Jan 11

Milford Sound Track #2

by in Drawing & Writing

We’d heard horror stories about sleeping in the bunkrooms, and in preparation, Antje had bought a pack of long earplugs presumably made for aircraft carriers. When inserted at maximum depth and given a corkscrew turn, they almost touch brain.

Still, we were awoken the first morning by a man speaking in full volume to his boys, wife, and father-in-law. It was 6:00AM, and silently we loathed every one of them.

We’d seen the dad the day before. He and his family were Australian, and at one point Antje said, “He is very good-looking for his age.” It was true. He hadn’t picked up an ounce of fatherly flab; his hair was receding in all the right places; when he wasn’t laughing, he was smiling; he also had a trekking beard.

As for the two sons, the oldest looked like a blonde, pubescent version of Carrot Top; the youngest was a cherubim, but sort of ruined the effect by slamming doors and covering his shaggy head in a baseball cap that read:

NEC Data Centers
Fast. Reliable. Affordable.

As for the mother, she wasn’t my best friend, either. I’d been trying to read myself into sleepiness the evening before when she called out to her husband:

“Now here’s an idea. Why don’t we put the molk [milk] in the river, so it’s nice and cool tomorrow morning?”

That was a very good idea indeed, he agreed – so much so that when grandpa walked in, he encouraged her to tell him about it, too. “So I was just thinking,” she told her father, “why don’t we put the molk in a bag, and kind of put a rock on it or something, and put in the river. That way we’ll have cold molk in the morning.” Grandpa thought it was a great idea. Nothing worse than warm molk!

The oldest son moseyed on over, having only caught the end of it. “What’s the plan?” His mom explained. “We’re gonna put some molk in the river. That way it’ll get nice and cold for tomorrow morning.”

The door slammed so hard that the bunk-room shuddered; NEC boy was in the building. The older brother walked past him and said, “Ask mum about her stupid idea.”

NEC boy turned innocently to mum, full of curiosity. “What idea?”

“Well, I think we’re gonna put the molk cartons in a plastic bag and put it in the river, so it’s cold for tomorrow morning.”

He pondered this for a moment, and said, “I know what we should do! We should put the water from the river in a plastic bin, and then put the molk inside, to cool it. Then we could put the purifying tablets in the water, so we could drink it!”

It was ingenious, he was just sure of it!

The thing was, we did have tap water. Plus, water from a bin with a milk carton is probably not delicious.

But no one wanted to hurt the boy’s feelings, especially mum. “You know what? That’s a really good idea, and that’s exactly what we’ll do when we go camping sometime. But we can save the purifiers for now, I’m pretty sure.”

Whether their molk was cold the next morning, only God and that family know. What we knew, though, was that they were incapable of sleep empathy. How could you talk in full voices at 6:00? Unbelievable. Regardless, it was time for everyone to go ahead and get up and eat some goddamn breakfast.

Around us there were instant porridges and instant oatmeals and many many other instant things that required only hot water. There was a lot of watching and learning going on, and one idea that took hold was to drop tea bags into a boiling pot of water, rather than making tea cup-by-cup. The Japanese couple spent over an hour preparing their breakfast, which included a delicately carved red and green apple with very sharp cutlery. Green Day and girlfriend ate silently in a corner. As for the other German couple, she was busy cooking, while he was busy leaning over her and being a hungry, grumpy male. At one point his girlfriend shouted, “YEAH I’M DOING THAT!”, momentarily hushing the room. It was an important moment for some. A cliché had been confirmed.

Not long after setting off, we caught up with bushwalkers next to the river.

“Trout in there,” the guy pointed. There was some discussion as to whether the trout, which was lazing about in the sunlight, was brown or rainbow. Brown, the group decided. Stone Cold Bushwalker shook his head. “Rather look at the bloody thing than eat it. I don’t get these people coming out here, pulling ‘em out and eating ‘em.”

It was the last thing you’d expect from a guy who looked like a Hell’s Angel, and we all walked together after that, exchanging almost zero personal information. Instead we stopped to examine different tree varieties; to check out animal tracks; to look inside a stoat trap (no stoat, but the egg-bait stank); to look for birds; to explore the overgrown hut. The bushwalkers were seriously good at bushwalking, all five senses were completely in tune, always on the hunt for tiny details. Not really sure if we were intruding into that experience, Antje and I moved on.

The Israelis marched past, followed by the Swedes. For the next few miles we did the tortoise and the hare thing with the latter, as they stopped constantly to take pictures. Our own camera was Antje’s iPhone, and we’d only charged it halfway before the trip. That was very stupid. The trail went past dozens of skinny waterfalls threading their way down the mountains and into the valley. The Swedes found a perfect little spot right next to the Clinton river for their lunch, or maybe breakfast, and we moved on.

