Friday, November 5, 2010

Welcome to Paradise: Part II

Every country we have visited has left us awe-struck in such different ways, New Zealand being no exception. From the moment our airplane landed amid snow-capped mountains, we knew we were going to love it. And fall in love we have! We have spent one week in Fiordland on the west coast of NZ's south island. Queenstown and Te Anau are both small, lakeside towns that offer so many activities and loads of hiking!

We set out on the Milford Track, one of NZ's most popular Great Walks. It is a 4-day, 3-night hike to the Milford Sound and is approximately 33.5 miles. Being inexperienced hikers and generally people who aren't used to "roughing it," we weren't really sure what to expect. We bought and rented sleeping bags, rain gear, cooking equipment, food, trekking poles, etc. We stayed in huts for three nights with only freezing cold water and no heat. Since summer has yet to begin, it was still very cold up in the mountains! Nonetheless, it was all part of the experience and we had such a great time!

The hike itself was a big challenge, especially on the third day when it rained and rained. Fiordland is one of the wettest places in the world, and it can get up to nine meters of rainfall in a year. That day, it rained 30ml in about half a day. The ascent to McKinnon Pass was tiring and took our breath away, and the temperature quickly dropped once we were above the tree line and the wind became quite strong. We descended 1,000 meters in three hours using the emergency track due to avalanche danger. We passed a few areas of avalanche debris and had to walk through rushing waters to stay on track! At times, we could hear avalanches in the distance. That was definitely a first! Day four brought sunshine to our 11-mile end. Though it was easier than the previous day, it was still no walk in the park.

When we returned to our hotel in Te Anau, we had never been happier to see a hot shower and luxurious bed. Our muscles may ache, but we are so happy to have completed the track! We can check that off the list. Also, while the rain impeded our view from the top and made walking that much harder, it created the most beautiful cascading waterfalls we have ever seen. It would not have been a true experience on the Milford Track without the rain.

Of course, the Milford Sound and Fiordland are gorgeous and something straight out of a movie. Literally. It's been used in movies like The Lord of the Rings and X-Men. One day here and you can see why as it really is very special. We are so excited to continue exploring the west coast and to see glaciers!

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