For me Yosemite has always been my gold standard for the best that nature can be, with Zion National Park close behind. The Milford Sound changed all that, and had me seriously evaluating if I’ve ever been anywhere more beautiful.
The hike up to Gertrude Saddle was the highlight, although coming out of the forest to find perfect mountain reflections on the emerald Lake Marion wasn’t too shabby either. We opted not to do the boat ride around the sounds, in keeping with the theme of being hipster travelers, but the sunset from the dock was worth all the sandfly bites. Maori legend says that a god carved out the sounds with his spear, and when his wife saw how beautiful they were she sent sandflies to keep humans from forgetting their mortality, and I think that sounds about right.
From Milford area we drove back up to Queenstown, where I enjoyed having access to some city amenities (beers! hot showers! flat whites!), but did not enjoy the hoards of other tourists. We spent the week alternating between hiking and climbing as usual, with the climbing at Wye Creek being my favorite of the entire trip.
I knew our luck with weather couldn’t last for ever, and sure enough, once rain decided to settle in, it really stuck around. Almost overnight the weather turned, and stayed, apocalyptic, and there seemed to be nowhere to go to escape it.
We did our best to make the most of things, visiting the Moeraki Boulders and Curio Bay in the rain, to see what looked like giant dinosaur eggs and great long logs of petrified wood embedded in the sea bed. Another day we attempted to walk to the lighthouse at Fossil Bay, and failed. Even with linking our arms and bending our bodies completely at a right angle we literally couldn’t move forward, the wind making it impossible without crawling on all fours.
Abandoning our plan to try and find fossils on the beach, we instead drove to a different beach known to have the world’s rarest penguins. We hiked out to a viewing structure, rain soaking through two of my layers in the process. Luckily, within five minutes of searching I peered through the binoculars at what originally looked like driftwood and spotted a yellow-eyed penguin swimming up to shore. The soggy group cheered as we watched him waddling pompously towards his nest, the win we all needed to boost our spirits.
Realistically though, we were kind of stuck, the weather really putting a cramp in our style. After a week of feeling like I was on a boat and being unable to sleep from the wind rocking the van, we decided we’d had a perfect trip, but now it was done. In a decision perhaps brought on by the delirium of being stuck in a vehicle for days on end, we bought a last minute ticket to Vanuatu. The van is sold, our bank accounts are closed, and we fly out tomorrow. New Zealand was everything I always dreamt it would be, and I’m so grateful for my time here.