Frustration is such a dastardly word. It is not nearly as bad as, say, disappointment, anger, misery or failure, but a dastardly word all the same. Frustration is the feeling which creeps up on you from behind when you realize that sometimes there is a far better solution to your problems than can be readily offered to you because your achievement of your goals is blocked by stupidity, callousness, inefficiency, or in our case, a seven hundred acre glacier.
While our time in New Zealand has been flecked with myriad trivial frustrations, finding that your hostel offers free internet access only during their busiest hours of the day, that a particularly desirable rafting excursion carries a $450 price tag, that a lone police-man with a radar gun and a ticket pad waits on the country’s single stretch of straight-to-the-horizon desert road, that your booking for a private four bed hostel room has been “lost” by management who, instead, have placed you in a six-person room with a mute Japanese student and a Consumptive Dutch work-transfer applicant, these trifles seem to be mere ripples in the calm teal waters of Milford Sound. Well, perhaps that’s a bit of a falsity. The Sound itself is one of the great natural gems of the earth, but, like Prospero in the quote above, God has clearly seen fit to assure that the travelers who venture out to seek it appreciate it that much more for the journey. Frustration then, is embodied by the ten-hour 600km trip out and back, only to look at a map realizing that you have traveled no more than 50 km as the crow flies.
The onerous task of getting to the Sound was allayed only by the professed natural and unique beauty of New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park, a jagged and wrinkly frosting of glaciers and mountains coating the west coast of South Island. And this came to be true. Words and pictures can do little to do the Park justice. Mile-high peaks jut forth from pristinely calm, cold waters. Milford Sound, originally called Milford Haven by its discoverer (I only have “Vasco da Milford ????” written down in my notes. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his name), was named because it offered respite from a hellacious rainstorm out in the Tasman Sea in 1780-something. And to this day that remains true. A large mountainous outcropping called Abel’s Rock protects the sound from the sea, and has since created several fascinating phenomena within. The preternaturally calm waters have created a 3m deep reservoir of fresh water which rests upon the sea in the Sound for many days following any rain shower. Rare black-speckled bottle nosed dolphins have migrated from out in the open seas to the calmer fresh waters in the Sound, and following them have come intrepid sea-kayakers who, drawn by the chance to play with the dolphins, all too often take their rickety fiberglass and plastic contraptions out beyond Abel’s Rock and into the 3-5m swells of the furious Tasman Sea beyond. It should come as no surprise that the voracious sea has developed quite an appetite for petulant sea-kayakers to the tune of several per year. Finally, there are the tourists who sally forth from lumbering coach buses onto the waiting sight-seeing cruises.
Meanwhile they were discussing the pressing philosophical issues of the day: the shocking differences between the McDonald’s restaurants in Auckland and Topeka, the quaint and floral characteristics of New Zealand’s plastic currency, and comparisons of their greenstone faux-Maori tribal necklaces. The four of us gushed at the 80m high glacial waterfalls (they gushed about the free coffee and tea below-decks), and asked one of our crew-members about the likelihood of spotting any yellow-banded penguins–the 2nd most rare species of bird in the world.
The views were spectacular, and the trip was once-in-a-lifetime. Can any one of us say that we regretted the trip? I doubt it. Despite its frustrations, our journey was such a success that we completely forgot about our 5 hour trip home. And that we had almost completely run out of gasoline.