Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What the heck is a fiord, anyway?

It has been a busy month! We apologize for keeping everyone waiting for so long!

Recently, we made the trip to Milford Sound. Like almost all trips in New Zealand, the drive is half of the adventure. We started off the day taking the highway north towards Milford. Guess what? The view and the scenery were absolutely beautiful. The road was windy and narrow (you may have noticed is a common theme.) The drive may only take an hour and half but it seems that the terrain changes with every kilometer. One moment you’ll be on a small stretch of road that cuts through a plain with the mountains on the horizon, the next moment you’ll find yourself plunging into a patch of forest. To make the most of this breathtaking drive, there are several “lookout points,” or areas where you can pull over to take pictures. Actually, there are enough lookout points that some people suggest giving yourself up to 3 hours for the trip to Milford Sound.

During a stretch of road that began climbing through the mountains, there was a lookout point about 100 yards off the main road where we made our third or fourth stop for a photo opportunity. Needing to take care of some business, I scurried off past the tree line while Jen got the camera ready. On my way back, I began to worry because Jen was nowhere in sight. Nearing the car, I noticed that there were three birds hopping up and down on our car picking at the windshield wipers. This marked our first experience with the Kea.

Kea birds are extremely curious and sometimes aggressive birds that have been known to steal food and tear apart backpacks in search of food. They sort of resemble overgrown parrots with much sharper beaks. As these three birds hopped all over the car, I discovered that Jen was stuck inside it and was video taping them. A few other backpackers enjoyed taking pictures of the funny birds while I was able to shoo them off of the car. When the kea began bouncing around chasing each other and quickly became interested in another vehicle, Jen was able to escape captivity.

The lookout point was a cliff that looked off into the forest covered mountains, which we thought was a great opportunity for some jump pictures. We spent some time taking turns doing jump pictures with this beautiful background and huddling over the camera laughing at one another. When we were about to move along, Jen whispered to me to check out some other tourists that joined us at the lookout point. My jaw dropped when I noticed that the tourists were doing jump pictures! I stifled some laughter while this small group tried, very poorly I might add, to capture a jump picture time and time again. We got into the car and started to back out when Jen alerted me that the trend was catching on all over the place. Another group of tourists were also copying our “jump picture tradition.” Sometimes it’s hard being this cool.

We continued our way to the Milford Sound crossing a small mountain range where we drove through the famous Homer tunnel that cut straight through the mountains. Once we made it to Milford Sound, we quickly bought our tickets for a cruise and started on a short walk towards the bay. On the boat, we were able to really enjoy the overcast and cloudy weather. We weren’t that disappointed because we already knew what we were getting into. The Milford Sound is known for perpetual rainfall and is known as one of the wettest areas of the world. We found out, actually, that Milford Sound isn’t even a sound. It’s a fiord, which is a valley in the mountains that has been carved out by a glacier and reaches the ocean. The cruise continued out on one side for 40 minutes until it reached the ocean. Then it turned around and headed back to the bay along the opposite side. We made it to the ocean and began to turn around when the captain got on the intercom to tell us that everyone should rush to the left side of the boat to see penguins. Our penguin count is now up to three! The boat turned around once again to head back to the bay and passed by some amazing cliffs, mountains, and waterfalls. We also saw about a dozen more sea lions doing what they do best: nothing.

Once we stepped off the boat we began our journey back to Te Anau. With another 279 pictures in the bank, it was another adventure well worth it.

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