Road trip! This past weekend I decided to take a trip to Milford Sound with some of the people in my flat complex. There were ten of us, so we ended up renting two cars. These cars are not the spacious, gas guzzling cars with the huge trunk and added leg space that are found easily in the United States. These were two tiny compact cars with about a two-foot deep trunk. When I first saw them and then took a look at all of the luggage that was laying splattered on the ground outside, I did not know how we were going to get both our bags AND us to fit inside the car. After careful planning and maneuvering (I always knew tetris would come in handy for something) we got everything to fit…barely. If we did not know each other well before, by the end of this five hour trip, packed in the car like sardines, we definitely would by the time we got there.
Back in the U.S. I live five hours away from my university. However, if you said it took me five days to get there instead, I would not be surprised. The road just seems to continue on forever. In contrast, the five hour car ride here seemed to fly by – as fast as five hours can. I think this partly has something to do with the fact that I can stare out of the window for hours on end and see views that stretch my imagination. I seriously thought at one point that we were driving in a movie set and what I was seeing was just a painted backdrop. The lighting cast upon the mountains by the sun made the mountains look painted instead of 3D.
We arrived at our campsite after the sun had set, so we had to set up using the light from our headlamps. Those sure do come in handy. If you ever think about going camping, definitely do not leave without bringing along a headlamp.
I cannot get over how beautiful the stars are. That is probably the best part about camping here. You have not actually seen the stars until you camp out in a remote place with no light pollution. They are so mesmerizing. It blows my mind to think that the stars are always out there, waiting to be seen. They are all sitting there hidden behind the light when I am in Illinois (or even Dunedin), with only the brightest shining through to my eyes.
Eventually I decided I should probably try and get some sleep so I would not be tired for tramping in the morning. After a terrible night of sleep (caused by being cold, sleeping on a slope, and a rock hard ground) I got up early to get my day started. I was eager to see Milford Sound. I had heard from so many people it was a place I had to visit.
Before beginning our tramp, we ate a picnic lunch with a view of Milford Sound. I enjoy trying new foods, and one of the other guys on the trip brought Marmite with him. I had never had Marmite, so I wanted to give it a try. If you have not had marmite before, just go ahead and skip trying this new food. Marmite looks like oil, smells horrendous, and then if you can get past what it looks like and smells like, your tongue will not be happy. It tastes disgusting! I guess it is an acquired taste?
Unfortunately, the sandflies also decided to show up uninvited to lunch. For those of you lucky enough to not have experienced Sandflies, they are tiny flies, kind of like fruit flies (ok, so not so bad right? Wrong!) If there is one around, he decides to bring his entire town with him and swarm around your face and body. Meanwhile, nothing tastes better to them than human flesh (or so it seems). Their bites hurt, then they itch and leave a welt like mosquitos do.
After lunch was what I had been waiting for since I had squeezed myself uncomfortably into the car yesterday. It was the Gertrude Saddle hike. This hike did not disappoint! First of all, it was unlike any tramp I have done before. When we first began the tramp, I saw a mountain off in the distance and thought how majestic looking it was. Turns out I ended up hiking up boulders along the side of the mountain! I even got to rock climb up a waterfall!
Although New Zealand is rich in plant life, it is fairly devoid of large animal life. However, during the tramp I heard the native Kea (a type of parrot with a very sharp beak) calling off in the distance. It got better though. Out of nowhere, six Kea flew a foot above my outstretched hand, almost landed on my shoulder, and then let us take their picture from maybe two feet away from them. They were extremely curious, which none of us were expecting. Then, they began calling to another group of Kea that were across the gigantic gorge that has been carved out by a glacier. It was quite phenomenal listening to them call back and forth.
Hitchhiking is a fairly normal thing to do here. It is a cheaper way to get places and normally if you stand out on the road, I have heard you get picked up in a matter of minutes (Don’t worry Mom and Dad, I haven’t actually done it myself). Last night while we were in Te Anau, which is about two hours or so away, there were two Germans who were about my age looking for a ride. Unfortunately, we could not help them out because we were packed full. The two Germans had spent the past couple of months traveling around New Zealand, to wherever they could get a ride. We could not believe it when we passed them on the trail up to Gertrude Saddle the next day! What are the odds we would be in the same place at the same time! Later on that day, we met a lovely older couple from Dunedin. When we were done with our hike, we saw the German kids looking to hitch a ride again. Still, our car was packed. However, the kind older couple gave them a ride. It was like the ending of a fairy tale. All these random people we had met were coming together to help one another. That was pretty sweet.
After the hike, we drove to a new campsite and had to set up camp again in the dark. We made dinner, which was pasta with red peppers and sausages. We even got a fire going to roast marshmallows over. After a long day of tramping, food never tastes better!
The next morning, I woke to birds happily chirping and a young boy telling his mother over and over again that he loved her, a few tents down from us. Meanwhile, the sun slowly made its ascent above the mountaintops. The wind was howling overhead which caused the beech trees to sway and creek. However, the trees did a magnificent job of keeping the wind from visiting us inside the stomach of the forest. The weather again this weekend could not have gotten much better. The sun was constantly shining and rain clouds decided to travel to other destinations. The ground in the forest where we slept was comfortably squishy and I felt like a caterpillar wrapped up snuggly inside a cocoon in my sleeping bag.
We finished off our trip in Fiordland with a tramp to Marian Lake. It was supposed to be an easy hike. What we found, was not what any of us were expecting, but since we were here to hike, we were happily surprised to find it more taxing than originally anticipated. We climbed and climbed up through a dazzling rainforesty type forest. Yesterday I used smooth boulders as steps to support me in my ascent, but today I was using the strong roots of trees. Just like people, each tramp I have been on has had a unique personality that I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know.
The roots became our stair steps
The magnificent Lake Marian
The View of Milford Sound from Gertrude Saddle