I recently had the pleasure of visiting New Zealand to catch up with a very dear friend who lives in the picturesque South Island. I knew my trip was going to be special as Anne is a keen adventurer and always knows the special places to go and sights to see.
Ibeen dreaming of and planning my trip to New Zealand for years and on arrival I was excited to see my old friend who immediately took on the role of a wonderful tour guide.
Anne lives in Te Anau, which was the perfect place to launch my adventures from as there are numerous places to see and activities to do all a comfortable and gorgeously scenic car journey away.
I spent the first day just relaxing and unwinding after my long-haul flight. Anne had a trip lined up for the following day to Milford Sound, and I was keen to be refreshed and ready to thoroughly enjoy the day.
We set out very early the next day and were blessed with perfect weather for our drive which was to take us through Fiordland National Park with its stunning scenery. The highlights of the park for me were the pristine Mirror Lakes perfectly reflecting their surroundings. We stopped off and wandered around soaking up the lush scenery, crisp, fresh air and taking a tonne of photographs for posterity. The tranquil Lake Gunn with its majestic backdrop of mountains was the ideal spot to throw down a blanket and enjoy a thermos of hot coffee while Anne filled me in on the rest of the day’s itinerary. When she casually mentioned that later we were going to be sightseeing by helicopter, I was incredibly excited and could barely wait to set off again.
The approach to Milford is via the incredible Homer Tunnel – it was humbling to think that this significant structure was hewn by men with simple picks and shovels. It became abundantly clear that the tunnel was pretty much in its original state as we drove slowly through. I could see water running and dripping from the roughly textured rock walls... it was quite eerie, and I almost expected to exit out into a bygone era!
Back out into the sunlight and our last stop before Milford was the Chasm (a short walk from the Milford Road) with dramatic views of powerful waterfalls and water-sculpted rocks. It was incredible to see and hear the powerful rush of the water and get an idea of how this force over millennia has carved out the boulders. Back in the car and onwards to Milford Helicopters – it was amazing to think of all we had seen before we even arrived at Milford Sound!
I grew up in Montana, USA, so mountainous terrain is both familiar to me and dear to my heart. It has long been a dream of mine to go up in a helicopter and see mountains from a different perspective. Our friendly pilot Jeff discussed our options, and I decided upon the glacier trip as I wanted to see a glacier up close. I was a little nervous about flying, but Jeff patiently explained everything and went over safety procedures, etc. as we were preparing to go. My apprehensions all gave way to exhilaration as the helicopter gently and steadily
lifted off over Milford Sound. The view was absolutely breathtaking; the deep blue lakes and rugged mountains seemed so close that it felt like I could reach out and touch them. Everything was on a massive scale; we were surrounded by cliffs rising from a fiord well over 300m deep with many powerful waterfalls plunging as far as 500m into the water. It was extraordinarily beautiful.
Jeff expertly set us down on the glacier below Mt Tutoko (the highest peak in the Fiordland National Park), and we had time to take some amazing and unique photographs of the translucent icy blue formation. The weather was ideal, and we could see for miles and miles out across the mountain ranges and across the land that was carved out by slow but ever moving glacial shifts.
We set off on our return flight taking us over the mountain ranges and valleys. I truly feel I saw the best parts of Fiordland. I felt like I was in safe hands at all times which meant I was able to relax and enjoy the thrilling and fun ride as we hugged the wild coastline skimming along mountain ridges. The flight back was exhilarating and the views breathtaking.
Back on terra firma I had time to reflect on the events of the day and concluded I had been on a once in a lifetime flight. The photos I took from the vantage point of the glacier will be ones I will treasure forever as they captured a unique moment in my life in one of the most special places in the world.
IMAGE: D.R. McCarlie
Lake Gunn at sunrise