Day 6 & 7, Queenstown, New Zealand (Milford Sound Cruise & Kayaking)
Now, if someone would’ve told me before I went to New Zealand that they were going to Milford Sound, I would probably say: “Cool, where’s that?” When Jacob told me that it was a part of the itinerary, I performed an image search on Google and was completely blown away. If it was this beautiful and captivating in pictures, I couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes.
Now, why should this day be any different from any other where we had an activity outside of Queenstown? Why wouldn’t we get stuck watching ‘Dear John’ on the movie channel in our hostel? Why shouldn’t we wait until the last possible minute to peel out of Queenstown? Those are all great questions, and they were all answered as we both realized that we had to shave at least an hour off of our drive to Milford Sound to make it on time for our cruise, and that we (get this) had been driving in the wrong direction for the past 10 minutes. Now, I was in ‘drive like we stole it’ mode and I was assuming that Jacob would tell me things like ‘right’ or ‘left’. Once he realized we were headed in the wrong direction, we U-turned and zoomed back to where we had come from. The talk about whether or not we should scrap this part of the trip came up as we zigzagged through narrow mountain passes, narrowly escaping death once; but we decided that even if the ship had sailed without us, we would find a way to hike around and get some good pictures of the area. It was decided…and I put the rental car to the test.
By the Grace of God or a time portal or just madman driving on my part…maybe a mixture of the three, we made it to the docks 35 minutes before our cruise was going to depart. We sat there, thankful to be alive, and took in the beauty that lay before us. Mountains that, out of nowhere, majestically jutted out of the water were sprawled out in front of us, and surrounded us with an intense sort of splendor.
Our ship’s name was the Milford Mariner and she sat in the harbor with a magnificence that seemed to make the other ships look like posers…o.k. maybe that was written from a bias standpoint, but she was a spectacle in my eyes. We dropped off our luggage in our room, which was surprisingly big for a cruise ship from what Jacob said. We made our way to the mess-deck and sat down with a pilot and his wife and another girl who were all from Great Britain, but who didn’t know each other. I’m so glad that we got placed at that table because none of the other tables were having a fraction of the fun that it seemed we were partaking in. A little later after lunch we went out to the bow to sightsee while the captain called out over the loud-speaker about what we were seeing, adding in clever and hilarious banter when appropriate (which is always). Apparently, the area was going on 7 days without rain, which they actually label as a drought, so the mountainsides which are usually replete with cascading waterfalls, now only had a few. We could see what looked like avalanche scars on the sides of the mountains, which were actually dried up waterfalls, now only trickling instead of roaring. That being said, there were still a handful that flowed faithfully as they have for thousands of years; and the captain even took us in for a really close look on the second day of the cruise.
A little later the first day, after the sightseeing of Milford Sound, we headed out to where the Tasman Sea began, and hopped in some kayaks to explore the caves and outcroppings along the coastline. For the most part this was an enjoyable activity, but for the second part of this little kayak journey, I had a fiesta of sand-flies pestering me and biting my sunburned neck. I honestly think I put off a pheromone or have sweet blood because they seemed to really like some people and leave others alone. A friend that Jacob and I had made on the cruise, Hazel, was nice enough to snap some pictures on her camera of us as we kayaked around. Both Jacob and I were scared to take anything out into the kayaks with us, since our perfect broneymoon trip had been slightly tarnished with my dropping of my iPhone into the Dart River on day 4. We got back on the boat as the captain circled the boat around Milford Sound again, trying to give us different views at different times of the day. It was at this point that we learned that the depth of most of what we were floating over was over 300 meters deep, because of glacial carving (around 1,100 ft if I remember correctly). That evening we watched a comical and informational video/slide show made by the crew about Milford Sound, which also showed just how incredible the area was while it’s rainy. After that we had a fantastic dinner and enjoyed the company of our new UK friends.
