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Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Chronicles of NZ: Into the Sound (Written 1/14/07)

Today we left the majestic city of Queenstown only to return a few days from now (probably tomorrow). But before we left Queenstown, Josh and I had to get our fix of NFL action. Unfortunately the sports bar we were going to watch the game at didn't open until 11am (the game started at 10:30am) so we had a little time to kill between me checking out the hostel at 10am and us being able to watch the game. It had been raining all night (which could not have been fun for Josh/Kevin at their campsite) which created a kind of cool smoke effect around all the mountains. So to pass the time I went to watch some of the Rugby 7 matches on the athletic field nearby. At 11am my attention promptly turned to the now opened sports bar and our one NFL game of the day: Colts vs. Ravens. Wasn't exactly a barn burner by any means but regardless of how they won (although 5 FGs is a bit sad) the Colts are now 2-0 and heading for the AFC Championship. Unfortuantely, I won't be able to see the AFC game tomorrow to find out who they will face – I may actually cheer for the Pats because LT2 is a force and I would love for Indy to beat the Pats to make it to the Superbowl.

Going 3-for-3 in terms of watching the NFL in yet another country is quite a feat. Whoo says I'm not dedicated?! We left from Queenstown at about 1pm and began our journey back south to get to Milford Sound. Although Milford Sound is almost literally right across from Queenstown, there is no direct path between the two, you have to go through Te Anau to get to Milford Sound. So the journey back south and to the west (to Te Anau) took about 2 hours. After stretching the legs and buying some food for tonight and tomorrow, we traveled from Te Anau to Milford Sound (which is another 2 hour drive) but this felt like a drive into another land. The place was filled with the smoke effect on the mountains that gave it all a magical quality. And the funny thing was that before we entered the Fiorland National Park (which houses all the 'Sounds') the rain had stopped and the skies were clear. Once we entered the National Park, the cloud and rain returned.

As we got closer to Milford Sound it actually got a lot colder (but fortunately the wind wasn't to bad). At one point you could see the rain coming down the side of the mountains as waterfalls – it was a very breathtaking sight. At one point we got to a tunnel called 'Homer's Tunnel" (no relation to Simpson) which is a tunnel which has been dug through the mountain connecting Milford Sound to Te Anau. Once we came out of this tunnel (which is built on an incline) I twas like we were literally driving in a cloud because you couldn't see more then a few feet in front of the car. Thankfully it cleared up (or we drove under the cloud) and within a few minutes came to the only accommodations in Milford Sound – The Milford Sound Lodge. They had some dorm beds available which is quite rare for this  time of year (usually they are booked solid, with their prime location about 15 minutes away from Milford Sound), so we were definitely blessed in that regard.

Now we spend the night in this magical land before heading out for our kayaking trip in the morning. Should be a fun, wet and memorable time had by all!

*Side Notes*

-           The Homer Tunnel was named after Harry Homer, the man who started the construction project in 1935. It started as a work project for the unemployed and the tunnel was entirely carved by hand. The tunnel is 1200m long and has a gradient of 1 in 10. The route to Milford was not finished until 1952 and was shut every winter until the 1970s.

-           Fiordland National Park is called Te Wahipounamu by the Maori, this translates to "the place of the green stone". It occupies 1.5 million hectares making it more then twice the size of the next biggest national park in NZ. It is also a World Heritage Site.

-           Fiordland has a total of 14 fiords and all 14 were incorrectly named 'Sounds' by early British settlers. Sounds are created by the gentle action of rivers whereas fiords are created by glaciers.

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