The moon was withholding its light from the clear night sky as we left the world as we knew it. Middle Earth had beckoned and we responded to its call. We had long felt a kinship with this land and felt we could delay the journey no longer. And so we set out – knowing the way would present hardship and challenge amidst the raw beauty this land offered all who heeded its call and met its demands.
The journey to the edges of Middle Earth (more recently known as New Zealand), though long, was uneventful. Among the first challenges was adjusting to Middle Earth’s “left side” travel and to its reckoning of time. As our journey began, one day vanished, time was reset and it became critical to keep one thought always in the forefront – “keep left”. As we arrived at our point of departure, Christchurch, we were struck by the beauty of gardens,
the pastoral River Avon through the city and a friendly people whose language we generally understood – and who wished us well on our way. Verdant green hills, valleys and fields – with flocks of sheep, cattle and perfectly straight fences of trees gradually gave way to starker and more vertical hillsides, lakes, and the open bush of the South Island’s heartland and Southwestern Quarter.
We traveled several hours in darkness to finally reach our lodgings on Lake Wakitipua – from whence our real quest would begin. The days ahead would test our resolve to participate in the competition – yet if successful – prepare us well.
Our course first took us past Glenorchy, Isengard, and up the Dart River on
powerful watercraft – racing through canyons and rocks which marked the treacherous channels – to the end of navigable waters, followed by climbing Deer Park Heights above Queenstown,
where we encountered many of the land’s creatures at close quarters and where we saw constant reminders of the land’s history during the Two Towers.
We next trekked up the Hooker Valley, across raging streams on suspended bridges to the glacial lake at the base of Aoraki (Mt. Cook) – buffeted by gale force winds, but in awe of the mountain’s majesty and its role in the first conquest of Everest – and having paid our respects, were now prepared for the days ahead.
The journey continued in the Southwest Quarter, in Fiordland, one of Middle Earth’s most remote places – and yet one whose beauty is incomparable.
We traveled across Lake Mannopouri, over the barrier pass, and then the length of Doubtful Sound to the Far (Tasman) Sea – with towering, forested peaks on every side of the narrow channels of water we traversed and with ribbons of water falling from hanging valleys along the way.
This was followed by a traverse of Milford Sound – considered the most sought after destination of those who reside in Middle Earth. Its beauty nearly equaled that of Doubtful Sound – especially the spectacular, yet forbidding pyramid of Mitre Peak – guarding the entrance to the fiord and warning travelers of the perils beyond.
The beauty and tranquility of the fiords gave way to the final phase of our preparatory journey – the multi-day tramp from Fiordland to Mt. Aspiring (NP) – which would take us through an alpine pass in the Barrier Mountains along the Routeburn Track – renowned throughout Middle Earth and beyond for its spectacular beauty – yet unforgiving in its demands and the potential exposure to the elements.
Carrying our Wee Little One and associated supplies and equipment we climbed through the ancient Beech Forest to Lake McKenzie Hut, reaching it as light receded for the day. We shared lodgings with 35 other travelers before setting out the next morning for the alpine climb to Harris Saddle, through the glacial lakes and into Mt. Aspiring.
Majestic, eternally snow and ice-clad mountains ringed the Track is it snaked its way up and along ridges, rocky promontories and through the pass – opening up ever more expansive views of the Southern Alps and valleys, before descending past roaring waterfalls, cascades, and rivers of crystal clear water as they fell through bottomless gorges.
As the day closed we reached the Routeburn Shelter and the end of the Track. Our arduous journey had been rewarded with scenes of unspeakable beauty and unforgettable images. We had successfully completed the South Island’s Preparatory Journey. The Middle Earth competition now awaited us.
4 years ago