Waterfalls and pools of ice blue water line the well worn path of the Milford Track. By celebrating the natural beauty of New Zealand, the Kiwis have established a lucrative renewable business based on the appreciation of nature, not its depletion.
Each part of the world has unique and stunning natural beauty. If we all had the same appreciation for our own back yard, our small speck of a planet would be in better shape. Your share of planet Earth is essential to the wellbeing of our home as a whole.
As celebrated photographer, Ansell Adams, famously said “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.”
When I was 4 or 5, I wrote to Santa Claus to ask for two pet cheetahs. Not just one, but two real live cheetahs. Instead, Santa got me a stuffed animal that I would grow to love and defend. I had to defend him because in truth, he wasn’t a cheetah. He was a leopard. He lacked the distinguishing tear lines that are part of a cheetah’s costume. But I didn’t care. His name was Cheetah and I wasn’t about to come up with a new one.
Fast forward twenty years.
I was living in Australia and about to go to New Zealand for a month long adventure. A friend of my family was one of the head people at the Wellington Zoo and was kind enough to arrange a very special zoo encounter for me and my friends. We were going to meet a cheetah.
The day came and we pulled our busted old Wicked van into the zoo parking lot. We piled out and rushed to the entrance. We were taken on a behind the scenes tour and got to hold a baby kiwi bird. Despite how cute the bird was, all I could think about was the cheetah.
The time came and we met with two zookeepers who led us back to the cheetah enclosure. There they were. Two beautiful male cheetahs. We were going to meet one of them and his name was Charlie. We entered the enclosure and stood watching the big cat. He sauntered over and leapt effortlessly onto a platform. With my heart in my throat, out of lifelong love, I walked over and put my hands on his back. I ran my fingers over the intricate spots. I placed my hands on his rib cage, while standing behind him so as not to disturb him more than I already was, and felt the vibration of his breathing. He purred. I purred. It was love.
As our roadtrip from Auckland to Queenstown progressed, we found our way to Lake Wanaka on New Zealand’s south island. Having just left the Franz Josef glacier, we moved south on the Haast Highway towards our final destination. Our home on wheels, the gutless Wicked van we’d picked up in Auckland, climbed the mountains with deliberate effort, allowing us more time to drink in the scenery. We puttered along, up and down, zigging and zagging our way through the stunning countryside.
I found myself on a two week roadtrip from Auckland to Queenstown, accompanied by two great friends. Zig-zagging our way down through the north island, we arrived in Wellington to catch the ferry headed south. After a night of illegal roadside camping and cards with a group of female Israeli ex-soldiers, we set off down the west coast, stopping at what seemed like every turn to soak in the natural beauty of New Zealand. A particular sign portraying a penguin caught my eye and I requested a pit-stop to document the seldom seen signage.
After a two week roadtrip around New Zealand, I took off to do four of the Great Walks. The one Great Walk I did that wasn’t a walk at all was the Whanganui River. We spent four days cruising down the river, through gorges lined with beautiful flora and over 180 sets of rapids. I only lost my camera once and thankfully it was in a dry bag.
Hiking New Zealand’s Milford track is a wonderful experience. Explorers from around the world congregate on the world famous track to drink in the natural beauty of the mountains and rainforests, and share in the joy of being in nature.
We had made it to Mintaro Hut in the early afternoon on our second day. Feeling a bit sleepy, we decided to take a nap while many hikers headed off on the trek to the top of Mackinnon’s Pass in hopes of catching the amazing view.
When we got up, people were beginning to get back from the Pass. They were all disappointed as the valley was filled with clouds. We checked the sky, it seemed pretty grey and unlikely that we would do much better. Nevertheless, we strapped on our hiking boots and made the climb to the top.
As we came over the ridge, the sky opened up and the sun pierced the clouds illuminating the valley below. We sat on top of the ridge drinking red wine and soaking in our luck. Eventually, we slowly made our way back down to Mintaro hut and kept quiet about our experience, not wanting to rub it in.
The next day when we headed to Dumpling hut, Mackinnon’s Pass was barely visible. We could see only a few feet in front of our faces. We had truly lucked out on the previous day. Thank you Milford!
On the south island of New Zealand beautiful scenery is never hard to find. Hiking on the Kepler track, one of New Zealand’s great walks, is an experience where a reality pinch is required often. Sitting at the hut where adventurers from around the world congregate is an amazing experience in itself. Being the only Canadian comes with added responsibilities, such as getting a fire going in the wood stove.