Fiords, penguins and sea lions

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Oceania » New Zealand » South Island » Dunedin
March 24th 2014
Published: April 6th 2014
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We arrived to Queenstown, the central town of the mountains of southern South Island, with mixed expectations. On one hand we had heard it was overfull with tourists and super expensive, on the other hand we had heard both the city and the surroundings were supposed to be beautiful. The road to the town was at least measuring up to the latter, and the lakefront where we had lunch just outside of town was spectacular. We also experienced the other part, being stuck in traffic jams (only time we have seen such in South Island except for in Christchurch where all the road work made the traffic jam) and having to pay for internet at the library, in all other public libraries we have had free internet access. Although the surroundings were beautiful, the city itself didn’t look that special, so we quite quickly continued towards Fiordlands in the southwest of the island.

The Fiordlands is the rainiest part of New Zealand, and with a yearly downpour of 7 meters you are bound to get wet. We had tried to look through all weather reports we could find, and were hoping the rain would stop during the evening we arrived, but when we reached our camp site halfway between Te Anau and Milford Sound it was still smattering against our windshield. I put up the tent in the rain as fast as possible while Johanna put together a salad sitting inside the car, and after eating we did a quick dash to the tent which turned out to be dry, and stayed that way throughout the night. I have to say the cheap REI tent we bought for our Yellowstone adventure exceeded expectations – again!

The next morning the rain stopped, and although it was gray and foggy we set out towards Milford Sound hoping to see at least something of the landscape. A little before arriving to Milford the clouds and the fog quite suddenly disappeared. The Fiordlands had decided to show its best face, and we thanked by going on several shorter hikes in the area. Worth to mention is the hike to the Chasm, a waterfall that has carved a deep ravine in the rock it is flowing through. The forest is a sight in itself with all surfaces, including the trees, covered in moss and lichens in different green colors and a multitude of ferns of all sizes everywhere. We considered checking for available cruises on the Milford Sound itself, but as we had a cruise scheduled for the next day on Doubtful sound, we decided against it.

Our cruise to the Doubtful Sound started in cloudy and cool weather. It consisted of a cruise over the Manapouri lake, then a trip to a underground hydro power station taking advantage of the 170 meter drop between Manapouri and the sound itself, then a cruise on the Doubtful Sound and finally a return via lake Manapouri. While underground inspecting the power station the weather changed, so the rest of the trip was rainy, foggy or both. With an average visibility of 50 meters on the way out the stunning sights of the fiord were regrettably not that stunning. When we got out to the sea the weather cleared a little (read: no fog, but much more rain) and we got to view the fur seal colonies at the mouth of the fiord. Fur seals were not the only animals we saw, we also saw two of the endemic penguins with big brushy yellow eyebrows swim past. The good part with the rain was that it brought forth hundreds if not thousands of waterfalls all along the walls of the fiord, but we still feel the tour would have been nicer in better weather. This felt especially disappointing as the tour was really expensive compared to the other activities we did, and with the rain and the fog surrounding the boat we could have been almost anywhere.

After the cruise on Doubtful Sound we jumped into our car and drove away from gray and rainy Fiordland towards the Catlins. The Catlins is the name of the coast between the towns of Invercargill and Dunedin. The weather there was a great improvement to the Doubtful Sound, a little cold but very sunny, and the coast was beautiful. We stayed at the most scenic camp site we found during our five weeks in New Zealand, just below our tent there was a sand beach with a perfect surf rolling in. We had our morning coffee on the beach in the sun, it was still so cold we had most of our clothes on but the view made up for the temperature.

Dunedin, at the other end of the Catlins, turned out to be our favorite city in New Zealand. The houses were pretty, the beers we had in the sun tasted super and it was close to a lot of really nice nature. We went to Sandflybeach in the evening to look for yellow eyed penguins, and actually managed to see one before the sun went down. The beach is named after the flying sand, not sandflies, which we learned only after we had drenched ourselves in bug repellent. It was also a really pretty beach, definitely worth visiting even if you are not eager to wait an hour for a penguin to appear.

Our last stop in New Zealand was Christchurch, a city severely damaged in two earthquakes 2010 and 2011. Most of the damaged buildings had already been demolished, but the streets were still in the middle of extensive repairs. Once you got past the street works the city itself was nice, with a river running through the city center surrounded by green parks and a shopping mall set up in containers. We only had one day in Christchurch before flying onwards towards Australia, but it felt quite adequate. Also for the whole of New Zealand five weeks felt like enough time, at least when doing a hurried 1 year trip. The only thing we didn’t have time for that we wanted to do were the great walks, on the other hand those needed to be booked several months in advance so that wasn’t actually an option.

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