When speaking to clients or novice travelers about my travels, sooner or later I inevitably get asked the same question:
“What was the best place you’ve been?”
I know they mean well, and I’m sure they really do want to know. But the problem lies in what they mean by what is ‘best’. It is at this point that I ask my own follow-up questions, which only results in coming back to the original one.
“What was the best place you’ve been?”
So I will answer that now. And just so we’re clear, the following is the expanded version of the question(s) I will be responding to. “Of all the places you have seen, which would rate as best of all? What is the one spot that not only took your breath away, but a piece of your heart as well? And where is the one place that you were so overwhelmed by its beauty, you still use it as a touchstone to judge all other places?” Since you put it that way, I can respond unhesitatingly—Fiordland National Park in the Southwest corner of New Zealand.
In a previous blog post I included an abbreviated account of my visit there (see South Circle Island Tour—Part I), but to justify giving it my top honor requires a little more explanation.
For anyone without access to a plane, helicopter, or stamina for a four day overland hike, Fiordland National Park is about a three hour drive from Queenstown—the main hub of activity in the region. Once past the town of Te Anau, the scenery kicks into overdrive with grassy meadows of yellow-brown tussock draped beneath an impressive backdrop of towering mountains. Moving further into the park there’s an amazing sense of scale that just can’t be effectively translated into any media I’m aware of. Even words fail to fully capture the grandeur of standing at an overlook watching an emerald tinged river of raging water snake its way through a sea of intensely green temperate rain forest rising up steep mountainsides topped with ice. And this isn’t even the best part.
In an area of superlatives, the title of ‘Most Impressive’ goes to Milford Sound–the terminus of the road and the starting point for scenic cruises. Directly opposite from the small visitors center is the conical shape of Mitre Peak jutting several thousand feet out of the generally placid waters. A trip out to the mouth of the Tasman Sea & back will showcase sheer-sided cliffs ringed with more temperate rain forest, capped by glaciers, and spouting gushing waterfalls that dwarf any man-made craft in the area. Again, fully comprehending the scale of this enormous valley is difficult even when present, let alone a secondhand account.
Being an animal lover, I took special delight when a pod of bottlenose dolphins kept pace with our boat, arcing in and out of the water a few arm-lengths away. Lazing on the rocky shoreline were troops of seals, seemingly unaware that they were residing in a place of such amazing natural beauty. And while admiring the proliferation of indigenous flora, I had a run-in with a kea— parrot that is part of the indigenous fauna—who very brazenly approached looking for a handout.
So there’s my answer. I’ve given you not only the where, but the why. There’s lots of places I would rank higher for more specific questions (for example, “What’s the best place to eat good Italian food? Answer: Italy) but for an overall, all things being equal, ensemble cast award for the best spot on earth, my answer remains Fiordland National Park, New Zealand. And if you don’t like my answer don’t blame me.
You’re the one who asked 🙂
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