Te Anau

Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
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Trip End Jun 17, 2009


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Saturday, April 5, 2008

It was late in the morning when we finally left Riverton and set off west along the coast on Hwy 99. The bright sunny day saw the temperature rise from 13 to 18 deg with little wind.

We took a detour to 'Cosy Nook', a tiny bay where the surf was rolling onto the rocky outcrops and boulder strewn shore. Cormorants were basking on the rocks and it was a really relaxing scene.

Moving onwards we reached 'Te Waewae Bay', which was an enormous, curved, sandy beach nearly thirty miles long with some amazing surf constantly rolling into the beach. Part way along was 'Gemstone Beach', so called because of the multi coloured rocks and pebbles that resembled polished gemstones.

Not having time to look for our fortune, we turned northwards and inland towards 'Fiordland National Park', where we steadily grew closer to the mountains and 'Lord of the Rings' scenery. Our road map named many film locations that were used in the scenes in the films.

In late afternoon we reached 'Manapouri' and called at the visitor centre for information on a trip to 'Doubtfull Sound'. There were no places available until Tuesday and we grabbed those, as the weather was forecast to be fine early next week.

We had intended to stay at Manapouri but now continued to 'Te Anau', only twenty miles north and found a motel on the side of the lake, close to town. The town is the closest to the very popular 'Milford Sound' and reminded us of a Canadian Rockies town, quite modern and very well set up for tourists with motels, restaurants, cafes and bars but without having the big city bustle and noise.
 
Distance driven        177 Km            110 miles
 
Sunday  6th April

An extra hour in bed as the end of New Zealand daylight saving time put the clocks back an hour. Now I'm really not sure how far in front of the UK time we are!

Most of the motels have basic kitchen facilities and we were now doing our own breakfasts of cereals and toast. As you checked in they gave you a carton of milk for drinks and this was sufficient for breakfast. (Dorothy - I've found the 'Manuka" honey and it's fabulous!)

It had rained very heavily overnight and the area was cloudy. We had booked on a Milford Sound scenic day tour and were worried that we may not have good views of the Sound. Our minibus picked us up and we travelled north along the edge of 'Lake Te Anau', the second largest lake in NZ, some forty miles long with two, twenty mile long arms branching off.

We stopped at several view points to admire the lake and the mountains and at one stop walked for half an hour through a thick forest, with giant beech trees and wonderful birdsong. The weather was clearing and as we turned west toward Milford the mountains became snow covered with small glaciers between some of the peaks.

We passed through the 'Homer Tunnel, an amazing construction cut through the mountains and sloping down steeply for over half a mile. The upper end of the tunnel was (supposedly) avalanche proofed but the debris from past avalanches was scattered around. On the mountainsides you could see wide areas of bare rock, where falls had scoured away the forest, a regular occurrence in winter.

Stopping to look at 'The Chasm', a narrow gorge where the rock sides had been worn away into fantastic shapes by the glacial, boulder carrying waters, we descended down the twisty road until we arrived at Milford Sound's small harbour after the two and a half hours ride.

Our tour boat set off down the ten mile long Sound, with its almost vertical sides and countless waterfalls, some of which dropped from the top of the surrounding cliff faces in amazing cascades. At least the rain had given us this great display, even though many of the mountain tops were unfortunately shrouded in cloud.

The hour and a half trip took us out to the Tasman Sea, which was reasonably calm and on the way back we passed sea lions basking on a rock in the slowly increasing sunshine. Some of the sides of the Sound looked as though they had been clawed out by a giant excavator, which I suppose was basically what the icebergs had done.

There are sixteen major fiords in the NZ Fiordland national Park. Milford (which was named by a Welsh whaler after his home town of Milford Haven) is the most popular and accessible - just a two hour drive over the mountains! The majority can only be reached from the sea. Milford was quite a spectacular sight.

On the drive back our driver spotted cars parked in a lay by and the centre of attraction was a 'Kea'. This parrot is the only one in the world that can live in the mountains and like all parrots they are very curious and intelligent. Someone has done an animal intelligence test and the Kea was rated as smart as a chimp. Cute little birds.

Monday 7th April

A brighter day but a cool start at 11 deg. We looked around the town and went to see a film of the Fiordland area, shot over several years by a local helicopter pilot. There were some amazing views and spectacular flying scenes in this very interesting production.

In the afternoon we visited the 'Te Anau Glow Worm Caves', an hour's boat ride up the lake. Walking down into a water eroded, limestone cave system, with fascinating passageways and falls, we boarded a small boat and were pulled along a lightless tunnel. Here we saw the larvae of the fungus gnat, which live on the cave roof and emit a chemical 'glow' to attract flies and moths. It catches them by suspending mucous covered 'fishing lines' below itself and hauling any trapped prey up to be eaten. It stays a larval worm for nine months before hatching, mating and dying within five days. The roof was covered in hundreds of tiny lights, like a Christmas grotto - a fascinating sight.

We had an internet catchup and received the sad news that one of my last Aunties had suddenly passed away. This reminded us how far away from home we were and that separate to our travels, life was still going on.
 
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