Fjord lands

Yesterday we visited one of the most dramatic and celebrated landscapes in the world, and the weather was excellent. But I’m afraid our luck is about to turn. Tomorrow we will start our three-day trek into the New Zealand alpine wilderness, and we’ve heard rumors that a huge storm from the Antarctic is bearing down. My iPhone doesn’t give weather predictions for the Routeburn Track, but the outlook for the area appears ominous.

The good stuff yesterday was extremely good. Seeing the Milford Sound probably would have met my expectations even had it been blustery and rainy. The Fjordlands area of New Zealand gets something like 27 feet of rain per year. Rain pounded the roof of our B&B Tuesday night, but by dawn, it had stopped, and Steve and I made the two-hour drive from the town of Te Anau over dry roads. We’d stayed in Te Anau because the only places to sleep at Milford Sound are in an RV or at the absurdly expensive Milford Sound Lodge (or, there is ONE other private hotel reserved for those who have completed hiking the Milford Track). The Milford Sound (actually a fjord, not a sound, because a glacier created it, rather than a river) is a narrow finger of the Tasman Sea that pokes into the forbidding mountains that muscled their way to the very edge of New Zealand’s southwesternmost coastline. It feels like one of the true ends of the earth.

The final leg of our drive plunged and twisted past rocky faces streaked with an unreal network of waterfalls… …then through a long, creepy, one-way, unreinforced tunnel crudely hacked through the mountain more than 70 years ago.Still we made it to the terminal on the water without incident, checked in for our boat ride, and shortly before 9 am trooped onto the Pride of Milford for our 90-minute breakfast cruise.

I found the TV sets mounted throughout the ship’s lounges to be hilarious.Happily, no one was sitting and watching the televised scenery, and really, how could anyone not want to drink in the real-life version of scenes such as these?

The weather got better and better throughout the day, which was great because on our return, it freed us to stop and enjoy sights we’d blasted by earlier, when we were racing to reach the ship on time. We hiked through pristine forest dripping with moss…

…breathed in the vapor rising from water racing through ravines…

…and admired the native bird life…

And the wonderful kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, known locally to be as mischievous as monkeys

We sat on the shore of this lake, marveling at the absence of any sign of human life except for us.

A bit further down the road, a set of ponds mirrored the magnificent mountains, the plants bursting with new growth, the contrast between cottony clouds and azure skies.

Now it’s Thursday morning. We’re back in Te Anau, but we’ll return to Queenstown in a few hours. We will have the briefing for our trek at 3:45 this afternoon. We’ll be bused to the trailhead shortly after dawn tomorrow morning (Friday, 11/7), and an hour or two later, we’ll lose electronic access to the larger world until our return Sunday afternoon. By then, I should have plenty to report.