Continuing our tour of New Zealand’s South Island–we’ve toured Milford Sound by boat and have just landed.
On the walk back to the car an interpretive sign caught my eye. It told me that annual rainfall here averages 6.76 metres (over 22 feet). For scale, the sign showed a house with a peaked roof–the line showing this depth was above the house! This really made me stop and think. Coming from Central California and the Bay Area, this was off my scale! I had read the figure before, but this picture made it really sink in. This world of ours has wonders and scales that we don’t appreciate when we stay in one place–it’s too big, varied and grand.
A few miles up the road we parked at the trailhead to the Chasm, where the Cleddau River churns through a narrow slot that it has worn in the rock. Downstream where the valley turns and divides, a ridge towered between the forks. Beginning with a tall, heavily forested mountainside, it continued upward with a massive cliff blocking the ridgeline and, behind and above, a wilderness of cliffs and snow.
I could tell it was big, but didn’t know how big. Back at home later, with photo and topo map, I discovered that the high point was over 6,600 feet above us–even farther above its base downstream from us.
As I was discovering, the valley floors near the rivers are mostly broad and gentle, full of lush rainforest. Then their sides, hollowed out by the great glaciers of yesteryear, bound into the sky as tall cliffs and extremely steep slopes. The ridge we were looking at end-on was no exception. Rough cliffs on both sides dropped thousands of feet before transitioning to merely very steep ground.
Heading out on the trail to the Chasm, we were surrounded by lush, dense rainforest. Thick moss completely covered the trunks of trees. Below the trees, the space was filled with smaller shrubs and ferns, all a fresh green color. The extravagant force of life was pulsing all around us.
The bedrock floor of the valley forms a step here, dropping nearly 30 metres (100 feet) in a distance of about 100 metres. During the thousands of years since the last glacier left this point, the river has steadily cut a narrow slot headward into this step. The slot becomes so narrow in places that large rocks, then soil and plants, have created a roof.
Presently the trail forked. The right-hand fork led us across this lush roof, looping back across a bridge before re-joining at this fork.
Only metres above the bridge the river, flowing peacefully above, abruptly surges downward into its chasm. The bridge crosses directly over a foaming waterfall. Far below, the river boils into the shadows of its tunnel, only a few feet wide. Worn in those walls are potholes and wierd shapes, worn by rocks carried and swirled by the current as it cut downward. The roar of the water is deafening.
It is a wierd and new sensation to stand on the middle of the bridge and look straight down over the railing into the falling, surging water and feel its power.
This land is full of power. There is the legacy of the slow power of ancient glaciers which filled these valleys, slowly carving them deeper and wider. There is the latent energy of the cliffs and high ridges towering so far above the valleys. There is the dynamic energy and power of the rivers, roaring and foaming their way thousands of feet to the sea. And there is a spiritual energy that you feel, surrounded by these high, wild peaks, surging rivers and lushly growing plants.
Then you remember that you are not separate from this, not only walking through it. You have been made part of all this at the deepest level imaginable. What blessing, what empowerment!
Watch a 1:25 minute video (with sound) taken by a visitor approaching the bridge, then moving to the middle and filming the rushing water below. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVlPz267LoE
Here’s a 3:44 video showing the river from various places and angles, along with a walk through the rainforest and a view of that rising ridge downstream. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IP_ZsrAw34A&feature=related
For a zoomable, scrollable topo map of the area (and the entire country), go to http://gis.doc.govt.nz/docgis/ . Zoom and scroll ’till you get to the area and scale you want.