october 14, 2000
the most recent dispatch from the field... (more)
catch up on previous news postings... (more)
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oct 12, 2000
Invercargill, Athol flat tires, and snow on the long route to Queenstown ... (more)
oct 11, 2000
Multimedia schools, museums, and the streets of Wellington ... (more)
oct 08, 2000
Museums and windy beaches in Palmerston North ... (more)
oct 06, 2000
Graphic Arts at Whanganui Polytech ... (more)
oct 04, 2000
Biking n' Hiking in Taupo ... (more)
oct 02, 2000
Build me an ark in Rotorua ... (more)
sept 30, 2000
Rotorua sights and smells... (more)
True to unpredictable form, the clear morning I expected in Queenstown was a total grey cloud hanging over the town. It is too bad because the view from "Scallywags" backpackers where I stayed would have been fantastic.
But more importantly, I was extremely worried about the noon arrival of Natalie's plane from Phoenix, especially given my adventures in arriving. I quickly drove to the airport, and saw that her plane from Auckland was cancelled! But the smiling lady at the New Zealand Air informed me that passengers were put on another plane to Christchurch which would arrive in Queenstown only 30 minutes later than scheduled. And they confirmed that she had arrived in Auckland and had transferred onto her next plane okay.
This gave me some time to go into Queenstown, look around, and even eat breakfast. I continued by avoidance of American food chains which is no problem with the cafes in town. I also dropped into one of the many "Internet shops" where I borrowed a phone line to do some email.
today's photos - all photos o o o o
o o Te Anau and Milford Sound
Natalie's plane arrived safely as the skies over Queenstown had lifted slightly, revealing the majestic mountains all around. Her journey was long and full of bumpy plane rides. Her most remarkable part of the trip was, "on the flight from LA when a steward tapped my shoulder in the middle of the night and asked if I was Natalie S... I freaked thinking it was a problem at home! But he was only telling me that my Auckland connection was changed."
We were quickly on our way south, backtracking slightly from my journey into Queenstown as we headed for Te Anau. On the way, we stopped for coffee at the Athol at the same place my bus had broken down the day before. The funny thing was as soon as we walked in, the woman who ran the place, Christene, immediately recognized me as one of the people on the bus the previous day. She sat down and gave us all kinds ("heaps") of advice for what to see on our trip, some choice adjectives about Queenstown, and enough Kiwi verbiage to make our heads spin.
The drive to Te Anau was scenic through open farm land with distant Alpine peaks. We arrived to check into the House of Wood B&B a warm place with a nice hostess, Elaine, again full of advice for what we should see on our way to Milford Sound. It was a chilly night, for us desert natives. We enjoyed a nice meal at Kepler's restaurant and wandering among the souvenir shops of Te Anau.
In the morning we were on our way to Milford Sound, a drive of about 200 some kilometers. We were advised that it was required to carry snow chains for the area through the Homer Tunnel, where the previous week an avalanche had closed the road for 3 days. We had plenty of time to do the drive and took advantage to stop at many of the scenic spots. Te Anau Downs is the spot where boats pick up "trampers" (hikers) who are carried across the lake to the start of the famous Milford Track, the premiere hiking trail in New Zealand. However, all was quiet as the trail was closed due to bad conditions.
We took a brief hike at Boyd Creek to see a small waterfall and then continued on to Mirror Lakes. This is a small lake that provides spectacular reflections of the Murchison Mountains. The bus loads dump tourists by the bucket load here, so we snapped our photos and moved on.
There was much more along this road, a nice lunch at the "Divide" (start of the Routeburn track), a walk through the Lake Gunn Nature trail, and the fun drive through areas warning us not to stop due to avalanche danger (we complied). The scenes provided some classic views of glacial geology and how it cuts wide valleys filled with eroded rubble. Beyond this the road climbed much higher, and bored directly into the dark ice walled Homer Tunnel (no stopping allowed, so no photos here). The tunnel descends sharply and even more so on the other side so we knew we were headed to the sea.
The "Chasm" is a place where the Cleddau River rushes through a narrow gap of rock. The force of the river has gouged interesting curved bowels in the hard metamorphic rock. This is also a place where one can find the kea bird, the parrot with the large powerful beaks. They are known for their propensity of flying off with objects, and chewing the rubber parts off of rental cars. We did not see them but later saw evidence of the damage (on someone elses's car)
Shortly we arrived at Milford Sound, and were dazzled by what we saw just from the parking lot. We had some beers at a small cafe, and walked past the closed up bar and hotel (it is off season) as well as the visitors center.
The Maori legend is that the god Tu-to-rakiwhanoa was charged with digging a route with his "ko" or digging stick, so the people would have a route from the sea to the sources of jade or pounamu. The story goes that Tu-to-rakiwhanoa was called to other duties before he finished his digging. But from what we could see, he did a spectacular job!
At 4:00 PM we boarded the Milford Mariner our tour ship for an overnight cruise on the sound. This boat operated by Fjordland Travel had only been in commission for 2 weeks so it was like being on a brand new floating palace. It was less than 1/3 full so we had lots of attention form the crew (and heaps of food!).
The Mariner took us past the thundering Bowen and Stirling Falls. Looking back at the falls with the afternoon sun provided views of rainbows chasing out from the splash of the falls. The sheer size of the falls, and the valley walls in general, are difficult to fathom, without anything for scale.
With calm sea conditions, Captain Glen took us out to the very mouth of Milford SOund to the Tasman Sea. The entrance to Milford Sound is not very dramatic and does not reveal what lies within. After watching some fishing boats haul in their load of crayfish (these are lobster sized critters, not your puny Louisiana craw-dads), we retreated back to the shelter of Harrison Cove, where we anchored for the night. The ship naturalist took a small party of us on a small boat tour where we got to watch Fjordland Penguins waddle in with their bellies loaded with fish and some feeding fur seals.
In the evening we enjoyed a scrumptious meal that seemed to have no end. Natalie and I enjoyed the company of two travellers, both from South Africa. They had not come together, but had mutually recognized each other as being from South Africa. It is one of the more refreshing parts of this trip to meet and hear about the lives of people from other countries. Much is similar and much is different.
In the morning we had the chance to visit the Underwater Observatory, a place where we descend into a glass walled tank where the humans are inside the fish bowl, and the marine life swims by. It is a scientific observatory supported by tourist visits. The geography of Milford Sound (deep water with a shallower entrance) and the input of freshwater and vegetation creates a unique stratified body of water where creates that exist at much deeper ocean depths are present here fairly close to the surface. In the observatory we saw many colorful coral, sponges, fish, starfish, anemones, and more. Unfortunately we had only 30 minutes here!
By 9:30 AM our trip was over! We had a spectacular morning sky and light, providing the most excellent views of Mitre Peak. This rises some 1700 meters or almost one mile directly from the sea. It is impressive, to say the least!
From here we backtracked all the way back through Te Anau and back to Queenstown. We spent some time shopping in the many stores as well the stalls of a crafts fair featuring local artists. We had some time to spend since the highway road through Cromwell to Wanaka (or next destination) was closed 3-5 PM for road slip repairs.
Eventually we took a quick peek at Arrowtown (worth coming back to with more time) and drove north. We took a quick peak at the Kawarau Bridge, the locale where commercial bungy jumping originated. Call me chicken, but I have a bit more to do with my life before paying to tie my feet to a rubber cord and push me off of a 300 foot drop! We enjoyed watching others make the plunge...
After a long days drive (500 km) we happily pulled into Wanaka, but that is the next day's story..
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