Coastal Trips and Helicopters

4 Jul

During the road closure, our boat left the fiord to go to the very lowest point of the South Island, Bluff, for survey. I wasn’t crewing for the trip down, I stayed in Milford for the five or six weeks while the road was closed, but at the very end I was to get out via helicopter, meet up with Tristan in Queenstown, and drive down to Bluff with him in order to hop on the boat and come up the west coast.
After a last blast of dinner and drinks in Milford over at a guy named Shaun’s house, I was ready to see the outside world again. He was nice enough to get me a seat on a flight out. Now, this is not just any helicopter flight. It is one of the most scenic flights in the world. It costs around $400 per person, and I was able to get on at no cost.
It was a Monday morning, and I waited impatiently like a child going to Disney World for my flight. Helicopters are one of the coolest things on Earth, and I was about to see Milford from an angle that I never had before. Adrenaline took over my existence.
When my flight arrived, my eyes and heart lit up. The heli can hold up to six people, but my flight only had two others and myself, so I got a good seat right up front. Because Milford is the most dramatic fiord of the 14 fiords in Fiordland, it was an eyeful to say the least. There was so much to see, and in that moment I was happy to have two eyes that worked as windows allowing all of this beauty into my soul. There were times when it was so beautiful that tears filled my eyes, and words or photos just wouldn’t even begin to capture what I was encountering. All that I could do was smile my biggest smile from my soul to my face, and acknowledge how happy I was to exist in that moment. There was everything from former glacial valleys, forest, sheer and high mountains that seemed to extend out to outer space, glaciers, heaps of waterfalls, rivers and streams, and clear blue skies. Life was perfect in that moment.
We landed at a place called Knobs Flat. I thanked the pilot, and hopped into a coworker’s car to get a lift to Te Anau (the next closest town outside of the forest). I was as high as I could be on adrenaline and overwhelmed with happiness in its purest and most beautiful form.
I ended up meeting up with Shaun in Te Anau, and because the boat ended up not being ready, I stayed a night at his house in Manapouri, and spent the night in his lounge in front of the fire. It was peaceful there, and felt very “home-like”. The next day he got me on a coach for free from the company which he manages, and I was on my way to Queenstown for the first time in three months. It felt weird not being in Milford. I was in there and isolated for six weeks. It was amazing! I was, however, looking forward to seeing Tristan and hanging out in Queenstown. Unfortunately it was Winter Festival in QT (Queenstown) so there was limited accommodation (basically only all of the expensive rooms were available), so I was hoping the boat would be ready sooner than later.
Tristan and I caught up, I ate a heap of junk food that I normally wouldn’t eat but crave it because I live in the rainforest and have none of that kind of thing, and then we had a good old fashioned QT night on the piss together. At one stage we popped into a pub for a quick drink, and I went to go to the toilet. As I walked in the door I slipped and fell. I was wearing my UGG boots and a leather jacket. When I got up I realized it was someone’s vomit in which I had slipped, and before I could get more than an “EEEeeeww!” out of my mouth I slipped again. At that point, although disgusted, it was absolutely hilarious (but gross too). There was a girl washing her hands and she had to be absolutely dying laughing (I would have been). I laughed as well. I went to let the bartender know, and she snapped on me and said “Well it’s not my bloody problem!” I didn’t think a whole lot of it in the moment, I just left with Tristan, popped back up to my room to shower and change, and he and I went back out until who knows when.
The next morning, although painful, was a good one. I rang the manager of the pub to let them know my boots and jacket were ruined, and the bartender was a snot to me for no reason, and she urged me to meet her immediately. I ran up to the pub, had a wee chat with the nice lady, and she gave me a $50 voucher! She also offered to dry clean my stuff, but unfortunately UGGs can’t be dry cleaned and leather had to be sent off to Dunedin (the opposite side of the island), so I chucked the jacket (it was free anyway) and scrubbed the boots, half ruined but okay.
The boat ended up getting put off for another five days because of weather, and at the end of the five days I was totally exhausted of QT. I missed Milford. Luckily, on day five the road finally opened, so Tristan and I headed back to Milford to wait for the boat. I was happy to be back in, and back home to my nice warm bed and the beautiful forest/high mountains/waterfalls around me.
After two more days in Milford, the boat was finally ready. Tristan and I headed down to Bluff. We were scheduled to take off in the morning, so we would sleep on the boat that night. The forecast wasn’t the greatest, but we had to begin making our way up the coast.
Day I: Violent Seas:
We set out to sea, beginning in Bluff out of the Foveaux Strait heading west to meet the Tasman Sea. Mind you, this is no cruise ship by any stretch of the imagination. The Milford Adventurer is a 39.5 metre (about 70 feet) long, 60 some odd ton passenger vessel. It is one of the smaller vessels in Milford as well, if not the smallest. Now, the Tasman Sea is one of the roughest seas in the world. Working in the fiord, it is quite calm. The tide tends to break, so the only time we get a tidal range is when we get a Northwesterly wind, which funnels down the fiord. Even then it’s usually about 2.5 meters at most.
