Monday, 11 February 2013

Fiords, glow worms and seals

So now we’re in the South-West of the South Island in Fiordland (yes, that is how they spell it here), where most things are done on water, and it rains a lot – average of 8m of rain per year and a drought is apparently when it hasn’t rained for 9 days. Actually in Te Anau it only has 1.2m of rain per year, so although the big mountains just across the lake were looking very moody in cloud, we had almost no rain here.

A Takahe strutting about like a 'Famous Grouse'
Our first day (Sunday) was Pauline’s birthday, we spent the morning with a walk round a bit of Te Anau lake, stopping off at an informal wildlife area, that had three Takahe flightless birds strutting about (like a lot of birdlife in NZ they are under threat from introduced predators like cats, weasels and possums and were thought to be extinct until, in 1948 some were found in the Murchison Mountains, very close by. They are hanging on through a breeding programme and some have been re-introduced into the wild and there are thought to be about 120 pairs now). 

In the afternoon we took a trip to some nearby glow-worm caves that included a trip by catamaran across and up Te Anau lake followed by a guided 400m walk through the cave past torrential waterfalls, followed by a boat ride in the dark to see vast quantities of glow worms in the cave roof giving the appearance of a star filled night sky. No photos as a), they wouldn’t let us and b), it was very dark! Thoroughly enjoyable day and Pauline thought that there can’t be many grannies who spent their birthday looking at glow worms!
Te Anau lake on the way to the glow worm cave
Today was another action packed day as we took a trip to and on Milford Sound. I did plan on driving the 120 odd km road to Milford Sound, one of the best road journeys in the world (so they say) there and back, but I was talked out of it as Jackie didn’t think she would be able to stand the stress of me driving on a twisty road while trying to look at the scenery (she just lacks confidence in my driving ability, so I’m thinking of sending her on a confidence building course!), so instead we took an all-inclusive package of coach, that picked us up at our motor camp and delivered us safely at Milford Sound, a boat ride along the Sound right out to the Tasman sea and back, a BBQ lunch on the very luxurious catamaran and a visit to the underwater observatory.

On The Sound. That is only coffee they are drinking!
Bruce, our coach driver kept us entertained on the road trip, but the heavy rain kept us mainly inside the coach and restricted our view somewhat. It did, however massively increase the waterfalls which were quite spectacular, but made crap dark and dismal photos, so you’ll have to take our word for it! ‘Rain at 7, fine by 11’ he said, and he was nearly right as it had stopped raining just before 12 and gradually got better and better as the day wore on, giving us sun, views and still lots of big waterfalls.
The famous Mitre Peak (left) on Milford Sound
Milford Sound is an absolutely stunning place, utterly awe inspiring with massive (2000m plus high) mountains plunging straight down into a clear deep blue sea, that is apparently 400m plus deep. It just can’t be described and pictures just don’t do it justice, it is just awesome and ranks as one of my best places (along with many others now on the list!). 
Wet people after the boat got very close to a waterfall
This was the waterfall!
Along with all the other Sounds, they have been carved by glacial action and what we see is apparently the result of about 5 ice-ages that has gradually carved the fjords deeper and deeper, leaving massive hanging valleys with huge waterfalls dropping over their edges, all surrounded by pristine jungle, untouched and probably a lot of it not even trodden on by humans. All the inlets are called ‘Sounds’, but they tell us this is actually incorrect as a ‘Sound’ is a flooded valley that was created by a river and all these are Fjords, which are flooded valleys created by glaciers. When this was realised all the names were in common use, so they called the whole area Fiordland, but spelt it wrong!
Milford Sound from the Tasman Sea. Captain Cook passed here twice and missed it completely, marking it on his chart as a bay. It was found in 1812 by the Welshman Captain John Grono, who found it by accident in a storm, naming it Milford Haven after his home Welsh port. It was later changed to Milford Sound
This was the view he saw as he turned through 90 degrees into the Sound, a very relieved man, who thought his ship and crew would be wrecked on the rocks in the storm, but found a very sheltered inlet instead!
View through the window in the underwater observatory. This stuff is black coral (even though its white) and normally grows at depths of 40+m. The unusual conditions in the Sound allows it to grow at much shallower depths
Planktonic Sea Gooseberry (Jackie says!)

We arrived back at 5:00pm after another thoroughly enjoyable but long day. Tomorrow we move on to Queenstown, the action packed capital of the South Island – can we last the pace?

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