Slowing Down in Fiordland

If you search for images of New Zealand, chances are you will come across photos of Fiordland National Park right away.  It is commonly touted as the most beautiful place in New Zealand. Milford Sound, the most famous fiord, is considered the eighth wonder of the world.  Visiting Milford Sound was the thing I was most excited for on our South Island adventure.  So, it was disappointing that it was extremely rainy with poor visibility while we were there.  Regardless, we did our best to make the most of it and it remained an incredible experience.

Waterfall in Milford Sound

During our visit to Fiordland, we stayed in the small city of Te Anau.  After the scarcity in the Catlins, it felt great returning to civilization.  There were multiple restaurants. On one street!  Granted there wasn’t much beyond that one street, but hey, it’s all about perspective.  There was a full grocery store, so we were able to buy some breakfast and lunch items which was a nice change after eating out so much.  We even bought quinoa and vegetables and cooked at home one night.  We still partook in some of the kiwi cuisine.  New Zealand salmon and blue cod are staples in this area, and I have eaten a lot of both.  Hilariously, we ate at a restaurant drenched in Americana called The Ranch one night.  Though the menu was still full of New Zealand favorites, it felt like eating in a New Zealander’s idea of Texas with the country music, large portions, and endless meat options.

Kayaking Milford Sound.
Kayaking into a waterfall.

Saturday was our big trip to Milford Sound.  We booked an early morning kayak tour to see the fiord. (Milford Sound is incorrectly named.  It is a fiord, not a sound.)  Milford Sound is two hours away from Te Anau.  So, we met our tour van at 5:45 am to head out.  Our guide told us up front that they would make a call when we got out there about the weather.  We were lucky in that we still got to go out on the water. However, we did get downgraded to a shorter trip and saw less of the fiord.   Everyone else on the tour decided to bail and go on a cruise.  So, we ended up with a private kayak tour. (You can experience our kayak trip first hand by viewing the GoPro footage here. )

The awe-inspiring part of visiting Milford Sound in the rain is the waterfalls.  There were literally hundreds.  More and more kept appearing as the rain continued.  From the time we drove in, to the time we left, there were easily five times as many waterfalls.  Our guide told us that if it were to stop raining, most of them would be gone within 30-60 minutes.  So in this regard, it was incredible that we visited in the rain. 

The white lines are all waterfalls. This went on for miles.
Trying to stay dry on the way back from Milford Sound.

On our drive back to Te Anau we stopped along Milford Road at a couple of viewing spots.  It was gorgeous driving through the mountains with all of these waterfalls on either side.  We also stopped at the Chasm.  After a brief walk, you come to what I can only describe as an aggressive waterfall. 

Car Park to Rainbow Reach.
The Kepler Track.

Over the next couple of days, we hiked the Kepler Track.  The Kepler Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.  Backpackers from all over the world come to hike (or tramp as the kiwis say) here.  Unfortunately, it is peak season and we weren’t able to reserve a campsite in advance.  So, we stuck to some aggressive day hikes.

If you know me, you know that I am a fast walker.  It is in my DNA.  I can’t help it.  You also know that I am competitive, even with myself. So, when the Department of Conservation lists times for these hikes…I feel pretty determined to beat them.  We hiked from the Kepler Car Park to Rainbow Reach and back (5 hours return) in 4 hours.  The next day, we did one of the most challenging sections of the track.  We hiked from the car park up to the Luxmore Hut, which is about 14 kilometers, 7 of which are straight up the mountain.  This is estimated to take 8-10 hours return.  Elijah and I did it in 7, including stopping for lunch.

Now, I don’t tell you all this to brag, but rather to explain to you a life lesson I learned. WALKING AROUND IN DAILY LIFE AND HIKING MOUNTAINS ARE NOT THE SAME.  On about the tenth kilometer up to the hut I broke down.  I hit that point where I didn’t think I could make it.  We turned a corner, I saw that the incline continued around the bend, and I burst into tears.  Every part of my legs was on fire and I honestly didn’t think I could put one foot in front of the other.  That’s when Elijah explained this truth to me: you don’t have to speed walk up mountains.

Documenting the torture.

I know that this seems obvious, but I’ve been walking for exercise for a long time.  I thought I knew my pace.  On top of that, years of competitive sports taught me to push yourself to your limit.  Don’t give up.  Keep going.  No pain no gain. So, when I hit my exhaustion point, it never occurred to me to just slow down.  I only saw two options: keep going at my current speed or give up.  Neither one seemed ideal.  Then Elijah presented option three: slow down.  Suddenly, I realized that my legs weren’t quite as exhausted as I thought.  I started noticing the gorgeous scenery again, and we made it all the way to the top.

View at the top.
At the Luxmore Hut. Made it to the top!

I guess what I learned from this hike is that it’s OK to slow down.  Not just when climbing mountains, but in life too.  Our culture breeds ambitious, success-driven people.  You aren’t working hard enough unless you are putting in more than your 40 hours a week.  Everyone should have a five-year plan.  While it is great to set goals and strive for success, it doesn’t all need to occur at a break-neck speed.  It’s OK to slow down a little and enjoy the journey.  You’ll still get where you need to be.

My mom recently read Michelle Obama’s book Becoming.  She’s been telling me for weeks now that I need to read it and accusing me of being something called a “box checker.”  Apparently, I am always trying to check the next box.  Well, I did start the book, but with packing up the house, moving to New Zealand, and trying to check off every box for what I am “supposed to see in New Zealand” I haven’t had much time to read.  So, maybe I’ll take my own advice and slow down a little and do some reading. Let’s see if my mom is right about this book. 🙂

5 thoughts on “Slowing Down in Fiordland

  1. Seeing these beautiful pictures and hearing about your trip makes me even more excited to get there. Can’t wait till March!
    Enjoy the book–especially while looking at the gorgeous views and sipping on some local pinot noir!


  2. I had to laugh reading about speed walking up a mountain. When I hike with your mom, it is almost sacrilegious to stop to rest.


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