Every so often I scan through my own blog and remember beautiful things I’ve seen. Last year for the first time, I did my own personal “greatest hits” selection of photos from the ten+ years I’d been blogging at that point. This year, I find myself thinking about ice, even though I’m a few hundred miles at least, I suspect, from the nearest naturally-occuring ice. Perhaps because of that: listening to seasonal tunes about winter wonderlands and white holidays has reminded me of the ice and snow I’ve seen.
I also realize I didn’t photograph things I wish I had, such as snow piling up on the streets of Beijing in the winter of 2005…although I do feature skaters on Beijing’s Qianhai, and cracking ice on a pond outside Beijing during a winter hike, taken the same winter. Above & in the collage below are photos from winter in Yosemite & summer in New Zealand (icy grass on the Keppler Track in Fiordland; and also a shot of the glacier on South Island’s west coast). There are also frosted grass & icicles from a winter trip to the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey: yes, such beauty can be found right off Interstate 80, if you know how and where to look :-). Plus some frosted grass in the early-morning shade at Hood Mountain in Sonoma County, two winters ago. If you’re already experiencing ice and snow, maybe these won’t do much for you…let me know, either way. May your year be warm, safe and dry in 2017.
The Milford Track is the most famous, and most popular, of the Great Walks. It starts at the bottom of the Clinton Valley, formed by the eponymous river which features a few times in the gallery of square photos further down. The first two nights of the three-night, four-day hike are spent within the Clinton Valley, hiking from the boat drop at the northernmost end of Lake Te Anau where the Clinton River feeds it, up to McKinnon Pass where the images above and the whole slide show below were taken. After the slide show, you’ll see a variety of views from other sections of the trail: rivers, waterfalls, dramatic valleys and trail segments snuggled into a rock face alongside the Arthur River at the end of the track, where it meets up with Milford Sound. Milford Sound has been cited by many magazines as one of the most beautiful places on earth; and Milford Track as has been cited as one of the most spectacular hikes on earth. I certainly found McKinnon pass to be one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen, and I found many of the miles along the Clinton Valley quite beautiful in an ever-changing, other-worldly manner that was different yet again from the other-worldliness of the glaciers featured in my last post.
But allow me to say this, of the Milford Track: it is indescribably wet. We hiked it in the midst of the southern summer, during peak season. Peak season is also, strangely, the rainiest season; but even the driest season has plenty of rain. And the drier winter season is, we were told, the season of such landslides as the one just below where you see the trail marker placed to navigate walkers across the rubble field. I can imagine that a mostly-dry hike over this trail would be an unbelievably great experience. And I can certainly attest the truth of that oft-quoted adage that rain makes waterfalls, which are the joy of the trail. But can I just say that my own brain can only really appreciate xx-many waterfalls, and after a certain point both my feet and my soul wish to be dry, warm and comfortable again? So I ended this trail – which, indeed, gave me more spectacular scenery than most other hikes I’ve done – with the sense that it won’t likely call to me again…whereas the Abel Tasman, for all its comparatively mundane (hah!) scenery, is one I’d readily return to again and again – in part because it’s just so much more warm and comfortable as a hiking experience. (Even the Kepler, another Great Walk within the extraordinary Fiordland National Park, showcases a wider range of terrain with a lower preponderance of heavily rainy days — witness this post: https://somuchworldsolittletime.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/kepler-track-fiordland-national-park/
But don’t get me wrong: even the most amazing of these photos (some of which still give me vertigo) can’t convey the gift of being present to feel and hear the roar of wind and rain, marvel at the shifting windows of sunlight along a mountainside, or see a rainbow materialize above one of those windows…with the sense perhaps you’re the only human positioned so as to appreciate that particular ephemeral wonder. Whatever the case, I encourage anyone who loves the great outdoors and appreciates natural beauty to bump NZ up your must-visit list, if you’ve not done so already. Feel free to research on this blog (from 2009, 2013-14, and 2015!) some of the many wonders you might consider experiencing in person. Enjoy. 🙂
…about the blurry spots you’ll see in some of the rainier images: my camera has survived but there were days where the lens never really got dry. Most of the rain-splattered photos are deleted, but I felt some of these convey what words cannot about the omnipresence of water at times…
When last I myself visited the wild, entirely rug, very wet & green & remote & spectacular southwestern expanse of South Island that’s known as Fiordland National Park, I managed to squeeze in a day trip on Doubtful Sound. (Which is so named because, in the days of sailing ships, captains usually doubted they’d find the offshore wind which would allow them ever to escape from the narrow, deep sound.) This time around, knowing a multi-day hike such as we undertook last time was out of the question, I thought I could still get Mom and my brother out for an overnight – and so we spent the night of 23rd December snugged into a little anchorage in the midst of, probably, the most remote and wild place any of us had ever spent a night…and we’ve been a few places, so that’s saying a bit of something. Our little boat had eleven passengers and three wonderful crew, and despite omnipresent rain and mist, it was simply an extraordinary experience which left us all feeling quite privileged.
Thence we drove on up to Queenstown, on Christmas Eve, where we had the lovely dinner whose dessert course you see having its five minutes of fame above. I’m popping these photos up on the blog at the start of New Year’s Eve, here, knowing that tomorrow we all fly back to our current home countries – me to PNG, they back to North America – and that the first weeks of 2014 will be full and hectic for me. Happy new year & lots of love to all my readers, known and unknown.
And for anyone interested in other, often sunnier, photos of the Fiordland region, check out these entries:
https://somuchworldsolittletime.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/definitely-doubtful-sound/ in which you can see how Doubtful looks when the sun’s shining a bit, and another shot remarkably like the top photo here…and with blue sky. Ah well, don’t tell my family. Cheers.
Since I figure many of you will only be interested in a few of the atmospheric, misty-foggy-rainy waterfall shots, I’ve plugged several of them into a gallery, below, where you can either skip over the thumbnails or click to see the full-sized shot if you’d like. Below the gallery are a few more full-sized foggy-misty shots for the atmosphere and then a shot of Lake Te Anau from the southern shore, and then a few from Queenstown and the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
As you’ve seen, this track includes strolls through lovely verdant valleys and clambers along dramatic alpine ridgelines with sharp, breathtaking drops on either side. Since it’s quite far south and in an area of rapidly changing weather, small changes in exposure (the south face is the colder, darker side down here) or elevation can lead to radical changes in vegetation and micro-climate. Below, a small green mossy trickle on a hillside barely a hundred meters below the treeless alpine zone that, when I crossed it, was characterized by icy plants — and yes, these shots were taken within less than an hour of each other but at different elevations. That bird up there is one of the world’s few alpine parrots, the Kea: NOT people-shy and rather mischief-prone if one’s careless enough to leave a backpack lying around; and as you can imagine that beak is sharp. Mercifully I only heard stories and didn’t directly experience a Kea raid on my own pack.