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Published: November 4th 2006
Monday 30 October (Have we really been away 4 months?)
As we fell asleep again to the sound of heavy rain drops plopping onto Max's roof, we prayed that the weather gods would bring some sunshine the next day and sure enough, today was dry if extremely cool and blustery in patches. Despite conditions in Max being incomparably favourable to life in a tent (we occasionally see crazy people on bikes with tents strapped on, peddling through the murk), it makes a big difference to get him all opened up for a good airing and sweep out. We've become rather house proud of our home from home!
We decided to warm up before brekkie with a brisk walk upstream from our campsite, which is yet another film location - the bit where Smeagol catches coneys for Sam and Frodo. After a visit to the long drop loos (DOC campsites are basic but cheap) we set off back into Queenstown for the necessities of phone calls, internet and provisions.
After a picnic lunch we started uphill again for a walk, this time up to the skyline gondola station high above the town. The views were gorgeous, right across to
the Remarkables range and down Lake Wakatipu. After a couple of luges back in Rotorua, we were keen to have another go and were soon whizzing down the advanced track - some parts not for the faint hearted! Those who have been will know that Queenstown is the adventure capital of NZ, but unfortunately the luge was as far as our budget would extend. Everything is quite overpriced, so we are looking to spread things out a bit and do them elsewhere.
We spent the evening at our modern campsite in front of the tv (got to catch it where you can!)
Tuesday - Halloween
Drove out of Q'town hoping to have a wander around Deer Park Heights on the other side of the lake, but a $20 entry fee put us off and we headed onwards to Te Anau and Fiordland National Park. The drive was fairly smooth, across flat plains and we were there in time for lunch. Wandering into town, we booked our cruise on Milford Sound for Thursday and checked out some of the local shops. A book I found finally enlightened us as to the difference between 'fiords' and 'sounds'. Both are
inlets of the sea, the former created by glaciation and the latter by a rise in sea level into a river valley. It's rather easy to get confused though seeing as all the 'sounds' in fiordland are actually fiords, and the 'fiords' in Lake Te Anau are neither! The locals seem to blame our good friend Capt Cook once again.
As it was halloween we were tempted to trick or treat the German trampers camped up next to Max, but instead cracked out the pisco again for some chess with a shot as penalty for each taken piece. Needless to say, Simon beat me yet again...though I did later whoop him in poker (admittedly a game of luck) and scrabble. If the pisco tasted more pleasant we'd have been certainly worse for wear! From our frivolities we went into the TV room where we got chatting to a Dutch silver olympic medallist in rowing. Will have to look out for him in Beijing, but told him to keep an eye out for my bro in the next boat race! As ever, a small world.
We woke up after our coldest night yet in Max - even
our olive oil was frozen solid! After watching the Germans troupe off on the Kepler Track we got going ourselves on the Milford Road, with enough time to call and wish Simon's mum a happy birthday for the morrow.
The road is incredibly scenic and described in our footprints guide as going up the aisle to the alter that is Milford Sound. It did not disappoint and we made several stops to admire Lake Mistletoe and the majestic Eglinton Valley, carved out by a huge glacier. On to the Mirror Lakes and the Divide, where we had our first encounter with a Kea - a large NZ alpine parrot, which seemed quite curious and was jumping about on somebody's car. We then started up the famous Routeburn track on foot, before turning off to Key Summit, which gave fantastic views of the vallies and snow-capped mountains all around. We camped for the evening at Lake Gunn.
Footnote: Yanks abroad
We had two amusing encounters with American tourists today 1) a rather inept but friendly bloke who we watched try to boil water for a coffee on every hob in the campsite kitchen, before giving up and trying
the microwave, which he only realised wasn't plugged in after 5 mins. It was at this point that Simon informed him there was a water boiler mounted on the wall; 2) a group of three who came back from the Key Summit walk and then asked us to buy our gerry can as they didn't have enough petrol to get back to Te Anau.
Left with plenty of time to reach Milford Sound over quite a difficult section of road prone to avalanches. It included the Homer Tunnel, which at 1200m and 10% gradient, felt a bit like being washed down a giant drain. Just in front of it, 5 keas were having a mother's meeting on the road.
Our cruise left at 10.30am in slightly cloudy but calm conditions and we were able to stay on deck to see a wealth of great sights: Bowen Falls, Stirling Falls, Sinbad Gully and of course the famous Mitre Peak, which is the tallest mountain in the world to rise from the sea. The views of sheer cliffs dropping into the fiord were phenomenal and our guide kept things interesting with random commentary, including the fact that hunters hereabouts use a portable-petrol-powered-possum-plucker to get the goods off their quarry.
One of the best parts of the day was getting to see two extremely rare Fiordland Crested penguins waddling on the rocks very close to our boat. As we sailed on out into the mouth of the fiord we were alone on the windy deck and spotted what looked like ordinary sea birds in a cluster right below the bows - they were actually more penguins and swam below just as we got to them! As well as the penguins, there were plenty of fur seals on the rocks, although unfortunately no dolphins.
After some soup to warm us up, we made our way back to Lake Gunn via a few more sights including The Chasm and Gunn Camp, where Homer Tunnel workers used to live. Here we got chatting to the proprietor who recommended a drive on up to Humboldt Falls and the start of a trail where Sir Edmund Hillary trained before Climbing Everest. He also pointed us to 'Hells Bells', a massive silver beech that we could climb up inside. We camped again at Lake Gunn and Simon amused himself skimming stones in perfect conditions, leading to a very respectable 14 jumps.
Woke up to rain again so curtailed a walk up to Lake Marian at some rapids and made our way south via Knobs Flat and Boyd Creek, feeling glad to have missed many of the tour groups on our Milford experience. We checked back into the campsite at Te Anau and after a visit to the nearby DOC nature house we took a well-earned sauna and spa with a bottle of Monteiths...it's a hard life after all!
Glorious sunshine today confirmed my 4 day weather cycle prediction for this area and we made our way south out of Fiordland and towards Invercargill on the Southern Scenic Route. The town itself is fairly uninteresting, but we will stay here for the night before moving on to the Catlins area and then north to Dunedin. After looking around we checked in at the campsite, where they have a collection of pet sheep including some orphaned lambs, which I got to feed. Soooo cute!
In the evening we ventured out to see some fireworks at the 'Riverside Speedway', not expecting to actually encounter some stock car racing and a few undesirables. Certainly something new but I think Simon enjoyed it more than I did. Luckily the fireworks were well worth the wait with some loud explosions complete with mushroom clouds that we thought were accidental!
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