Mountains in the Mist, part 2
I know for those of you back in the states, school is already half done, but for me, it starts tomorrow. The last two months have been quite a vacation from school, although I’ve found plenty with which to keep busy, interested, and useful. In particular, I have a few stories I owe you from the past two weeks.
One of my great hopes in coming to study in New Zealand was to tramp around and explore the place. Famed for natural beauty, the less settled regions of New Zealand are filled with plenty of tracks covering innumerable miles and kinds of terrain. If you’re hungry for wilderness, or beauty, or fresh air, it’s here. So I and some of my friends that I got to know through the IFSA Butler New Zealand study abroad spent a good bit of the first week in Dunedin planning a trip out to the Westward part of New Zealand – Fiordland. This legendary place is called Ata Whenua in Maori, or ‘Shadow-land’. It absolutely deserves a name that implies such mystery, and evokes such interest. We picked one of the more popular trails, the Kepler track, to start out on. It was here that I encountered the Mountains of the Mist, the namesake of two of my posts and F. W. Boreham’s book.
Planning took awhile, mostly due to our inexperience with it all, but after a good deal of buying and renting we were fully equipped to go bush. New Zealand is so compact and accessible that we were able to take a four hour bus to our destination, Te Anau.
Apart from some logistical issues (closed DOC office!) it started off well. It grieves me to omit a thousand small stories and details along the way, but I must for the sake of my patience and your interest. We hiked along the edge of Lake Te Anau in a fern-filled forest until the trail headed uphill. For three hours we gained altitude, the scenery changing all the time. At one point, the forest was covered in lush plants; at another, in ethereal moss; at another, giant granite bluffs dominated the landscape and our attention. Finally we broke through the treeline to the alpine, and were met with a fantastic view. But we could see mainly eastward – the mountain concealed the sights of Fiordland. But as we continued, each corner passed would reveal another slice of the coming scene, until we could view the Murchison Mountains, covered in foliage and in mist, across from the South Fiord. After an hour of walking through the tussock grass we reached the hut we were staying in for the night.
But the day wasn’t done. A series of caves was just underneath our feet, so after some rest we walked 15 minutes to a nearby cave entrance. A group of six of us entered the cave, and one by one people turned back at the threshold of their comfort zone. When only three of us remained we felt that we were far underground, and when my friend Liz wanted to go back, I decided that I should not make her do so alone. All three of us wandered back until we ran into a dead end. It was obvious that we had not come this way – we were lost. The realization of our helplessness weighted on us as heavily as the thousand of tons of rocks above us. Managing to keep our cool, however, we retraced our steps until we found our mistake at one branch of the cave. Never have I been so glad to see a faint sliver of light as when we finally reached the cave entrance. But some part of the male psyche kept the German guy (the third person) and I from admitting defeat at that point; we went back into the cave to explore for another two hours, without difficulty. Back at the hut that night we met some other interesting trampers, including three other German guys who have since become our good friends.
We finished the remainder of the alpine section of the track the next day. It was stunning to see such immense and grand peaks in such immense and grand numbers. Each corner we turned set our minds afloat in the wonder of Ata Whenua. Chief among the views was the sight from the summit of Mt. Luxmore, affording a 360 degree view of the plain surrounding Te Anau and tens of fantastic peaks. To think that this same rugged landscape, replete with deep fiords and towering summits, stretches for 60 miles both north and south was astounding. Another high point of the day was a section of track that followed along a ridge. When the day was done we had descended back down into the forest, camping next to a sandfly infested river, the Iris Burn.
On the third day we trekked through a low area, following the Iris Burn as it grew from a small stream into a river. I took more than one dip in the frigid water. On our right was the Kepler Mountains, on our left, the Jackson peaks. Immediately around us were countless species of trees and birds. We finished the day on a lonely stretch of the Lake Manapouri shore. The sun set gorgeously. A kaleidoscope of bright golden rays shot across the lake, formed by Rona Island, the Beehive, and the Turret Range. At last, as the campfire burned down, I nestled up into my warm sleeping bag to spend a night under the stars.
It took us no time to get back to the city, and we made sure to indulge every craving we had felt in the last four days. Included were pizza, coffee, smoothies, souvenirs, and a whole tub of ice cream. We met up with all of the German guys we had played spoons with so many times – it was a wonderful day.
Back in Dunedin, life has been quite different. Whereas before I was alone in a flat of six, suddenly I had four other flatmates. The sixth came very soon. They’re all great guys and I’m sure you will hear more about them.
The academic side of my stay here has begun as well. Yesterday (March 2nd), classes started at the University of Otago, and I’m still not sure what courses I’m taking! Fortunately, the problem is an excess, not a lack, of options. As is often the case academically, I’m torn between the useful and the interesting. Currently I’m in Computational Modelling of Biosystems, Introductory Psychology, and a third class yet to be decided.
Since I came with a group of Americans and live with a group of Americans, I have gotten to know many of them very well. But this is hardly the point of studying abroad. I came to know the land and culture of the Kiwis. I got plugged in with a group called Student Life that exists for the sole purpose of telling each student at uni about Christ. I connected very quickly with a group of guys in this group, and have been getting to know them very well. Although I’ve only known them for a couple of weeks, I love them very much and I know that this friendship will be very fruitful. Aside from hanging out and serving Student Life, we’ve had a few antics so far. I’ll tell you about the most ridiculous one, which also happens to be a university tradition. On the second night of orientation week there is a huge toga party. Prior to this the freshman march in grand style along the main street of Dunedin dressed in their fine white cloths. But this parade is really more of a battle. The upper classmen line the sides of the street with ammunition of eggs, flour, and tomatoes. When the freshers walk by, eggs fly in all directions, and only the lucky escape unscathed. Our group put up a particularly good fight, with 20 dozen eggs and several kilos of tomatoes.
Life has settled out quite a bit, and I suppose something of a ‘routine’ will form for me. It still has taken awhile for me to settle into reality, that I am in New Zealand, with tons of Kiwis to meet and miles and miles of coastline, mountain terrain, and flatland to explore. Soon to come, I hope, are the Routeburn Track and Mt. Aspiring National Park.