A half hour later, an unexpected sound came drifting through leaves. Someone was playing a harmonica. A day-hut came into view, and I half-expected a ranger to be sitting there, just being a ranger and playing his old harmonica. Instead it was the whittling Israeli. His eyes flicked up to me, but really he just wanted to finish his song, something from the Beatles. His friend had his back to him and was quietly singing along, his audience being the forest. The song finished, and the Israeli smiled. “I like it, the harmonica.” His friend turned on a battery-powered radio. The music that came out sounded like the Israeli answer to Frank Sinatra. “It is a treat for us. We listen to one disc today, now that we are halfway.” They stuffed it into a pack, and off they went, both singing along, fading into the forest. On their heels came the quarreling Germans.

She sat down with a huff, intentionally not looking at him.

He walked up to her, stopping directly in front of her, hands on hips… but ABSOLUTELY NOT sitting down, hell no.


“NO,” she said, and stood up. They stormed off. We allowed some distance before we followed.

Lunch was a boiled egg, mixed nuts, apple slices with chunky peanut butter, and, at least for me, Snickers bars… with scoops of chunky peanut butter on them! Antje was revolted, but man, that’s life in the bush!

It was hot by then, and after more than a mile of open plain, even hotter. A side-trip took us to a hidden lake that was neither hidden nor very swimmable, and away from it we trudged. For the next two miles we sweated it out over a dozen dried out riverbeds, until finally there came one filled with water. I immediately dropped my pack, scrambled up the boulders, dunked my head in, and had my first drink of river water. Delicious. A minute later Grandpa walked up, saw what I was doing, and followed suit. The Swedes walked up, saw what grandpa was doing, and scrambled up. One corner later, a much, much easier access point appeared, with deeper water to boot. Ah well. “It seemed like a good idea.”

The last two miles were the day’s Heartbreak Hill. At every turn you expected the hut, and at every turn it just got steeper. “Are your knees OK?” Antje asked. Surprisingly, my old running injuries were nowhere in sight. “My knee hurts a little bit,” she said. She also had six blisters.

When Mintaro hut came into view, we ditched it at once for Mintaro Lake. And Jesus H.W. Bush.

Mintaro Lake is the type of scene you’d expect a 2nd grader to draw when they very naively imagine the perfect mountain setting. “So there’s these really steep mountains, and then here’s the lake, and here’s some grass I made all around it, and here’s some sand in the middle of the lake so you can lay on it, and here’s some ducks that you can play with.” The ducks in question weren’t Ranger Ross’s beloved blue ducks, but Paradise Ducks, which were hilariously territorial, mostly out of boredom. They stood together in clusters for minutes on end, placid in the sunlight, only for one to decide, “ENOUGH BULLCRAP!” and run the others OUT.

The Biologist and her friends were brave enough to try the lake – and flailed right back out, shrieking. I went next, and yes, swimming was out of the question. Antje was the last, and afterwards we warmed ourselves on the sand. The Biologist and friends had left, and suddenly we were alone, and in the middle of something that couldn’t even really be talked about.

Instead, and having had a few minutes to find the best words I could, I said, “You know I don’t believe in heaven and all that, but if you ever want to imagine me in one, it can be like right now, rubbing each other’s feet.”

The German couple walked up.

They were both in bathing suits, and the guy put his feet in first. “Bwaaaaaahhh,” he groaned, then splashed the glacial water on his head, “Bwaaaaaahhh.” It trickled down his back, “bwaaaaaahhh, bwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh.” His girlfriend went into giggle fits, then repeated the act.

They deserved some alone time, too, and as we left them there, they were curled up together on the sand, all made good by the mountains.


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3 Responses to “Milford Sound Track #2”

  1. From Mom:

    Loved it. Hugs!

    Posted on January 11, 2012 at 15:27 #
  2. From Shan:

    Dude, I think I need to move to Europe simply so I can take 2 month long trips such as these…. I am SO jealous :) Love you both and am counting the days until I see you.

    Posted on January 12, 2012 at 02:52 #
  3. From Rebecca:

    Hey you guys! Back with a thump in our everyday life – thank you for a wonderful time in Wanaka. Take in every second of NZ – believe me, you´re gonna miss it terribly. Germany feels like one big Megacity now and I still need some time to adjust :-) All our love, Rebecca + Robby

    Posted on January 12, 2012 at 10:21 #