September 29, 2012

Adjective Overload

From the West Coast of the South Island, we followed the blue candy-colored Haast River until we hit Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka…and entered a whole new New Zealand. Central Otago is a stark difference from the rainforests and lush vegetation we had seen so far. There are golden grasslands. There are gorgeous lakes with mountains rising straight up from the shores. This was the beginning of adjective overload. This was the South Island grandeur that we had been hearing about!

Wanaka would be a great place to live if you don’t have to worry about the whole job thing. Jim, who runs a joint bike and housewares shop (???), tells us it’s a hard place to make a living. He’s going to be our litmus test if and when we come up with an idea that would be perfect for Wanaka. For now I'll just keep fixating about my little country dream home.

Wanaka is normally sunny most days out of the year…except the two days that we visited. We did a rainy hike up Diamond Lake to Rocky Mountain Point for amazing vistas over Lake Wanaka. There should have been 360 degree views, but the clouds were covering the mountains. On the other hand we probably saw eight rainbows…and Shania Twain’s sprawling acreage.

From the relaxed shores of Wanaka it was a short drive to the adrenaline scene in Queenstown

The vibe is like that of a Colorado ski town, with Warren Miller movies on loop in burger bars. Queenstown is for crazies. The city has branded itself as the adventure capital of the world, and at any moment, you can look around and see someone flying over, racing down, or throwing themselves off of something. We wanted to try something we’ve never done before, so we went jetboating down the Shotover River.

Jetboats were invented in New Zealand in the 1950's and are propelled by a jet of water ejected from the back. They can run through as little as 100 millimeters of water, maneuver on a dime, and have stadium seating. The drivers are basically like race car drivers on water with 800 horsepower speed boats. Our driver zoomed us up to 80 kilometers/hour past cliff walls that we could reach out and touch. He threw 360s with tree branches and rocks all around. We got wet. We found out afterwards that our driver used to be a hairdresser. That’s quite a career jump…we were extra grateful that we made it out safely after learning that little fun fact.

About 10 miles outside of Queenstown is the Kawerau Gorge Suspension Bridge, where AJ Hackett invented commercial bungee jumping in 1988. We had no desire to bungee ourselves, but we sure did want to watch other people throw themselves from the place where it all began. We drove out there in pouring rain thinking that nobody would be jumping on such a miserable day. But sure enough, we found a constant pipeline of jumpers. One right after another…over and done in about 2 minutes total. 

North of Queenstown is where the majority of the Lord of the Rings  and The Hobbit  movies were filmed. We watched baby lambs run and play among the hilly hobbit houses. Life here looks simple and happy.

This is also the start of another Great Walk called the Routeburn Track. We did a 5-hour hike alongside a crystal clear aqua river up to the Falls Hut before turning around.

After the hike we hightailed it out of the Queenstown area in search of sun. It was like we were storm chasers, except we were on the pursuit of good weather. We dropped all of our plans and headed for Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park. Of the national park’s 15 fiords, Milford Sound is arguably the most famous destination in all of New Zealand. Ironically, it’s also one of the hardest to get to.

The road from Te Anau to Milford Sound is known as one of the world’s great drives. It is two hours of bright blue rivers, glacial cut valleys, plunging waterfalls, and steep mountain faces which make you go WOW. From the lookout at Key Summit, I wanted to hug Mount Christina she was so beautiful.

Right before getting to Milford Sound, you have to descend through the most ghetto tunnel we’ve ever seen – no lanes, pitch black, and water rushing in on the sides. This time of year the drive is also littered with avalanche debris…yikes!

Trying to chase down good weather here is relative. Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world. On average it rains 264 inches a year, and we’ve heard it can get up to 551 inches! On a day when it’s raining buckets, the drive alone has hundreds of waterfalls that are hundreds of meters high.

Milford Sound is actually inaccurately named because it was formed by a glacier (fiord) and not a river (sound). That’s pretty obvious when you see just how steep the mountains rise out of the water.

Here was an amazing thing for us to think about. In Yosemite Valley, we could see everything that the glacier carved. We stood in the valley and we knew we were at the bottom. Since the Milford Sound is not drained, we could only see HALF of what the glacier carved. If it ever drained, those steep mountains would look twice as tall. Now that would be a sight to see!   

We took a cruise around Milford Sound on a very blustery day to see it up close. There are waterfalls everywhere, and in some places the wind is so strong that they blow upwards instead of downwards. 
Towards the end of the cruise we passed by Bowen Falls, which has been closed to hikers for the last 10 years due to rock fall concerns. When the captain of our boat told us to jump the barrier, we figured it was okay. This was by far our highlight of the Milford Sound.

There have been a handful of times in New Zealand when it as actually almost hurt to turn our backs on something because it was that beautiful. This was one of those moments. Beyond adjectives.

No comments:

Post a Comment