What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees,
Up, up it goes,
And yet never Grows??
“Easy” said Bilbo, “Mountain I suppose”
We followed the small footsteps of Bilbo Baggins- the Hobbit and set out for our camping trip to the Fiord Land National Park, to visit the famed picture perfect Milford Sound located in the southern island of New Zealand. As per the Lord of the Rings Trilogy – Middle Earth found much of it’s home around this fiord region. Our multi generational group of eight had two five year olds and my father in law pushing seventy.
The pivot of the National park was the town of Te Anau on the bank of Eponymous lake. The 117-km drive from there to the National park hedged in by sea and mountains was an Alpine driving nirvana. The subtropical rain forests growing at the feet of glistening glaciers were nature’s wonder. This drive turned our fantasy into reality. We got lost along a roller coaster road on the South Island of New Zealand. Every turn brought fresh rewards, constantly changing vistas, rolling meadows, water falls spilling down rock faces, tantalizing forest tracks and remote settlements where life moves to its own rhythm.
We would soon be at the Milford Sound but it was quite impossible to predict who- knows-what weather would greet us upon arrival. Despite the complicated logistics, things seemed to be going well for Dad. Although he rarely bothered to record his moods (aside from an occasional announcement that he needed to use the restroom), he appeared to be a man well pleased with the world. Everywhere we paused we stared in disbelief. Finally, we arrived at the Road sheer- Rock wall near Homer tunnel, surrounded by towering mountains and vertical rocks. The rain produced several long streams of water, most of which spilled over the edges of rock face in a free fall. Some flows were heavy enough to reach the valley floor as a steady torrent, while others turned into mist and vapour.
I had kept a studious silence about the approaching rain and cloud that we would inevitably encounter. On arriving at the camp site, we downed our backpacks and pouches and pitched the tents. The heavy sky soon sent down a constant drizzle which later turned into a torrential downpour. The wind picked up and we found ourselves amidst a tempest of sorts.
Our tents collapsed when the pegs blew off and we were out running around late evening in our pyjamas trying to re-stake and prop them up. While Dad, Subha and I held them down from inside, Arnab and Balaji placed our bags at the corners of the tents to prevent them from blowing away. It was quite a task to stake down the tents in such high winds. The children were a confused lot; much too surprised to make a fuss.
We were well soaked and quite miserable. Even the umpteen shots of vodka had failed to brighten our spirits. Rain continued as we zipped our jackets and huddled for warmth.
The restaurant in the camp was closed, kids were starving and all we had were a few small packs of snacks. At this moment, Dad produced as if by magic a large pack of Moori (puffed rice), an Indian savoury snack. It is still a mystery as to how he had managed to smuggle that pack of Moori into New Zealand right under the noses of the rather sullen looking customs officials. Be that as it may, that bag of puffed rice was a savior as at least the kids had something to munch.
As the sun came out over the hills, the troubled night when “all Nature seemed to frown” was soon forgotten. The weather report read “A very fine day”. Our spirits regained a bit of warmth after being dampened by the wind and showers of the previous evening. The sun rose over the beautiful green valley. After breakfast we headed out for the boat cruise.
We were sailing on a lake created by a glacier that pushed the ground several feet deep before melting away. The water in the lake was so clear that I could tell where the air ended and the water began. As the mist disappeared, we sailed across the lake. The trees on both sides were overgrown with moss and, creeping vegetation and lianas like those in the tropical forest.
Cold stinging meltwater from old snowfield plummets over a cliff, scouring clean whatever lies beneath. Deep inside the Sound, the Mitre peak stands as a sentinel to the lake. Soaked by the spray of waterfall, we enjoyed the ethereal view of the Mitre peak. Strings of waterfall cocooned inside the rain forest. Most of these waterfalls had no names. Many of these falls appear suddenly, as the ponds higher up the mountain slopes overflow with meltwater or sudden rain and spill over the cliffs edges.
I caught the play of the sunlight and shadow on the blue lake as I walked along the deck taking photos, each new composition inspired by the last. It had been a hard work for over an hour and as I was adjusting the focus for one last brilliant shot of the fall, heard footsteps. I turned and saw a group of seals basking on a huge rock in the fjord. How they climbed that big rock is still a mystery to me.
When I had read about middle earth of J. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, I was not aware of the basic laws of science and had accepted the written , thus there was still room for imagination. I felt that I had entered the book when I came upon this unearthly scene at the sound. I could hear the dull roar of distant waterfalls through the surrounding haze. Suddenly a very loud flock of birds flew piercing the fog with confidence. Moments like these set the pace for the day and made the trip worthwhile and memorable.
A 2-hour ride on the ferry brought us back to the head of the lake. The sea was unusually tranquil. I wanted to linger but deep down knew that I had to continue my journey.
The owner of the restaurant opened a bottle of local Obsidian red and we drank it on the deck. Shortly after, he emerged regally from the kitchen to report on his work in progress and served a plate of chicken fingers to tide us over. Halfway through the meal, ten-year-old Rishab leant over to me and whispered with trepidation, “Are we again sleeping in a tent tonight”?
It was time to enjoy the luxury of just lazing about and enjoying the feeling of being there, amidst the slowly setting sun playing hide and seek with the clouds, changing their colours. The planet Venus appeared and so did the stars, details on the hills were getting hazy, and the horizon had giant sleeping shapes.
Milford Sound- the eighth wonder of the world!
Written byDebjani Mukherjee
Debjani Mukherjee specializes in large project supply chain deliverables for oil and gas and energy segments. She is a successful Management Professional with varied experiences over 19 years, covering India, Central Asia , Middle East , West Africa and North America . She is a MBA from Edinburgh Business School, married, mother of a 11 year old girl and lives in Ontario Canada. She loves nature, enjoys adventure trips and expeditions, playing golf ,reading books and writing on her blog debzizhere.blogspot.com