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Published: December 25th 2017
Geo: -37.7871, 175.283
There wasn't going to be a New Zealand blog because this is our fourth visit and we are staying with Beverley and Richard again for much of the time.I have blogged about it before and I have been lazy here while Richard and Jim go off to chop down trees, dig out thistles or move the cows. I leave such jobs to them! However we managed to find a few new things to do which we wanted to share so I am pulling myself together.
Last visit we went to South Island but missed it's most well known area, the Sounds. It is a long drive from Hamilton approximately 1500 kilometres to Te Anau, close to Milford Sound. We had only a week for the whole trip as that was the maximum time Beverley could take off from work, so it was a challenge!
It would have been quicker to take the main road down the east coast there and back but we wanted to go down the centre, for us a previously unexplored region. There was no choice of route as only one road crosses from region. The lack of roads across huge areas highlights one of the main
differences between NZ and the UK. The small population here combined with vast remote uninhabited areas means that criss-crossing them with roads is not financially viable.
The scenery inland from Picton shocked us. It is a mass of round topped hills, randomly spread, as if the ground is a mammoth tablecloth which has been rucked up by people running over it. The shock came from the pervading colour, a sandy brown, reflecting the severe drought being experienced in South Island. It appeared more like a desert than the expected green and lush hills of NZ. In fact after we left there were a number of serious bush fires because the sparse vegetation is crispy dry.
The first 2 days we only covered short distances because of the winding, climbing roads, so the third day was a mammoth effort to reach Te Anau, about a ten hour drive. Te Anau is where most people visiting Milford Sound sleep as there is only one (expensive) place to stay in the Sound itself. As we had driven so long each day we decided that we would take an organised bus trip from Te Anau to reach Milford Sound the following day. We were pleased that
we did. It gave our drivers (mainly Jim and Beverley) a break and was so well organised that we saw a lot (including the Reflection Lakes and the Eglinton Valley) on a number of short stops before finally arriving at the Sound.
I should explain that 'Sounds' as the sea inlets along the West coast are called is a misnomer. Captain Cook made a mistake! Sounds are produced when rivers and their estuaries are flooded by rising sea levels. These NZ 'Sounds' are technically fjords as they are the result of glaciation, formed when the glaciers groaningly scraped their way slowly downhill to the sea. Realising the error but feeling it is too late to change the names the N Z Tourist Board has tried to rectify the situation by naming the area, 'Fiordland National Park'. I am not sure if they chose to simplify the spelling or if that was another mistake!
But whatever it is named the area is truly spectacular. The mountains rising straight from the water are covered in dark green virgin forest, the sea was a blend of turquoise and aquamarine and with the sun shining on it the whole surface seemed covered by diamonds. It
dazzled so much it was painful to look at it and impossible without sunglasses. The hanging valleys, another feature of glaciation, demonstrated how glaciers had shaped the land at different times as there are at least three levels of these hanging valleys.
In some steep places on the mountains there have been tree 'avalanches' where a tree falls and the weight breaks the precarious hold that other trees have on the slopes. The momentum increases as the trees fall downhill until a swathe is cleared right down the face of the cliff to the sea.
We watched Dolphins play as we cruised through the Sound and drifted under a waterfall to the delight of some (mainly younger) passengers.
Then our boat docked at the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory where we learnt about and observed the sea life of the area including Black Coral, which is actually white. My only disappointment here was that we could just stay half an hour. I would liked to have stayed all day to watch what came swimming by the window 10 metres below the surface.
Our bus driver had asked earlier if anyone wanted to fly back to Te Anau. Beverley and I said we
did as long as the flight included seeing the coast along to Doubtful Sound. There are no roads in that area. They arranged that we could fly over all the Sounds so when Richard and Jim climbed onto the bus for the 2 hour journey back to Te Anau Beverley and I walked from the jetty to the airport, ten minutes away.