That night, Jacob got to see the Southern night sky (including the Southern Cross) for the first time, and I got to be reminded of just how beautiful it truly is. We chatted with some other passengers into the night, and then headed in to get some sleep for the next day, which was to be full of sightseeing on our drive back to Queenstown, since we didn’t do that AT ALL on the way in. 🙂
The next morning, Jacob got to witness this amazing dolphin pod miracle shown in the video below, while I was in the shower listening helplessly as the captain talked about how beautiful they were and listed off facts about the specific Dusky Dolphin species. By the time I got dried off and threw on some clothes, they had submerged or swam off to be awesome somewhere other than right by the boat. We also found out that all of the penguins that frequent the Tasman Sea edge of Milford Sound had literally all taken off 4 days before our cruise. We did however get to see some pretty sweet seal action on the way back to the docks. We watched as a couple of them waddled towards each other, mouth wide open (making, you know…that noise they do), and wrestled for best position on the rock they both inhabited. We got another great view of a beautiful waterfall and of Milford Sound in general, as the boat docked just moments later. We said goodbye to our new friends and set out on the road to try to get some nice scenery shots on our way back.
We stopped several times on the way back and got a chance to see some absolutely incredible scenery that we missed on the way in. I forgot to mention earlier, but to get in and out of the Milford Sound area, there is a mountain tunnel that you have to drive through, and there is a stoplight on either end to let you know if you’re able to drive through at the time or not. You can only go through every 15 minutes. On the entrance to Milford Sound side, there is a group (gang) of vehicle terrorizing parrots, which mostly prey on the rubber lining around the doors on the vehicle. From what Jacob and I heard from the ship’s crew, this behavior is taught by older generations of parrots, which goes to show that hate and terrorism are passed down from generation to generation.
Now little did we know, but after a few stops of breathtaking scenery, it was time to cross another to-do off our list. We picked up our first hitchhiker, an Aussie. Now, this was a first for both of us, so we were a little on edge. Whenever he said he just needed a ride a little ways up the road to where his car was broken down, both Jacob and I were thinking: “Suuuurrrrre ya do…..is that where you’re going to kill us both?” But when we arrived to his broke down van and saw his family waiting for him, we were elated to be alive. Well…we obviously had to do it again. Not an hour later and we see another guy who needed a ride, a Kiwi. This time it was for a lot longer than a few miles and we got to know the guy and to hear his life story AND about his artwork. After a while I looked over at Jacob who hadn’t said anything for a while. I thought he was mad at me for picking up another hitchhiker or for something else I didn’t know about. But it turned out he had a killer migraine and didn’t feel like talking to a body odor emitting hitchhiker or even me for that matter. We dropped our new buddy off at the crossroads to where he was going and made our way back into Queenstown where we rested and then went out for another night of exploring and nightlife, since it was indeed our last night in town.
I think Jacob and I both would agree that we couldn’t have hoped for a better trip. Just the sheer variety of what we did while in New Zealand was incredible. I mean…who skydives, rides in a helicopter, hikes on a glacier, tours glow-worm caves, kayaks down the river in the area where Lord of the Rings was filmed, takes a cruise of Milford Sound- all while meeting tons of people from countless countries around the world…all in a week? It’s fair to say that we were very blessed to be able to go on such a trip, and we thank you all for checking out some of our stories and pictures from our time there!
Queenstown, NZ Day 4 (Hiking Fox Glacier)
Now, if you’ve been reading the past few posts, you’ve most likely seen a common theme of procrastination in getting to our adventures, which yields us putting our lives on the line during hours of driving at maddening speeds on winding two-lane mountainous roads. Today was no different. This time it was a little more miscalculating on our part than blatant disregard to the clock. We thought we had more time. When we finally hit the road and started doing math in our head, we knew we were going to be cutting it close. The thing you need to know about New Zealand, at least in our experience, is that no matter where you’re driving, every new turn brings with it magnificent scenery. Even though we knew we were cutting it close, we still peeled off the road at times, left the car running (doors flung open) and ran to overlook spots to snap pictures of landscapes that no iPhone will ever be able to fully capture. We tried anyway. After about 4 ½ hours of wild driving through some of the most beautiful scenery we’d ever seen, we arrived at the Fox Glacier tour center with 8 minutes to spare. Well done Jacob…and honestly if anyone is ever in need of a get away driver, he’s your man.
