Monday, January 10, 2011

The Things You Learn By Traveling

We are doing a Queenstown sabbatical for 2 nights to venture on...YES, you guessed it, a bus trip.Yet, this is no ordinary bus trip; it includes a cruise besides. What we learned is that when you book on the budget bus lines, detailed information is scarce. They gave us 2 different departure times, both at times when only those early birds are worm hunting. We were not positive of the pick up point either. 

Being gone for 2 nights did not require suitcases, so they are locked up in Queenstown for our return. We only have backpacks for our journey. Still, we were insecure about getting to downtown in time to catch the bus IF it were indeed coming at 6:20am. If it really is the 7:15 time, we are good. No one could say definitively. There was not enough time to shoot off an e-mail to the company to check. Better early than sorry, so we took a taxi.

The shuttle shows at 7:10, a sixteen person vehicle. We fill it with sixteen people. Once underway, the driver introduces himself "Good morning everyone. My name is Blister and I am your driver/guide for the day." Blister? Who knows, maybe his mother had canker sores when he was born. As the ride progressed, it turned out his name is Lister or for we N. Americans Lester. Someone could make big money teaching these Kiwis how to speak English. So close, yet so far!

Every thing Lester said, he repeated twice. We were not sure if he only imagined he said it the first time as a rehearsal and said it a second time just to be sure or if he were hard of hearing and did not hear himself the first time. Basically, our trip included driving across the Southern Alps, going through the Homer Tunnel, a 1.2km tunnel drilled through solid rock. We stopped in the Eglinton Valley, where there is an ancient alpine forest of beech trees and gushing waterfalls. We had a photo opportunity at the stunning Mirror Lakes and we took a fifteen minute nature walk across The Chasm created by the Cleddau River. This was like a hop-on, hop-off bus for most of the day. We were all collected by 7:40 am and our cruise was not until 2pm. There were lots of sites to see on our 3 hour bus ride. Blister/Lister/Lester did a fine job of selling the area. 

The real problem is sensory overload. There is no way I am going to remember this mountain range was discovered by Captain Cook, this one by Captain Fry, and the other by Ansel Adams. They are all gorgeous, now leave me alone. Then Lester holds his arm out indiscriminately saying that mountain that looks like a Bishop's miter... That is very cultural specific making it difficult to pinpoint. I think he meant the one that resembled my knee when I was 9 years old. The bare patch of trees looks like the scabs I was plagued with from scraping my knee in perpetuity. 

By the time we boarded the boat, I was filled with facts, but like cheap glue, they were not sticking to me. There was more incredible beauty as we floated through. Milford Sound is world-renowned as a natural wonder, but honestly I had never heard of it before this trip. Through Fiordland the mountains pulse up straight out of the sea and just like icebergs their greatest girth is still underwater. I could be wrong, but I believe the commentary said one mountain was 732 meters high from the sea level, but there was still another 1,500 meters under the water. Luxuriant trees clutch on to the sheer rock walls taking root in whatever cracks in the stone they can find. At some point the roots give way to gravity from the top heavy tree and it crashes down taking dozens of other trees in its path with it. Multiple waterfalls pour down hundreds of meters before reaching the sea. One waterfall is three times higher than Niagara Falls.

The Maoris believe this landscape was created by Tu Te Raki Whanoa, a godly figure who carved the fiords with a magical adze. Milford Sound is Piopiotahi in Maori. 

At the end of the cruise, Lester was waiting. He had marketed the helicopter and plane rides excessively on the way over. He finally convinced a young couple to take the helicopter ride. Except for us, we were going back to Te Anau, the rest were going back to Queenstown.

We have 2 nights here in the YHA. The town is populated by 1,200 souls, but that number explodes during the summer. People come here for fishing, boating, many outdoor activities. Unless you are local or can travel with your own equipment, you will pay a premium for it here. They wanted NZ$295. per person for the helicopter ride. In Wellington, it was $95, but did not include a stopover on a glacier. 

This is one of my favorite YHAs so far. The room is large, private bathroom, good sized kitchen, and good staff. The local market had tortillas, re-fried beans, and the spices for tacos and burritos. Excellent.
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