We drove through Homer Tunnel for the first time headed down to Milford Sound. Homer Tunnel is one of the coolest I’ve ever been through. There’s nothing sleek or cosmopolitan about this thing. First of all it literally goes through a mountain at the end of a valley, allowing you to go where literally, a road never could get any other way. I’m fairly certain it’s the natural stone itself you’re looking at above and around you as you go, and it goes SIGNIFICANTLY down hill while you’re in there! And it’s a bumpy ass ride, one-way tight tunnel at a time, alternating directions of traffic every 15 minutes. Not the most reassuring of tunnels, but pretty sweet.
Milford Sound is quite a beautiful place, but there were two things Zoe and I couldn’t seem to get away from. One was the sandflies, but that’s old news at this point. Where there is water (and sand) there will be sandflies, gotta get over it, as much as I want to kill every last one of them!!! And secondly the helicopters and airplanes. There’s a massive cruise ship in the bay, which people pay a bunch of money to ride out on, literally a few hundred meters, and sit there spinning around in the bay while they eat breakfast, but I can get over that. The helicopters and planes, I have more trouble with. I understand it’s probably the most amazing way to view this area. The problem is, it feels like an air force base in Vietnam. The propellers are constantly going on multiple aircraft, and the sound reverberates everywhere down there. I don’t mean to bitch, it’s beautiful, but it does seem a bit counterintuitive.
Due mostly to the sandflies, we headed out after a short hike, and back up to Homer Tunnel. There’s an ice tunnel and hike up to a waterfall there. But as soon as we stopped in the parking lot, Zoe yelled out, “climbers!” A few people were messing around on a boulder in the parking lot. We wandered over, started chatting a bit, and as climbing circles go… we ended up climbing with them for the next few hours. Nothing amazing (except the view) but it was nice to get on rock again, and if we had several more pads, things would have gotten interesting. The landings were horrible, finger strength unknown, and rock quality a mystery, so we stayed pretty modest in our endeavors.
We eventually parted ways and headed off for a couple of strenuous hikes. First up was Lake Marian, high up in the hills, it sounded blissful. And after all the muddy root and rock hopping, the lake itself certainly was. A massive, silent glacial lake, pristinely clear with an unrelenting sun dumping rays down on us. There were ten of us in total throughout our time at the lake coming and going. Nearly all of us braved the frigid waters, and all but one of us had the same reaction of quick desperate breaths, repetitions of the Lord’s name, and (I can’t speak for the Germans) but personally, many expletives. It was amazing though, water that cold has an invigorating and revitalizing effect I can’t find anywhere else.
After the lake, we made haste for Key Summit, boasting a 360 view of the Fiordlands. We raced up the track hoping to beat the setting sun, and only narrowly won before the cold closed in. Although I’d say the view was far narrower than what I had envisioned, the top itself was quite beautiful, and the valley in view as you finish the last third of the climb was my first strong visual connection to LOTR. I came around the bend looking out into the valley and just thought, “ah, yup. I see it”. You could just stand there and imagine the camera flying out among the peaks, the creatures of Middle Earth rushing through the valley below. And from the peak was a view of Lake Marian, which seemed FAR off in the distance, which we had been at only 3 hours prior.