The girl working at the counter said something about there may or may not be a helicopter tour of the glacier today because of a cloud system moving in on the area. Not what Jacob and I wanted to hear, but moments later we were relieved when we heard that we would indeed be going up. We loaded up with a group of 4 other people and headed to the helipad. After hearing some history of the glacier and receiving some hiking boots, we headed to the chopper and took off on an 8-10 minute tour of the glacier. This was my first time in a helicopter and it was an absolute blast. We travelled through the air as the pilot told us a little about what we were seeing below us. Meanwhile the lush rainforest sprawled out and opened up to show us the beginning of the Fox Glacier. At the bottom of Fox, there is a cave-like opening where the glacial melt runs through. Had Jacob and I not sprung for the helicopter tour, we might’ve hiked the lower portions of the glacier and seen where the glacier meets the rainforest more closely, but both of us wanted to do it right and hopefully see some caves and arches closer to the middle/top of the glacier. The pilot brought us around and started his decent towards a group of people who were waiting for a ride down. We hopped out and hunkered down as the chopper took off with the people who were waiting just moments before. Bits and pieces of ice flew at us at alarming speeds and I was immediately grateful that I had sunglasses on.
We strapped on our crampons and followed the guide single file up the ice and therein started our 3-hour tour of Fox Glacier. Within the first 15 minutes we saw our first ‘arch’, which would later be completely outshined by many other several times its size. We stopped at a few small waterfalls and streams to bend down and drink in the pure, crystal-clear, unadulterated glacier water. I’ve never tasted better water. Jacob was a little hesitant at first to taste of the streams of goodness as I remember, but group peer pressure gave way to heavenly water tasting victory for him. Not too much time passed and we started to see some legitimate arches and caves, and snapped some pictures in front of them. Arches form, our tour guide told us, because of tension between faster moving ice at the top and more sluggish ice towards the middle and bottom, much like the bump that happens when you put your hands on either side of a piece of paper and push one hand towards the other. The Fox Glacier can be equated to a slow-moving waterfall, because most of the glacier moves between 1 and 3 meters per day, causing new formations on a regular basis and making the tour guides change their paths often. We crawled through a few arch caves and found some pretty cool pools and even got to hear the glacier crack a few times, letting us know that it indeed was moving daily. It was a partly cloudy day, but the sun was out for a good amount of time. At one point, we were told to look behind us, as it was clear enough to see the Tasman Sea. This is probably the only time in our lives where we would be standing on a glacier, looking through a rain forest into a sea. Probably, but not definitely.
Our guide told us that the Fox Glacier is at a low point right now, but that the height of the glacier varied every decade or so. He said that there was a low point back in the 70’s I believe, and then a high point in the 90’s. It was somewhere close to the end of our hike that I realized how sunburnt I was. Neither Jacob nor I had bothered to apply one drop of sunblock. I know, I know…what’s the first thing you put on when you’re getting ready to hike on a glacier for 3 hours? Sunscreen! I knew that tomorrow was going to be rough, and instantly started beating myself up for not being smarter. Jacob didn’t look as bad as I did initially, but later in the day his shade of red darkened like mine had.
The clouds rolled in towards the end of our tour and the guides joked around that they had always wished that one time they would be stranded with a bunch of hikers so that they could finally use the emergency camp set that hadn’t ever been used. I didn’t know that the helicopter wasn’t able to retrieve hikers if there was a substantial cloud cover. The guide said there were crates full of awesome food and drink and even a box of chocolate to hold us over how ever long we needed to be up there. Unfortunately, the clouds didn’t roll in like that, and we sped away safely in the helicopter.
