This post I’m sharing more photos from my seven or eight weeks back in Sierra Leone, July-September last year. These were all taken around my birthday, on a lovely trip to work with our project teams in Tonkolili district – green forested hills, red-dirt roads to small villages, lots of outreach to make sure folks got the care they needed and knew where and when and why to go for care. It was the first birthday in a few years I’ve been in small villages on health outreach, since I usually time vacations and a break from responsibility for my actual birthday — but what a great way to spend it, shaking hands with community members, seeing the rainbow from the very last photo in this post and the social weaver birds in their tree (just below, with some close-ups in the gallery below that), and reconnecting with small-town life in new places.
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…
This is where we spent the last few quiet, peaceful, absolutely blessed nights on South Island, there at the tail end of 2013 with my mother and brother. These are the Marlborough Sounds; if you’re so inclined, google ‘linkwater marlborough’ and you will see exactly where on the map of the world the shots above were taken: at the base of the Grove Arm. With Howard and Gene, five years ago, we drove fairly rapidly through this area en route from Nelson to our Kaikoura Coast Trek, but I remembered it as a lovely spot well worth revisiting. Now I’ll remember it as one of those places on earth I could very happily live, or retire, if I could ever afford it. 🙂 A lovely mix of pastoral, agricultural, maritime, small-town, outdoor-adventure…you name it, you got it there from milk cows to fantastic kayaking and world class wines. (Wonder if NZ tourism will give me a cut for the referrals here…) Btw below are the panoramas giving you about a 280-degree view from the pier on which the above photo was shot.
At the moment, a soft rain is falling on a Port Moresby Sunday morning, and I expect only to wake up in Port Moresby (or PNG more generally) on only seven more Sunday mornings. After having done precisely that for most of the past 104 Sundays, this comes not as a shock, but as awareness of imminent change. Friends on the email list have already started hearing from me about the plans, and in the months after March this space will feature more of North America and Europe than the South Pacific. And I’ll hopefully spend a lot of time on my bike and in the yoga studio. For now, my goal is stay focused and keep things on a steady course as we head into the home stretch. That’s all I shall say now: enjoy these shots of the Marlborough Sounds and Marlborough wine region, and some of the west coast and central South Island mountainy areas we drove through getting from Christchurch up to Linkwater. Peace, out, more at some point…
All of these initial shots, up until the last photo of the bay with the green boat and the tree, which comes just after the display of mailbox pride in the Marlborough Sounds, are from the basic Linkwater area. If this appears correctly, below you see a rainbow and if you look closely you’ll note that it’s actually double rainbow. It was, in fact, the fullest, clearest and sharpest full double rainbow either Steve or I had ever seen. (Mom was napping.) After the mailboxes, you’ll see various photos taken of the mountains, rivers, and vineyards that extend around the middle of the island south of the Grove Arm and north-northwest of Christchurch, through which we drove on…the rainy 29th of December, to be quite accurate. Enjoy! Happy new year!
And here some shots again of the Cook Strait as we departed South Island and headed back to North Island: below, Picton Harbor from on board; and a few shots below the exit from Tory Channel into Cook Strait with North Island in the distance; and further down a panorama shot in which you see both North and South Islands from the boat in Cook Strait.