As soon as we left the harbor in Bluff, it became choppy. It continued this way throughout the Strait, and although it was a bit rough, it wasn’t too terrible. I was able to get a good look at Stewart Island from the coast, which was a beautiful sight. Once we passed Stewart Island, and began making our way to the Tasman, we were greeted dead on with a strong Southwesterly wind. The swells were not even close to a consistent roll, and were five meters on average coming at us from the front and side. So basically, for twelve hours, I saw the sky and sea, and the boat would go up, then slam back down as the waves came crashing over the very top cabin of the boat, and then it would get knocked side to side, and appeared as if the boat would just roll right over and back again. It was the same feeling as being on a rollercoaster. Thank goodness I’m not a puker, because I would have been ill. Every single thing took so much effort. These swells would throw one out of their seats, so one can imagine how difficult anything would be (walking, climbing stairs, sitting, standing, making a cup of tea, etc). In addition we had a small oil leak and had to go down and put a liter or two of oil in every two hours. Being in the hot engine room while getting thrown around was quite the challenging task, and not having windows around while doing so was nauseating. It was overwhelmingly exhausting. It was also the kind of thing that begins to mess with the mind because you get so dizzy, nauseous, and exhausted, and there is literally nothing you can do about it for the next twelve hours. I was able to drive to boat for a while to see what it felt like (Wow! Talk about a struggle!) which was a nice distraction. Although miserable, I was still happy that I was able to have this experience. I was traveling through violent seas and one of the roughest seas on Earth, along a coastline that many never even see.
After the longest twelve hours of my life, we made our way into a fiord called Dusky Sound. It’s a beautiful fiord, with many arms coming off of it and small islands within it. It is untouched by man, and one can only ever reach it via coast or through a several day hike over many mountains. It was night time, so I was unable to see anything at that time, so I looked forward to the morning. It was also a treat because there isn’t any sort of swell in the fiords. Finally! All that I could do that evening was eat and go to bed. Every piece of my body hurt.
Day II: Peaceful Waters, Epic Sunsets, and the Most Beautiful Place on Earth:
As soon as I opened my eyes and saw beech forest around me, I was happy and at peace. I jumped out of my sleeping bag, had my brekkie, and had a good look around. We untied the boat and headed out to explore the fiord, before going back out to sea. The fiord was absolutely incredible, full of forested mountains, birds, islands, heaps of Blue Penguins, a group of Bottle-Nosed Dolphins, and sights so beautiful I couldn’t keep my eyes off of everything. Just being able to see this beautiful untouched piece of heaven made up for the twelve hours of violence the day before. I was happy and at peace, and once again grateful to have eyes that work. I took it all in, and saved it in a very special place deep within my heart. I took heaps of photos, and will post once I get enough megabytes here in the middle of nowhere. Finally we made our way out to the Tasman once again. This time, the wind was a Southerly, and we were traveling north, so it was behind us. Although the swells were a couple metres, it made all the difference in the world to have them behind us. In addition they were consistent swells, therefore making them peaceful rather than choppy and violent. I was crewing with Lou (my favourite skipper), and Tristan was crewing with Peter, so luckily Lou let me take the wheel from just after Break Sea (just outside of Dusky Sound) all the way to Doubtful Sound. I had a solid couple of hours behind the wheel. The Fiordland Coastline is the absolute most amazing coastline on Earth. As we made our way north (There are 14 fiords, Milford being the Northern most) the forested mountains just grew bigger. It was just the most amazing piece of green and mountainous coastline I have ever seen. Because fiords are carved out by ice (periods of glaciations over various ice ages) they tend to have high and sheer mountains, which seem to just come straight out of the sea at a 90 degree angle. It’s quite impressive! After mine and Lou’s watch was over, we had our break. The sun had just begun its journey setting. I sat outside and watched the entire sunset. It was the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. Because we were traveling along the west coast and the sun sets west, it was absolutely magnificent, and I was able to see everything occur unobstructed. In addition, there was not a single cloud in the sky. I was able to watch planets rise and set as well, and each and every star that appeared in the sky. When the night skies finally took over, there were billions of stars lighting the way, and the Milky Way stretched from one end of the horizon to the other. Galaxies and Nebulas appeared. During that time I acknowledged the fact that starry skies are quite unique, because they are constantly moving and flickering burning balls of gas in the sky, one can only ever appreciate them fully with the naked eye. I felt extra special in that moment, and saved the most beautiful starry night at sea in my heart. Because the skies were clear and the stars were bright, the mountainous ridgeline on the right was still visible, so I was always aware of its presence. It was a comforting feeling, as there is so much Love and Light in the forest. It was as if the mountains were watching over us, greeting us with their presence.
After about ten hours we made our way to Milford Sound. Milford is quite dramatic in the sense that although the fiord isn’t as big as many of the others, nor does it have islands, but rather the mountains are twice as high, and it has glaciers and permanent waterfalls. There is something very special about Milford, and I could appreciate its novelty even more after seeing a few of the other fiords further south. Although I could have continued sailing for days on the beautifully comforting waters of that day, I was also happy to be in the presence of Milford once again. The moon had only just begun to rise, and I was able to see the most beautiful night time view of the Mitre Peak I could ever imagine. Also, there were heaps of night time sea creatures glowing under the surface of the water. It appeared to be thousands of little blue torches in the water, and was quite a cool sight to see!
We made our way to the main wharf, tied up the good old Milford Adventurer-which I had a new found respect and love for after seeing her fight her way through the chaotic Tasman Seas on the first day, and headed back home to the house to shower and rest. The next day would be a day of cleaning, and the following day we would begin cruising once again. I hadn’t worked in six weeks, and I had (and will have) a 19 day shift ahead of me, followed by two more weeks off after that, so I was happy to lay my head upon my pillow that night, in my warm loving bed with a heart full of the most amazing sights on Earth. Love and Light.


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