The ride back to Queenstown wasn’t nearly as rushed, but we had actually told our Brazilian friends that we’d meet them at a local pub for a few dart games, so we only stopped a few times for pictures. (one shown below) When we arrived back to Queenstown they were actually an hour late in meeting us, but when they got there, they were stunned to see how red we got and we got to hear a good Brazilian chuckle out of it. We talked about traveling for a few hours, and they completely talked me into going to Rio at some point in my life. Before sleep that night, we picked up some aloe lotion and applied it thoroughly before finally calling it a night. Tomorrow was yet another early morning as we had rescheduled our Dart River wilderness safari ‘Jet Boat’ tour and ‘Funyak’ adventure for that day. Many parts of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ were filmed in the area we would be going, and a large portion of the area itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
To be continued…
I never factored in exactly how much biking I would be doing during this year in a foreign land. I mean…the thought of not crying every time I pumped gas into my car intrigued me, but my mind never ventured to what the alternative would be to not having a car. I never imagined that a modest portion of my memories would include adventures where my bright, shiny, red bicycle accompanied me in my quest. I had a few things to get past before my bike and I could form our neural bond, much like in the movie ‘Avatar’ when the Jake Sully avatar has to form his bond with that flying mountain banshee. I love this part of the movie,(shown below) where Neytiri tells Jake that the banshee who chooses him will try to kill him. I never realized the similarities, and maybe they are only funny to me. I’m adorkable. First, my banshee let me know who was boss when it tossed me over the handlebars and into the street one night, while I was sporting my business suit naturally. Many of you read that story from one of my first blog posts. Secondly, the initial soreness in my ‘region’ from the bike seat, that I have aptly named ‘Biker butt’, which is not to be confused with ‘Biker’s butt’ meaning -“to have a good hind-end from consistent biking”. After the gambit of trials given to me by my bike had ceased (including carrying my bike up a mountain path), our bond was formed… and a new, trusting, symbiotic relationship started to blossom.
Now that I didn’t feel like Bambi walking on ice, I started to open my eyes to the sights, smells, and sounds around me. With as many bikers as there are in Japan, there are substantial causeways built to sustain these masses of riders. It’s almost like a road/sidewalk on either side of every main road with a slightly raised section in the middle to accommodate the blind and to act as a median of sorts. My first few ‘mass bike intermingling experiences’ during rush hour were moments of sheer panic. You know how fish of the sea, or birds of the air pass by one another at blazing speeds with ease, and somehow naturally know where the others will be going? Yeah…that’s how it is. I still don’t know how it works, but I’ve made a rule for myself. Always stay left, and always make a wide stance to establish dominance. There have been countless weaving dances between me and another biker where we keep turning the same way that the other person does until one person either puts their feet down in surrender, or an agreement is unsparingly reached. (I’m adding a video that an Aussie put together that sums up a lot of bike facts, that most Americans would consider strange.)
If I made a list of things I’ve deeply pondered on my treks across this great city, it would…be a long…list. Things like: “I wonder why I never got into martial arts” and “What would happen if the internet shut down….can it shut down?…are there fail safes in place for if there is a ‘web-meltdown‘?” And then there’s the ever-popular: “What can I invent or discover that would automatically make me never have to worry about finances again?….something like velcro, Facebook, or those shape bracelet things that all the kids are wearing”. I have more serious thoughts to, I promise. Thoughts of God, love, pain, purpose, and personal devotion to Christ, thankfully swim through also. I’m not saying that I didn’t think while I was in America, but I believe that living in extreme comfort acts as an anti-catalyst or as an inhibitor to a healthy diet of thinking; and not just ‘thinking’ but of personal progression.
Sometimes I make grand correlations between obstacles I encounter while I’m riding and life itself. There are places in the road, after having gone over them 75 times at least, where I know NOT to go. Things like: blind turns- where it’s possible to run into someone not paying attention, bumps or potholes- where, if ridden over, would yield a hurting butt and a damaged bike, and routes- that if taken during a certain time would be a waste of time, and a hassle.
Are our lives very dissimilar? Are there things that we do that hurt us or someone else every time we do them? Are there themes of pain, and ruts in your daily walk/ride? I submit that there are. Sometimes the purpose of pain is to teach us a better way.
Is there a place that you get to where you can just think? Do you have a daily commute to work? Try shutting off the radio to think, plan, and pray. My good friend Melanie from my old job in Nashville once went on a weekend trip, by herself, to a cabin to think and pray. I envied her and thought to myself, how badly I wanted to recharge and dedicate a weekend to pondering and conversations with God instead of constantly having to plan out my day to the max, and then give God a few mins here and there. From what I’ve found, God doesn’t like to be given a planned amount of time or space. He likes to move in ways that are above our ways of thinking or planning. He’s God, we’re not. Who would’ve ever thought that a bicycle could be used as such an instrument for change?
p.s. I’m now naming my bicycle ‘Banshee’…