As we were on the road trip via bus on our way to the internationally acclaimed Milford Sound, I started to focus and analyze the local topography. It was a four hour trip each way from Queenstown and it gave me time to make the following observations.
This geographical area of southern New Zealand is generally underpopulated. The land and fields around us are wide open and feels quite remote. Farming is the main industry of the area and sheep greatly outnumbers the local residents.
I realized that the reason there is practically no top soil in these mountains, and very little in the valleys, is because the entire island was once covered by massive glaciers that scraped the soil away and continued down into the bedrock. Additionally, looking at a map highlighted how the mountain range running from north to south must be there because of the movement in the colliding Pacific plate tectonics. I started to wonder if we were in an high earthquake prone region of the world. Living in California I already live practically on top of a major plate tectonic movement area.
I had heard that there were frequent earthquakes in New Zealand and the surround islands. I now understand that I am going to have to look closely at a diagram of the Ring of Fire and focus on my proximity to it as we continue to travel. Our personal safety depends on knowing our surroundings as we travel throughout the world.
The high mountain range to the west of us helps to capture the clouds and moisture that come from the ocean between Southern Australia and Antartica. The mountains capture the moisture as rain and snow. Even though there is very little topsoil to farm on, this part of the country has plenty of water and thus has many lakes and rivers. Because the land can only sustain short prairie type grass, it can support small grazing animals like sheep and lambs.
Another item which I found quite is that in this country their forestry department has an ongoing program to spray and eradicate trees throughout the countrysides. Apparently most of the trees are not native to the country and they are being cut down or sprayed. They want to return the countryside to its native condition.
Entire tree areas are being covered with chemicals, via helicopters, in order to kill them. I never thought of trees as pests, but apparently they are here. In some areas where there are buildings in the vicinity, the trees are considered as major hazards. Again, there is very little top soil and their roots are thus shallow. A wind or rain can come through and can easily topple them over. In some circumstances, on the sides of mountains, falling trees cause tree avalanches. I had not heard of such a thing. One falls and lands on the one below it and starts a chain reaction downward. We saw a few areas where this happened and it's quite scene to see this type of devastation. I had heard of snow and rock avalanches, but this issue of danger from sliding trees was a new one for me.
There are valleys that are used for farmlands yet the winter winds and temperatures are harsh in this region so the crop growing season is very short. In this area, the average daytime temperature in summer is 65 degrees Fahrenheit. It gets into freezing temperatures during the winter months (June through September and July being the coldest month).
We reached Milford Sound, from Queenstown, after a 4-hour bus trip. The Sound is a fjord at the base of the high western mountain range of southern New Zealand. It's regarded as one of the wettest places in the world (268 inches in 152 days). It is also referred to as one of world's top travel destination. Upon reaching the Sound, one boards a small ocean ship and tours the fjord area for 90-minutes.
We were fortunate to visit on a day where it was clear sky's and felt the crisp cool ocean air. It was a spectacular moment to see so many waterfalls coming off the high vertical granite cliffs. A great deal of sea life enters the Sound area. During the trip on the ship, it approaches a waterfall (Stirling Falls) with the forward tip. The size of the waterfall makes the ship seem tiny. As other touring ships carrying 200 passengers also moves into the same waterfall area one gets a visual perspective of just how big the waterfall really is.
I now understand why this site can be so remote and yet gets up to a million visitors a year. It's all about the splendor and beauty of nature. As one relaxes and carefully looks around, you get a glimpse of the power of nature. Over many years, it shifts and pushes the rock out of the ocean floor and then scrapes it to its bare bone. It pours constant rain on it and polishes the exposed stone mountains even further. The runoff from the rain into the ocean provides nutrients in the shores and sea life benefits from it. It's a cycle, we can easily forget, yet we are all impacted by it.
It's easy to ignore the impact that nature has on us as we live in cities. We begin to forge the illusion that it's stores that provide us with food rather than remembering that we are permanently gripped by nature for our survival.
Visiting Milford Sound helped me see a glimpse of what it was like, in this part of the world, before humans visited here. It also reminded me to take care of home. To be mindful and take care of our spaceship we call Earth.
Our next destination was Dunedin, a small and quaint New Zealand college town.