Thursday, January 25, 2007

Another missive from the (ex-) lunatic asylum

Back again with more ramblings...

Monday 15th January 2007

Another day, another scenic drive. We left early and had beautiful sunny weather for the whole trip. We split into the two cars - myself and Mathias and Ryan (English nob) and Emelie. For the first part of the drive the road was sandwiched between the lake and the The Remarkables and it was indeed stunning. The whole area gives you neck up from look up at the mountains in awe. In fact, the scenery didn't really let up the whole way. Towards Te Anau it got a bit flatter for a while, but was so clear that you could still see all the mountains in the distance. Beautiful stuff.

After an aborted attempt to find a picnic spot by a river (we ended up in a farm yard thanks to Ryan's know-it-all navigating), we ended up having our lunch beside the road. Not the most glamorous of spots, but the pasta salad was nice! We followed this with a walk in a nature reserve, which had all sorts of interesting mosses/lichens.

We eventually rocked up in Te Anau at about 3pm. The hostel was a bit of an odd one. It was attached to a campsite (I was in my tent) and the hostel seemed very much like an afterthought. It was clean enough, but rather lacking in both equipment (only one knife in the kitchen) and atmosphere. Still, a pleasant enough spot (only a few metres from the lake) for a couple of nights.

Had a look around the town (a typically drab New Zealand grid-type-affair) and got yet more shopping (found some really cheap steak and lamb chops for a bit of a mixed-grill) before sitting outside the hostel in the warm evening sunshine. The meat was an absolute triumph - the most tender and succulent cuts I have had in a long time. Yum.

Tuesday 16th January 2007

Woke up freezing cold in my tent. It had been really clear during the night and I could have sworn there was a touch of frost on the grass (in the middle of summer!). In fact, it stayed cold for most of the morning and it wasn't until the haze cleared just before lunchtime that the sun had any kind of warming effect.

Emelie and Ryan had decided to walk around the lake in the morning, while Matthias and I did a final food-shop for our 3-night trip to Milford Sound. It's beginning to seem that all I do is shop-for-food, eat-food and then write about shopping-for-food and eating-food. Ah well, it's good to eat.

After lunch, I walked around the lake with Mathias, stopping at Te Anau Wildlife Centre to see some of the local bird life (including the rare Takahe - a very odd thing - and some of the native parrots). We then proceeded to do a small section of the Kepler Track (one of NZ's many long distance walks). This part was really beautiful - through lush beech forests (much smaller leaves than our native beech), with yet more views of the lake and mountains in the distance. It had warmed up amazingly from the morning so we evening managed a swim in the lake. Brrr. It didn't seem quite as cold as in Queenstown, but perhaps that was because the air was a bit cooler, so the contrast wasn't as pronounced. Again, lovely clean water and such gorgeous surroundings...

It was another quiet evening back at the hostel, sitting on the terrace in the sun (warm enough without a jumper, as there wasn't a breath of wind). We had a veritable smorgasbord, with lots of nice tapas-style dishes, and the obligatory bottle of wine!

Wednesday 17th January 2007

Another cold, early start, to hit the road to Milford Sound ahead of all the tour buses. It was a glorious day. Really clear and crisp, with just a few wisps of misty cloud hanging around the mountains. We all squeezed into one car (quite a challenge with the mountain of food we had amassed) and left the other one in Te Anau, as we would have to return: there is only one road in and out of Milford Sound.

The drive just got more and more beautiful as it went on. I actually began to feel dizzy from it. Perhaps I was suffering from nature's equivalent of Stendhal's Syndrome, or just getting a head-rush from the constant craning of my neck to look up at the surrounding mountains. Hopefully some of the myriad photos will go some way to doing it justice. The fields of lupins (all shades from pink to blue) set against the green and grey mountains and the bluest of blue skies were awe-inspiring. As were the snow-capped peaks, propping up the ends of the valleys. It was definitely the highlight of the trip so far. We had our picnic lunch down by the Hollyford river - a crystal clear strip of turquoise, slicing through the rainforest-clad mountains. If it wasn't for the sand-flies (which appear in huge swarms as soon as you cross "The Divide"), I could have happily spent the entire afternoon there. I might even have considered a swim. The melt-water was freezing but the air was hot in the blazing sunshine (quite unusual for one of the wettest places on earth).

