Friday, January 21, 2011

Te Anau, NZ: A Fiordlands Journey

Te Anau is a town built for tourism. Not big, but full of accommodation options, eating establishments, and booking agencies for access to the Fiordlands and the premier tramping routes in the area.  Here we were on the edge of yet another very unique section of this small country -- the Fiordlands -- virtually inaccessible except by air or boat or by a few trails that thread their way between huts.  Carved by glaciers that etched deep canyons out of the granitic rock, it is a terrain more familiar in Norway, and a destination for just about every tourist visiting New Zealand.  Including us.

Most tourists choose to take a couple hour boat cruise through Milford Sound.  The boat originates from the dock at the end of the dead-end Milford Road.  Getting to the dock requires going over a pass, through a 1200 meter plus long tunnel, on a narrow road with a constant flow of tour buses passing, through an area that gets 20 feet (feet!) of rain a year.  And then coming back again.  What would you do?  The last cyclists we met rode in and took the bus back out.  We chose to take a tour bus/cruise combo for a one-day trip to save our bodies to continue our journey beyond Te Anau.

Our bus and fellow passengers for the day.
We selected the least expensive package, but ended up with the best tour guide.  Simon, a former conservation worker, was well-versed in all things about the natural history -- the plants, the birds, the geology.  He traded in the life of constant travel and low wages to provide for his family, and live a simple life on the shores of Lake Te Anau in a cabin without electricity.  John sat up in the front seat of the bus next to him, and chatted with him most of the day.  Not only about what we would see out the window, but about trails and tramps and routes to explore in the region.  The drive took longer than the cruise, and depending on the group's interest, Simon would make frequent stops at vista points and natural spots.  He showed us wild black orchids, one of only four growing in the valley on the way to Milford Sound.

Mist was lifting and rising all day on the surrounding peaks.

Aptly named -- Mirror Lakes.

Rushing water emanating from the glaciers high in the mountains, with the distinctive turquoise tint from fine glacial silt.

If I were a true German, I would jump into this icy pool naked.

One of the reasons we did not bike the Milford Road -- Homer Tunnel.

Meet one happy boy -- he has been quaking with anticipation of seeing Milford Sound since our journey was just a concept.

The waters were like black glass.

Waterfalls cascade from a hanging glacial valleys.

Seals greet us from the shore.

The boat passes under a waterfall.  Only a couple folks in our group frolicked in the cascade.

Water, water, everywhere.

Twenty feet of rain per year = lush rain forest.

Glacier view.

A Kea, the native, rare everywhere except in tourist centers where they might get a handout.

A parting view at the end of a most spectacular day.
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