“As you can see,” I said to my students as I struggled to push the button on my PowerPoint clicker. “New Zealand is home to some of the most beautiful and dynamic landscapes.” I pushed the button again and the slide changed to a picture of Milford Sound. “This picture was taken at Milford Sound, part of Fiordland National Park on the south island.”
“What does Fiordland mean?” a student blurted out before she could raise her hand.
“A fiord is a lake which was carved by glaciers during the Ice Age and then inundated by the sea,” I replied as I looked around at several confused faces. “penetrated by the sea…filled with sea water.”
“Well why not just called it a sea then?” replied the student with an innocent smirk.
“Another unique aspect of a fiord is that the top several meters are actually freshwater, not salt water.” I told the class. “This layer of freshwater is created by runoff from the surrounding mountains, such as waterfalls. On any given day at Milford Sound, for instance, there are thousands of waterfalls pouring into the fiord.”
“Mr. Franklin, have you ever been there?” Asked another student curiously. “Did you take that picture?”
“No, I have not been,” I responded. “But I’ll tell you what…when I do go there and take a picture, I will turn it into a postcard and send it to you all.”
“Come on Frank, you ain’t ever gonna make it there,” shouted a third student. “Its like on the other side of the world!”
I awoke suddenly from the dream as the rain pounded our camper van. The wind had picked up since I had fallen asleep, squealing past our windows with enormous speed. I pulled back the curtains for a second to see that it was completely desolate outside. We decided not to stay at a holiday park on this night, and there was not another soul within several kilometers of us.
I vigorously rubbed my eyes, momentarily contemplating the dream. It was a memory from my first year teaching social studies in Indiana. I was in a challenging, Title I school, trying to keep my head above water for most of the year. The students had a way of making most lessons difficult, but whenever I showed them pictures of other countries, they seemed to actually engage in a lesson. On that particular day, I was teaching a geography lesson about New Zealand. I had always wanted to go to New Zealand, and preparing for the lesson made that fire burn brighter. Back then, I told my students I would go to Milford Sound someday, but I was not sure if I ever actually believed it myself. Here I was, however, in a camper van just a few kilometers away from Milford; sleep the only thing separating me from a boat cruise around the Sound which I had dreamt visiting for so long.
In the morning, Joe woke me up with a cup of coffee and said, “Well boys, we really lucked out with this rain. The waterfalls around Milford will be flowing today!” I pulled open the curtain and found the relentless rain to which Joe was referring. A few minutes later we were off, ready to embark on our journey around Milford Sound.
We passed through a mountain via a long, steep tunnel; it was as though we were driving into the middle of the earth. On the other side of the tunnel, the scenery was most unusual – tall, jagged mountains made of black rock filled the sky. The torsos of the mountains were concealed by lingering clouds and fog. Below the rocky peaks and mist, however, was a sprawling rainforest. Waterfalls poured out of the forest from every direction as we inched closer to Milford Sound.
When we arrived at the visitor center, we found that the rain and cold temperature had scared most people away. We essentially had the entire boat to ourselves. Although it was raining, the top deck of the boat had an overhang, which is where we spent the majority of the hour and a half cruise.
As we cruised around Milford Sound, waterfalls sprang from the rainforest-covered mountains at every angle. We passed a group waterfalls called the Four Sisters, each powerfully spilling down into the fiord from more than a mile in the air. The captain took us all the way out to the Tasman sea before we turned around and toured the opposite coastal line. At one point, the boat pulled almost underneath a large waterfall. Kevin, Blake, and Joe stood at the front of the ship as the water thunderously pounded the deck. I was at the back as the captain slowly turned. The force of the waterfall knocked me off of me feet and back into the cabin. When we pulled away from the waterfall, I went to the front of the boat to investigate and found Kevin, Blake, and Joe giggling like giddy school girls – they were completely soaked.
I shook my head and decided it was a good time to find a few minutes of solitude. I walked to the bottom deck and found a deserted spot at the back of the boat. I pulled out the wooden basket I had purchased in Uganda which contained my stepfather’s ashes. I opened it and gently sprinkled a little bit of Dad into Milford Sound. The Rocky Mountains, Lake Tekapo, Queenstown, and now Milford Sound, I thought. He is getting quite the trip. I watched as the ashes melted away into the emerald-green abyss of water; another piece of my mourning soul placed back into the right place.
I have been to many beautiful places in my life…rainforests, waterfalls, blue ocean beaches, ancient temples, the Serengeti, and mountains, to name a few. The scenic views at Milford Sound, however, may make Fiordland National Park the most breathtaking place I have ever laid my eyes upon. At the end of every day I have spent in New Zealand, I think that there is no possible way that we will see something more spectacular the next day, only to be proven wrong over and over.
After Milford Sound, we drove past Queenstown and back to Lake Wanaka to make camp for the night. We decided venture out into the town for dinner and stumbled upon a local pizza joint called Francesca’s. We each ordered our own 12 inch wood fire pizza at 20 NZD per pizza. Each bite tasted better than the previous as we washed it down with cold beer. It was another perfect end to a perfect day. I sat quietly, attempting to comprehend everything I had seen earlier that day… …I sat quietly, eager to find what beautiful surprise this country had in store for us tomorrow.