We arrived in Milford Sound in the early evening, exhausted from seeing so many stunning sights. We had been so lucky with the weather, it felt like a real privilege. I pitched my tent and collapsed into it soon after eating, happy to have some time to take in and process all that I had seen. Luckily the sand-flies couldn't get right inside the tent - they had to content themselves with gathering in the porch and waiting for me to enter/exit. I kept the insect repellent close at hand at all times.

Thursday 18th January 2007

The hostel offered a good deal on early morning cruises - $40 for an hour and a half (to help fill the boats before the tour buses arrive and bring with them the hordes). The weather was lovely again, so it was another opportunity to take hundreds of photos (like just about everyone who goes there - it would be interesting to find out just how many times Milford Sound is photographed in one year). The only (slight) disappointment was that the scenery got less spectacular the further you got out towards the Tasman Sea. Still, it was a beautiful trip, complete with free muffins and coffee, seal-sightings, waterfalls and the walls of rock rising up all around (more neck ache again today).

After lunch, Ryan offered to drive Emelie, Matthias and I up to a point where we could walk up to Key Summit. Ryan doesn't do walking! It was a bit further than Ryan thought it would be, so he was a bit miffed (he was a bit sulky as well as generally annoying). Still, without Ryan it was a wonderful walk. A good 500m climb, mostly through the rainforest, followed by a ridgeline walk with fabulous views. It had hazed in a bit since the morning, but was still reasonably clear and dry, which was the main thing.

It was another well-deserved early night, soon after dinner and a good night's sleep (I'm getting quite used to this camping lark and can happily sleep under canvas now).

Friday 19th January 2007

It was rather overcast and a bit misty, but Mathias and I decided to do a day walk nonetheless. Emelie and Ryan were planning to go kayaking but there weren't enough places, so they decided to stay at the hostel and relax instead. We packed up a picnic and made an early start. The trail up the Tutoku (or something like that) Valley started 2km up the road from Milford Sound Lodge. The track went through the rainforest, which was beautiful to begin with: loads of different ferns, tree ferns and moss-laden trees, all dripping with the misty dew. Very lush.

As we progressed, however, the trail became more and more difficult. Intertwined tree-roots, boulders to scramble over, gullies to clamber up and down. It was really hard going. And then it began to rain. Everything became really slippery and given that we were a bit tired from the day before it would have been silly to continue in such treacherous conditions. We had walked for 90 minutes and weren't sure how much longer we would have had to go to reach the point where the forest ended and the valley opened up. Rather miffed that we had walked all that way without seeing anything (the trail should eventually lead to the most amazing views of the upper Tutoku Valley), we headed back to the hostel.

Before going back down the road to the hostel, we decided to eat our lunch under the road bridge that crossed the Tutoku River (to shelter from the rain, which had become quite heavy by this time). It was a beautiful spot, but we were absolutely plagued by sandflies. I managed to scoff most of my sandwiches, without being bitten to death (I had to keep walking in circles in order to stop the swarm pitching on me) but we gave up before we finished and headed back with our tails between our legs. At least we had experienced the proper rainforest (it was really humid and not too cold) and got some decent exercise from it, but otherwise it was a bit of a miserable tramp.

The weather had really closed in by the afternoon and the forecast was for even heavier rain overnight, so I decided to treat myself to a dorm bed for the night and put my tent in the drying room. I wanted to be able to pack it away the following morning, without the risk of it festering in the bottom of my rucksack.

This proved to be a good decision as the rain just got worse and worse... We spent the afternoon relaxing in the hostel, washing our wet walking clothes, finishing our lunch, cooking a nice dinner and enjoying the contrast in the landscape from the previous days: the sheer mountains, now shrouded in mistiness, seemed to have no beginning nor end and lent a mysterious air to the sound. Eerily beautiful.

Well, that's enough for this session. Hopefully I'll be back tomorrow to bring this thing bang up-to-date.


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