Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Milford Sound!!!

It was just another quite day in Wanaka when I took my typical route down the hill into town on my skateboard. It's a perfect hill - I don't have to push once and I roll all the way into the middle of town to the lake and the skatepark (going home is a different story though...). Cruising past the lakefront, my English friends Amy, Mel, and Leigh caught me flying by and flagged me down and within minutes I had made agreed to tag along with Leigh and Mel for a night in Queenstown and on to Milford Sound with Amy the next day!
So plans were made! The next morning at 8am we headed up the Crown Range pass to Queenstown for an awesome day in the adventure capital of New Zealand. Hiking up this little mountain we passed bungee jumping platforms, zip lines, para gliders, crazy downhill mountain bike tracks, and the luge track which is what we were headed for. A sweet box-car derby style downhill racetrack with banking turns and plunging drops, it was awesome!! The only problem was I didn't think to wear gloves and the fierce wind from my blinding speed cut straight to the bone! A small price to pay I suppose... We spent the night at a friends house eating hot stew, drinking wine and watching the New Zealand soccer team pull out a last minute goal to tie the game in their second World Cup match!
Amy and I woke up early (with a bit of a wine hangover) but made it out the door in the freezing cold to begin our adventure to Milford Sound. We rode a bus through the fog of Te Anau and out into the wilds of Fiordland. The drive alone was jaw dropping. We stopped to drink from glacial runoff creeks, and at mirror ponds reflecting snow capped peaks, and to hike around the bizarre sculptured rocks of The Chasm. We drove through a huge tunnel drilled through a mountainside that opened into one the most epic valleys I've ever seen!
When we finally arrived to the waterfront at Milford Sound to board a ferry and tour the waters we sat awe struck in the shadow of Mitre Peak. The tallest mountain in the world that rises straight from the ocean, Mitre Peak is apparently the most photographed mountain in New Zealand. I certainly did my part to keep it's record, logging a total of about 300 pictures throughout the day!
I honestly don't have words to describe the scenery in Milford Sound. It was by far the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Waterfalls pouring down from craggy cliffs rising straight out of the ocean and all of it topped with fresh white snow! The mist forming in coves and valleys gave and extra veil of mysterious depth to it all. We sailed around the sound and out into the Tasman Sea where Captain James Cook sailed nearly 300 years ago and not once but twice, completely mistook the area for a small bay and didn't bother exploring it. He really missed out...
We made a stop in a floating underwater observatory to gaze at fish and coral usually only found in far deeper waters but surviving there due to the silt and runoff of the hundreds of waterfalls. We even managed to catch a double rainbow from end to end! We sailed right under it and a rare blue sky.
The sun began setting behind Mitre Peak and into the sea as the ferry pulled back into the harbor. I couldn't leave! I really didn't want to get off that boat and head back home. That place struck a chord in me and I feel like I left a part of myself there when I finally forced myself into the bus. I immediately got out my journal to try to document the feeling but I was totally speechless. There are just no words to describe how special that place is. The only thing I could remember was the story of Donald Sutherland (not the actor) who sailed into Milford Sound in the 1800's as a member of the English Navy and was so blown away he vowed to return. 11 years later he hiked the 5 day trek into the area and spent the next two years camping and tramping with only his dog as a companion. He eventually visited a city, found his future wife and the two of them moved back to build a cabin and begin a small settlement surrounded by the most stunningly beautiful scenery in the world!
Sounds like a pretty good plan to me...
I'll definitely be back!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

An Epic Climb Up Roy's Peak

Just returned from finally climbing Roy's Peak. It was epic!! 1,257 meters from the bottom to the top- it felt like it was straight up all the way! I started off with Ewout but 20 mins in we'd met a really great guy from Germany who we hiked with the rest of the way. The trail started off with no warmup whatsoever. It's just steep switchbacks past green slopes and grazing sheep. The trail was all green grass too- it looked manicured or like it should've been in Ireland. Snow slowly began showin up along the sides of the trail about 1/3 of the way up and before we knew it we were sliding around trying to keep a solid footing on the steep path. It got a bit easier once the snow became deep and soft, at least you could get a solid step. But soon the snow was so deep it felt like we were climbing Mt Everest or something! All you could take were baby steps. Meanwhile the sun was shining and the view just kept getting better and better! The lake finally came into full view as well. I don't think I'd seen 1/10th of it before- it wraps around a bay and then stretches soooo far north- it's unbelievably huge!
The final push to the top was by far the toughest part. We were on a thin ridge with cliffs on either side, waist deeps snow and a howling wind blowing snow and ice everywhere! It was totall trecherous but really made you feel alive. 
By the time we got to the very top it felt like we'd made a seriously epic accomplishment! There was a tiny weather station and a little wooden box to sit on both perched on the tiny area, maybe one square yard across, that made up the very top. The view up there was a practical white out of clouds and wind but every once in a while the fog would part enough to see just how high we were. We stayed long enough for a sandwich and a few photos and then began the slippery sliding route back down. 
By the end of it all I ws definitely feeling it. A long three hours straight up and another 2 stumbling down with tired feet and knees. Actually I felt like my body held up well despite the taxing conditions- so if I can tackle that I think I'm good to go anywhere. It was certainly nice to come home to a hot shower, warm fire and a cold beer though!
Not bad for a day's work!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Two Weeks In

I've been in Nz for about two weeks now. Spent a few days in Christchurch which was a very English feeling city with a cool old cathedral. But I came to Nz for the nature so I quickly made friends with a great guy who was at my hostel -he had just inherited a tiny old Fiat Uno and was driving it to Wanaka the next day. He invited me along so 2 days after landing I was off on an adventure driving through the mountains with a Belgian guy I'd met the night before!
I've since found a nice little house in the center of town surrounded by snow capped mountains and 5 mins from the lake, living with two Canadian sisters, an Australian surfer and a German ski instructer! Today I think I may have landed a job on one of the ski mountains so that will start up in a week or so. In the meantime I'll be going for hikes, riding a nice road bike I've inherited and rolling around the skatepark (and maybe drinking a few Brewskis in the evenings:)!