless feat I wouldn't trade for the world.  I wasn't ready to be back.  I felt stronger than ever emotionally, but some things you just cannot prep yourself for.

  Take a look at these amazing goof balls and tell me you wouldn't have missed them dearly while being away.  Buncha' beautiful weirdos!!!

  Two weeks after being back, and still none of my friends knew, my sister helped me again.  I managed to gather my favorite ladies at a bar to surprise them as well.  They were more radiant, funny, talented and beautiful than before I had left.  I did not know this was possible.

  The month after my return I retreated to my mom's house out in Sweet where I could gather my composure and thoughts and better prepare myself for my re-submersion into Boise.  The countryside, a fire-side birthday party, and a trip to my favorite hot springs were all the medicine a homesick girl could  take to realize she was once again where she was suppose to be.  Life…could it be more beautiful?

   A special thanks to every single person who helped make this possible.  The yay-sayers and the nay-sayers alike, for pushing me harder than I would have pushed on my own.  I am consumed with gratitude…now I just have to write a book about it!!

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations Saratops! Thank you for sharing your adventures in Middle Earth with us like this. I have been blessed by it immensely. May you be kind to yourself as you continue to re-enter life back here in Boise...and may New Zealand never get out of your head. I hope to meet you face to face one day over a beer and perhaps we can maybe create some art together and swap travel stories. I'm heading out once again on the art adventure trail...traveling to Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii this week for a month. You can follow me at: if you'd like. Cheers! -Lisa