The flight in a small six seater fixed wing plane, less substantial than most go-karts I have seen, was well worth doing. We took off up the Sound between cliff walls until we could see over the tops of the mountains and then veered, a sharp 45 degree turn, to the coast. Beverley and I both had the same thought, once up, there was nowhere in sight providing enough flat space to land. We crossed our fingers that we did not need to. The landscape of peak upon peak, most of them with dark ponds or tarns on the top surrounded by emerald green vegetation where the glacier scrapped a depression in the surface before moving downhill, continued all the way to the sea. The glaciated features were so clear that they were much easier to identify and understand
how they were formed than by reading about them in a book.
I had a wobbly moment when we approached the landing strip in the middle of fields near Te Anau. The pilot spoke to the control tower in Milford Sound (no tower in Te Anau) asking for wind direction and speed. They did not answer. Then he turned again to try the opposite direction and test the wind speed and the engine slowed right down. When I drive a car I know when the engine sounds like that it is about to stall. I must have shown my terror because the pilot (who was sitting next to me) lifted my ear protector and said calmly, "I am feeling very comfortable, you can be too". Right! I just wanted to say "Accelerate NOW.
After a couple of circles we landed safely but that will teach me not to jump into the front seat again.
Returning home we took the quicker road to Christchurch and then on to stay the night in Kaikoura where Beverley and I had arranged to go swimming with Dusky Nosed Dolphins the next morning. I wasn't too sure about it as I feared that the dolphins might be
attracted by free food but there was no need to be concerned.
The Dolphin Encounter is run by the owners and the local community to ensure that the behaviour of the dolphins is unchanged by the boats. They do not feed the dolphins and in fact they warned us that it was entirely up to the dolphins to decide if they wanted to come close or not. They could not promise anything. They suggested that if dolphins did come near we should make noises, sing under water (not easy with a snorkel in), swim in circles or dive down as all these activities seem to entertain the animals.
The dolphins came, some 300 in one pod. The sea was alive with them, swimming, jumping and somersaulting out of the water. At one moment I had 8 or 9 circling inches from me, from head to toe, and making eye contact as I serenaded them with a muffled version of 'doe a deer, a female deer etc'. They seemed to appreciate my singing more than humans do! It was the sheer number of them that astounded me. Previously I have seen pods ranging from 4 or 5 to perhaps 18. But this
was very different as they were everywhere, churning up the sea in a chaotic fashion and evidently enjoying our company. It was an experience I would recommend to anyone who is comfortable snorkelling in open sea. I do not usually attach videos to the blog but I think the dolphins merit it this time. Click on and see what you think?
From Kaikoura we made our way to the ferry, across to Wellington on North Island and then made the 7 hour drive back to Hamilton, passing Mount Cook en route.
After a few days rest Jim and I set off to the Taranaki region as it was the last area of NZ that we had not visited and we did feel that we should let R and B have some peace for a while.
We stayed in Hawera, a small rural town at the foot of Mount Taranaki (or Egmont as it was previously known). Although we had a couple of rainy days there was plenty to see, the wild coast, the mountain and a number of excellent museums including Tawhiti and the Pioneer Village. They both concentrate on the history of NZ with comprehensive displays of the homes and rural
activities of the time, such as butter making, blacksmiths and farming. In the Pioneer Village buildings have been brought together from different areas so they have displays of all the activities previously found in a small town, the Court House, Police Station, Newspaper, School, Hospital to name a few. Many of the objects, such as those in the general store, reminded us of the corner shops at home in the 50s.
We did visit New Plymouth which was not very interesting and their museum, although a recently opened joint enterprise with Tourist Information and a restaurant, was nothing special. I found the displays difficult to see as they were poorly lit and suffered from multiple reflections in the very busy building.
Back once again in Hamilton and after our jobs, one day Richard, Jim and I went to 'The Trots', as they are called here, at the small racecourse in ambridge. It was a very gentle afternoon with a race every half hour and very few people around. It was so peaceful in fact that I think all 3 of us had a short nap between races. Because it is part of the national betting system it does not require many race
goers as most of the betting is off course.
Tonight (Friday) we are going to see the Soweto Gospel Choir perform in Hamilton Park for the start of Hamilton arts Festival. Our other outings will include Opera at Twilight, a Concert and showings of Citizen Kane and Vertigo. Our year's culture in a week. Thursday next we are off to Napier again for the Art Deco Weekend. If anything new happens I will keep you posted.
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