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Archive for February 14th, 2008

Sound to fiord

Howden to Milford Sound

Around 2am it sounded like a fire hose was directed on the roof of our hut. The low pressure in the Tasman Sea had arrived and with it the rain and more rain. I figured the next 24 hours would be spent at Howden as the prospect of tramping through a deluge producing an inch of rain an hour did not sound particularly rewarding. Besides we had a full extra day built into our schedule – who cares, and I am sure we can borrow a bible to read if we get bored At 7am we were clouded in heavy but the rain had stopped – let’s give it an hour then decide. 8am and we were walking toward the car park (parking lot) outside of Milford Sound with a plan to hitch a ride, and catch a boat out into the eighth wonder of the world. After that we had no clue or plan. At the park we saw a ray of sun and hoped the low had passed. We walked to the “wrong side” of the road just as a miniature Suzuki rental car approach and quickly pulled over to our outstretched thumbs. Out stepped a very attractive women and another older woman who appeared to be our benefactor’s mother. With some rearranging, and our packs on our laps we squeezed into the car and headed to Milford as we tried to communicate in a New Zealand, American, Italian language sort of way. Two female Italian tourist pick up two male hikers; ok maybe questionable but it certainly helps continue my affirming that there is a lot of good in the world. As the clouds gave way, sheer cliffs appeared with hundreds of rain induced falls cascading to the roaring rivers below.

We had lunch at the café and booked passage on the smallest (75 people) boat in the Sound. We are presently in the terminal as the tour buses pour in from Queenstown with their very well “kept” clientele. We on the other hand had our 3 days on the trail look going – complete with muddy clothes, unshaven faces, and hiker stench. I could not help but feel a little bit superior or self righteous knowing we got her on foot and through the kindness of others.

Yesterday we met a 30 something at the McKenzie hut. She was out front of her friends and joined us for lunch. The conversation turned towards travel and her somewhat boastful tone turned into something less when most of her “plan to go” destinations were met with John’s seriously humble….you should, it was very nice when I was there response. But the funniest line was when she described a great romantic book she was reading and she was just gushing about it when she saw my book lying next to my pack and asked what I was reading. I was really embarrassed now because this nice and cute women was trying so hard to fit in (I know, I do this a lot myself and could see me in her) that I did not want to tell her what I was faking reading. Anyway, I simply turned the book over and she saw that I was carrying a book by the Dali Lama and she literally burst out saying “oh my god, I feel so shallow”. It was simply perfect; we all laughed as once again the trail served as a great equalizer in helping us we realize that all the posturing was not necessary and only distracts from getting to really know people. John said later that he did not have the heart to tell her how disappointed I had been in the spiritual leader of Buddhism’s book because it did not have pictures or more importantly no pages to color by the numbers.

I have never seen the other seven wonders of the world but Milford Sound is a nearly beyond description. Over a thousand waterfalls – bottle nose dolphins –sheer cliffs – fern gardens – – – The boat pulled under a huge fall and we filled glasses of rain water and toasted the Sound which is actually a fiord (carved by a glacier whereas a Sound is carved by a river).

Stepping off the boat we said our farewells to some nice people John had met from San Diego California earlier in our 3 hour tour. Fifteen minutes later as we had our thumbs out in an attempt to get back to the trail when we saw a rental motor home heading our way. No luck with these types as they are typically American tourist and they never give anyone, particularly not tramps, a ride as they are all paranoid. The motor home stops and our boat mates from before offer a lift in their land ship. John moved up front and chatted with mom and dad and I sat in the back with the most wonderful 6th grader. We shared stories about our adventures had and adventures planned and our ride became too short as we said good bye again and headed back into the mist towards the hut. We took a detour to check out a nature hike above tree line (3000 ft, welcome to the southern hemisphere) where a remarkable flora exists in a harsh but very very wet landscape.

From plants to geopolitics, we had a great evening in Howden hut discussing the losing of one’s job as a result of a mega merger; German couple’s company was purchased by Lucent Technologies and they were enjoying their severance pay in NZ. Completely versed in U.S. economic, domestic and foreign policy, I was again humbled by the depth of knowledge of the travelers I am meeting, and I was stuck regarding how narrow, my own included, Americans’ world views are. When you are sitting in a back country hut in NZ and a way beautiful German woman is explaining to you in great detail and in perfect English how the U.S. sub-prime market is impacting global markets – you notice and tell yourself to read more.

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