Today, I am a tourist. I am on a climate-controlled bus with a glass top, stopping for curated prepackaged meals and scenic photo-ops through New Zealand’s famed Fjordland.
I am being driven by a bus driver full of dad-jokes and non-offensive humor, and I am having fun! I am heading to Milford Sound, one of the most visited places in all of New Zealand, and I feel like I am allowing myself to dig in with young and loud traveling families, clumps of octogenarians, and retired couples of America’s baby boomer generation. The journey is easy, air conditioned, low impact and is quite the antithesis of what I normally seek on the road and in my life. I, possibly for the first time, am coalescing with the typical. It is mundane, it is turn-key, and it has a lot of people taking selfies. I am, for once, putting my feet up and letting the tourism machine do the work.
If you don’t already know, Milford Sound is literally designated as the 8th wonder of the world. Maori legend says that it was carved out by a great god who slammed his hammer so perfectly into the landscape that it carved out a collection of steep cliffs and mountains in a protected fjord full with gushing waterfalls. The photos don’t do it justice, and if you are in New Zealand, no matter who you meet, the answer is the same. You’ve got to do it at least once. And you’ve got to surrender and become a “tourist” to do it.
It is nearly impossible to get there on your own. The road to and from Milford is the most dangerous in all of New Zealand. I see dreary hitchhikers standing by the side of the road with thumbs up, soaked from the intermittent rains that pass through. I see camper vans with steam coming up from their engines, that couldn’t quite make it up the impossibly steep gradient out of the fjord. You need a tour agency to get you there. And so I watch and I laugh as I crack another pistachio from my polyester cushioned throne at the back of the bus. On our way into Fjordland National Park, we stopped near an open field, and a majority of the people went to the restroom. I found myself on a little knoll to watch the grass move in the breeze.
As I write this, I see cotton seeds dance like little tufts in the wind. They catch the sunlight as they float through the air, and look like little fairies, each with a life all their own. There is no reason to balk at the word “tourist”, there is nothing to fear here. And at this moment I am humbled, and I realize that magic is everywhere. It even exists in the places that are heavily trodden by man, where the paths are carved out and the guardrails cemented in place. It matters not whether one is on a shuttled tour bus on a comfortable paved road, or in a far corner of the world only reachable by a select few. One need only look up and watch the seeds swim through the liquid air to find it.