Friday, November 20, 2009

Fiordland 2 (NZ part 18)

(NZ part 1 here)

The ride starts with a long uphill slog. We climb for several hours before reaching the entrance to the Homer Tunnel, which we must pass through to get to Milford Sound. The valley ends abruptly in sheer cliffs and scree slopes and the tunnel runs straight through the the mountain forming the western wall of this bowl. We've been told the only safe way to get through the one way tunnel is to wait near the entrance and coordinate with one of the numerous tour busses that make the trip to Milford. When they have gotten clearance from the busses at the other end of the tunnel, several of them head through at once. A driver agrees to let us ride down (and it's steep heading west - 10%?) in front of him, lighting our way with his headlights, as there are no lights built into the tunnel, and ensuring no busses come up behind us unaware. It is so dark we can hardly see our handlebars, but we are at least a little relieved that the drivers know we are there. We pop out into the new valley, and have an easy, fast ride down the 15 km or so to sea level. The forest is incredible here as well, and mountain rivers cross under the road and roar along beside us often. At one, we catch a quick glimpse of Mount Tutoko, the highest in the area, still covered in snow and glacier.

And then we are at the Sound. We sit at the edge of the water, eating lunch and watching the clouds blow around, clinging to Mitre Peak, rising almost three thousand feet up from Milford Sound. I feel rewarded with the most majestic views on a beautiful, sun filled day. It is yet another day that I will crawl into my sleeping bag hardly able to believe the places I've seen and the good fortune I've had to get here.

(Mitre Peak rises out of Milford Sound)

At camp in Milford, I run into a geologist named Kieth, from the University of Vermont, who I was told would be in New Zealand at the same time. The meeting here, on his last day in NZ, is purely coincidental. We sit and talk for a little while, and he tells me of his desire to one day put his finger on the very line dividing the old rock of the New Zealand coast from the newer rock crushed against that ancient coast in the most recent collision of plates. It sounds quite ambitious to me, and I wonder if such a point exists, but I keep my thoughts to myself. So many things in nature manage to elude the theoretical absolute, but maybe geology is different in this respect.

The ride back to Te Anau is as incredible as the ride in. The hills from Milford Sound up to the Homer Tunnel are grueling, but beautiful. We put on headlamps and charge up the Tunnel in front of another tour bus, before dropping into the Hollyford Valley again, and coast to The Divide. Just north of Lake Te Anau, I get a view I didn't notice on the way out, a mountain that looks like it was once flat, but broke free at one edge and hinged upward. The slope on the south side is an even grade for thousands of feet, then the peak drops abruptly into the river valley on its north side. I am reminded that there are new things to experience whether in a new place or a familiar, as we are always capable of changing our perspective if we so choose.

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