Confession time, again.
I have not one but two University degrees. I speak three other languages to a decent standard and I am currently running my own (admittedly, one woman) copywriting and research business.
But until recently I didn't know what a fjord was.
At least, I wasn't sure.
I knew they existed and I knew they could be found in Norway and had something roughly to do with mountains and water but with hand on heart honesty I wouldn't have been able to describe precisely what a fjord was and how it came to be a truly stunning feat of nature.
I got to know fjords a little better in New Zealand thanks to my friend (the geography graduate) Betty's eagerness to include Milford Sound as part of our South Island itinerary.
We drove there early one morning after a comfortable sleep in a campsite in Te Anau, one of many comfortable campsites in New Zealand. The drive was eventful enough. I don't know why I never got used to that in New Zealand. The drives were always as beautiful (if not more so) than the destination.The mist stayed with us the whole time, hanging around the hair pin corners we navigated around, sitting above the moss covered trees, refusing to surrender a full view of the horizon to us.
This mist became stubborn as it showed no signs of lifting as we arrived at our destination, bought our cruise tickets and walked over to the ferry terminal.
Oh here comes another quick confession. Hopefully you're still reeling from my geographic ineptness to notice this one but, I've never watched (or worse, read!) Lord of the Rings. The films many references in New Zealand were all but lost on me. Yet, as we approached Milford Sound and swirls of mist hugged the steep slopes, I felt we were walking towards another world. It wasn't the last time I referred to New Zealand as other worldly. It's a wonder we all waited for local fella Peter Jackson to come up with the idea of filming the world's most famous fantasy novel in New Zealand.
Anyway, all aboard our boat and I am suddenly uncertain what to expect. The boat starts to move and of course, this is when it starts to rain. Fear not, we have come prepared wearing cagoules, practical shoes and our best British senses of humour. The rain stands little chance.
Almost immediately over the captain's tannoy we are being asked to look to our right, at Lady Bowen Falls, tall and impressive twisting white pillars of water crashing into the basin. And then we are being shown areas of the mountains where tree avalanches have taken place. Betty is completely enthralled, she moves to and from across the boat, camera in her hand, finger never less than a centimetre away from the shutter button. I love watching her enthusiasm.
For the next few hours I am exposed to brief but absorbing insights into nature, New Zealand and how my friend Betty will do anything to photograph seals, including getting soaked to the skin. I am happy to say that we drove away from Milford Sound damp and a little cold but without dampened spirits. I'm not a traveller who usually goes in search of nature, although I applaud, appreciate and admire it wherever I stumble across it. Just how we did on our drive away from Milford Sound and we saw a car parked on the shoulder with two huge green birds atop it. Inside a couple were smiling nervously and avidly taking photos as the birds bent over the side of the car and pecked away at their windows. Like the helpful fellow travellers we are we stopped alongside them and started taking photos of them and their predicament. This shortly backfired as the two birds, which Betty informed me were New Zealand's infamously extrovert and confrontational Kias, hopped on over to perch on the top of our van. They clipped and clopped all over our roof like two high-heeled women strutting down a street on a night out. We drove off giggling and hoping they would fly to their next victim, but unable to see them I still half suspected and half hoped they were when we got to Queenstown two hours later. Of course, they were not.
Milford Sound, I thank you for teaching me what fjords are and for showing me how beautiful they can be even on a dull, rainy and misty day. And thank you Betty for letting me experience what it's like to travel actively in search of the world's natural wonders and those seals really were worth getting wet for.
Frances M. Thompson
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.