Today is the 31st anniversary of the first day of my life without booze or drugs. I think I’ll celebrate by driving on the wrong side of the road.
We’re due in Milford Sound for an overnight voyage through the Sound to the Tasman Sea and back. Milford Sound is perhaps New Zealand’s premier tourist attraction. Pictures of its iconic Mitre Peak appear on just about every promotional piece ever printed. The sky is always clear and the water always glassy reflecting the peak’s perfect triangle, which gives the lie to the fact that Milford Sound is one of the wettest places on the globe.
Our luck with weather thus far has been brilliant. We’ve had rain rarely and only in the morning. Gray clouds hang over Te Anau as we depart. This’ll pass. Dawn catches us in the driveway with a map of the route. She’s circled a couple worthy stops along the way. The road follows the Eglinton River Valley, which wanders through a lush, golden prairie between steep, dark green mountains. The river runs shallow, weaving in and out of its gravel bed. She recommends a side trip to Gunn’s Camp, a preserved Public Works Project camp built in the late ‘30s, when New Zealand started constructing the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound. A dusty road leads to the encampment, a collection of tiny, brightly painted cabins, the sand flies are very inquisitive, and the Museum is fascinating and hilarious. Joss and I then decide to search for a waterfall, but find the road narrowing and the bush closing in. We turn around more relieved than discouraged. The next encounter with the unknown is with the Homer Tunnel, an engineering feat started during the Depression and finally completed in the ‘50s. It’s a single-lane, three-quarter-mile, granite-walled tunnel that descends a meter every ten. Until it was paved, it was the longest gravel tunnel in the world.
On to the Sound. Gray clouds cover the mountain peaks. We sit on the curb and eat a sandwich. Because we’re on the overnight trip, we can park the car at the terminal. Yippee. At four o’clock we board the Milford Mariner, a vessel that sleeps sixty passengers. After the requisite safety briefing – “In case of emergency, gather at the muster point” – we locate Cabin 28. It’ll do. Two teeny beds and a teeny-weeny bath. We steam up the fjord (Milford Sound is really a fjord) and anchor in a bay for ‘water recreation’ and overnight. Joss takes the tender to see some sights. I hang in the cabin, composing a post I won’t be able to send for twenty-four hours. Our dinner companions are assigned: a boring, Republican couple from Cincinnati and an elegant, sophisticated Japanese couple. We manage an hour and a half of semi-animated chat. Joss finds the Ohioans reprehensible and almost lets ‘em have it. But they have a son who lives in the East Village and seems like he might be gay. They love him. Dinner passes.