Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
394Trip End Ongoing
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- James Cook, describing Fiordland on his voyage of discovery in 1770.
There's a small cinema in Te Anau that puts on four showings per day of a film called 'Ata Whenua - Shadowland'. It's only a short film (32 mins) and contains no dialogue, just music to accompany the visual. Basically, it's a film about the Fiordlands. Here's how they describe it:-
'Ata Whenua - Shadowland brings you the Fiordland World Heritage Status Wilderness you would otherwise never see. Mysterious, evocative, exhilarating and utterly spectacular, filmed across extremes of season, climate and terrain, Ata Whenua - Shadowland will take you on an unforgettable journey through one of the most awe inspiring landscapes on earth.'
I went to see it the other day and was completely blown away. Completely. I won't even attempt to describe what I saw but if you can imagine the most beautiful, untouched, undiscovered place on earth filmed to perfection with the use of very precisely controlled helicopters, capturing the heavenly presence of the most remote places that you would never, ever get to see unless you were a winged animal or a 'wingless' animal sitting in a helicopter, you'll get the feintest of ideas. It even incorporates the four radical season changes demonstrating how humanly inhabitable the Fiordland really is. It makes sense really. I guess residing in heaven is something that just isn't meant for our 'living years'.
Following this I just felt I had to slot in a quick entry describing a little bit about the Fiordland - it's had an impact on me so much. There are enough books and websites out there boasting the proper details, but I just wanted to include a few highlights that really blew me away so as I can look back on.
It's referred to as a tortuous terrain, a land so high and sheer as to rarely permit the sun through every valley. It consists of 1.2 million hectares of virgin rainforest with each of the fourteen fiords carving there way into over 200 kilometres of coastline, and sheer granite mountains rising from sea level to over 2700 metres. This in itself prompted an award in 1986, giving the Fiordland National Park world heritage status. Once you've been and seen, it is practically impossible to imagine that the abundance of valleys that are now filled with cloud were once occupied by glaciers. Fourteen thousand years ago this was the case. As the glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age they literally carved out the steep sided valleys all the way to the seafloor. Lake Te Anau where I'm staying at the moment and Lake Manapouri were created in exactly the same way, in fact at one time the terrain stretching from the Southern Alps all the way through the Mount Aspiring National Park and on to the Fiordland National Park was mainly occupied by glaciers.
The Fiordland is a perfect environment for its unique wildlife averaging around 10 metres of rainfall annually, with over 200 rain days per year. What's unique about this environment is that as the westerly winds approach, the mountains rise high into their path, causing the air to rise, cool, and lose its mass of rain over the mountains providing the essential elements for this truly primordial rainforest. With this of course comes the incredible wildlife and plant life that make the Fiordland like nowhere else on earth. Completely unique. I know very little about trees, plants and birds but it's quite impressive nonetheless. The 'Kakapo' for one is found here. As well as being the world's only 'flightless parrot' it's also the world's largest. Less than one hundred now survive and they happen to reside here. The 'Takahe' has more or less been brought back from extinction after being 'presumed' extinct for the past fifty years. The numbers are estimated at well under 300 but like the Kakapo, they're here. Since travelling these parts, I've seen the 'Kea' in abundance. They're the world's only 'alpine parrot' and they're the most entertaining, cheeky, intelligent little things I've seen so far. If you put your pack down and leave it, they'll find a way in. They'll undo straps, knots and clips, whisking away your much treasured food from right out of your bag, right under your nose. If they choose to humour you they'll work in pairs; one will distract you with his cheekily entertaining manner, whilst the other will be having a good rummage through your belongings. Organised crime at its finest. When I lay in bed and opened my back door to admire the view of the river the morning I stayed over in Milford, I was greeted by one standing at the back of the van, looking right up at me. He wasn't overly concerned by me and didn't look too impressed with my morning hair, but once my doors were open he was casing the joint. He was up to no good and I knew it. Wonderful!
It has been tried before, to make the Fiordland ones home. I can completely understand why. It is paradise. However the environment here is so isolated and harsh, with such a rugged and remote nature, it has over time, defeated any attempt at any permanent habitation. I like that. It shouldn't be spoiled. What puts the Fiordland into a different league completely is having gained World Heritage status. 'World heritage is a global concept that identifies natural and cultural sites of world significance, places so special that protecting them is of concern for all people. Some of the best examples of animals and plants, once found on the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, live in the World Heritage Area'.
Very shortly I'll be leaving to go on a three day sea-kayaking adventure deep in to the heart of the Doubtful Sound. I can hardly control my excitement. Have I mentioned what an incredible country this is?