Whilst I’ve been quoting from the top 101 things that Kiwis would like to do, I suppose you’ve all been wondering what #1 was. So were we - we were surprised the Glaciers weren’t higher, and we actually thought it might be something like watching the All Blacks lift the Rugby World Cup ... but no - nothing impossible like that ... #1 is actually Milford Sound and #2 is Doubtful Sound.
Everyone has told us that Doubtful is better than Milford, so we plumped to visit there. And we weren’t disappointed! The trip started with an hour’s boat trip across Lake Manapouri where we would have to travel by bus to get to the Sound. First we stopped at One of New Zealand’s Greatest Engineering Achievements - the Manapouri Hydro-Electric Power Station. As early as 1904 it had been recognised that the 178 m fall in water from the lake to the sea could be utilised to generate power if such power was ever needed. In the early 1960s an aluminium smelting plant was planned, and this would require colossal amounts of electricity and the hydro-electric power station was planned.
Work started in 1964, with 1,800 workers digging
out access tunnels and the central cavern by blasting and by hand. The first power was generated in 1969, with the station being fully commissioned in 1972. A later tunnel was excavated in 1993 using a tunnel-boring machine. The size and length of the enterprise is breathtaking. The Machine Hall, which reminded me of something that you might see in a Sean Connery Bond film, houses 7 generators which would produce enough electricity for the whole of the South Island if it wasn’t directed to the Smelting works. John says I have to point out that the only place in NZ where they drive on the right is in the access tunnels of the power station. Not, as we thought, because they have American machinery, but because the trucks were quite wide and the tunnels narrow, and they had to drive on the right-hand side to ensure they were as close as possible to the rock-face when passing a truck going in the opposite direction!
Our bus then took us on a 40 minute drive over Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound. The road was built to transport the generating equipment from the Sound to the power station. Originally it
was planned to only take a year to build the road - a gross miscalculation! It was later said that the building of the road was more complex than the power station itself - although this could be because it rained solidly for the first 3 months of work!
Eventually we arrived at the Sound and what a sight it was. Here I go again with my superlatives, but it was wonderful! We were really lucky that the weather was so good - a wind chill, but bright sunshine. It had snowed on the mountain tops the night before which made it look even more dramatic (not surprised by that - it was jolly chilly in the van!) The water was very calm, in fact so calm that we were able to sail out further than the boats usually go, and went past the end of the Sound into the Tasman Sea itself. Oh boy, it got quite rough then - but it was stunning to see.
We also saw several blue penguins swimming along, plus a variety of birds - the most noticeable of which being an albatross. I thought the waterfalls were fantastic, but Mike, our
captain, said that they’re much more impressive in the rain as they can be so full they look like rivers sweeping down the mountainsides. He mentioned that over the past few weeks there had been so many gushing down, they could hit the boat at times. He also mentioned that in the winter the snow comes right down to the water line. Mike pointed out two scars in the rock faces that had been formed by two fairly recent earthquakes (2003 and 2009) that measured 7.1 and 7.3 on the Richter Scale - it was lucky he didn’t mention that before we went deep into the earth on our power station visit! (oooh - you should hear Mr Jealous here ‘Mike said, Mike said, Mike said’ ... well ‘Mike did say’!!)
After my moans and groans yesterday regarding 1080, it was reassuring to see lots of traps put down instead. Mike said that they had started trapping 2 years’ ago, and it has already made an appreciable difference to the amount of birds that they’re now seeing. The Department of Conservation is trying to turn Secretary Island in the middle of the Sound into a Bird Sanctuary - chosen
because it has many of the indigenous plants and trees. They are trying to trap all predators and eradicate them totally. The plan then is to use the Island as a breeding ground for other areas.
Ooh - and another thing that Mike said ... in the South Island the treeline on mountains is at 900m - they can’t grow above that due to the cold, so if you look at the photos, it should give you some idea of the height of the mountains. In South Island its slightly higher at 1200m due to the warmer air. Clever chap, Mike!!
When we got back to the power station, there was a kea waiting for us - there were big signs saying don’t feed the kea, so no-one did - so it took matters into its own hands and pecked at one woman’s bag - taking quite a hole and piercing a tube of handcream inside. Very powerful beaks! Oh - I also asked Mike how on earth the kea could kill a sheep. I wish I hadn’t asked! Mike said they land on the sheep’s back, cling on to the wood, and peck into the flesh, aiming
for the kidneys. They also attack the eyes. There are even reports that they spook the sheep and ‘herd’ them towards mountainsides where they fall over. Apparently they are extremely clever and once they work out how to do something, its never forgotten - Mike gave an example of a sightseer who arrived with a plastic sandwich box that fixed down along all 4 sides. It took the kea 15 minutes to open it. Next day, it was done immediately. (Mike knew an awful lot!)
So anyway, that’ll be #2, Doubtful Sound and #4 Fiordland National Park - which is where I’m sitting in the van typing this (on the banks of Lake Monowai)!!
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