By Joan Larsen
How can I tell you about this place – this beyond special island country of New Zealand – a country that never fails to sweep me away with its charm, its wonderful people, and the enchantment that I never fail to feel on each return visit? I am swept into the very warmth of its people, pulling me into their world so easily. How can that be? I don’t feel this warm welcome at home. Or, if so, only rarely.
The lodging has never failed to please. Often I feel like I am in another – but better – home. Count on starting each day with a savory and nutritious breakfast buffet . . . or perhaps an all-glass window seat table to stare in wonder at the outside world of nature that begins right there.
In my heart and mind, I look forward to each day as one of discovery. The world of New Zealand is a world set apart, set alone. I want to see it all!!
But on this journey of a lifetime, my goal – my focus and this tale – is to tell you of a place that has grabbed my heart on the South Island of New Zealand. There it sits: one of the last great wildernesses left on the planet. Fiordland National Park is a landscape of exceptional beauty – a land of primeval forest, rugged mountain peaks, water falling from on high in beautifully thin waterfalls, and – oh yes! – the calm blue waters.
Recognized by the United Nations in 1986, it was named a World Heritage area – in the same category as the Great Pyramids and the Grand Canyon. I promise that it will have the power to enthrall you as it has me. (Yes, I am suggesting you go!)
Truly, this special place must be seen from the air if you can. It is a world of stunning waterfalls, tumbling down hundreds of meters into massive fiords, shimmering lakes, and snow-capped peaks. Fiordland is a glimpse of the world as it once was – pure, unspoiled and full of wonder.
Here you will find what the Kiwis call Walking Tracks – Milford, Routeburn, more – for a short hike or a guided 5-day walk – with a real dinner, a real shower, a real bed – before setting off on the next day’s walk. New Zealanders are steps ahead of most of our countries in thinking of everything! Yes, you can rough it, but for most of us over 50, the guided trip is the best of all possible worlds. I promise!!
We stayed in the village of Te Anau, finding the world of suggestions it offered of fascinating ways to see the park to be the most inclusive. OK, we tried them all ! The drive to world-famed Milford Sound was enough to blow me away. But then, getting on that little ship for what can only be called a breathtaking journey – one filled with cool misty air and the smell of nature unspoiled – and being blown away by beauty the like of which I had never seen.
They say that one photo is worth a thousand words – and so perhaps, a few photos I captured will help to tell the story. The real truth: this is a place that cannot be truly captured in photos. It has to be experienced to be really understood. At Milford Sound – at this place – I fell in love with New Zealand in ways that words will never express.
We tried sea kayaking – and I recommend it – and yes, we even took scenic flights all the way to Doubtful Sound. We saw fur seals, crested penguins – wonderful birds who I know and love so well, and bottlenose dolphins. We stopped along the way at some unique locations. I am bragging a little but: I saw birds, seemingly hiding in bushes, that are endemic to the area and like no birds I have ever seen before. Their looks alone blew me away !
In this life, each of us has our own dreams of places we wish to see. And yes, I know how far away New Zealand seems. . . almost seeming like it is in another world. Before shaking your head, do see what an all-inclusive guided trip would be. New Zealand is a glimpse of a world still full of all the beauty it has always had, and as I have said: pure, unspoiled and full of wonder. I promise you that this is a country of superlatives, a people you will take to your hearts, and memories you will live on for the rest of your lives.
It will leave a mark on your soul.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”