The New Zealand Diaries: of majestic beauty and tiny lights-remembering Te Anau and Milford Sound (11 and 12 Jan 2016)

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Few people who have an interest in New Zealand have not heard about Milford Sound and so of course my trip to the South Island would not have been complete without a trip to this wonderful, world famous place. Milford and Doubtful Sound are both wonderful spots in NZ’s beautiful Fiordland, and Milford Sound should not actually be called a sound but is a fiord. This is because its wonderful bays, rock formations and crevices were carved out by glacial ice and not by water as would be the case in a sound.

I was scared that I would be disappointed after I had heard so much about Milford Sound but of course I was not. It is every bit as majestic and breath-taking as people say it is…….and  I was so lucky to have such a clear, calm day for it, with calm waters, blue skies and also…..a non eventful boat journey 😀. It was interesting to see how the winds picked up in the course of the day and how that affected the flow of the water falls, a fair few of them which tumble down from hundreds of metres of high rock walls, shaped by ice and water over billions of years.  As usual my imagination ran riot when seeing certain formations-the photo below shows a part of rock which to me looked like so like elephant Dumbo’s head that I have called it “Dumbo mountain”. Who says we have to be confined to the descriptions given by others who have walked before us or tour guides 😀

It was fascinating seeing how trees had burrowed their roots into rock and the little earth they could find, but in some parts you could see how even despite their strength, the weather had got the better of some of them, causing big landslides. There you now see bare rock. It is so easy to forget how resilient some plants, trees and animals have to be to survived in these beautiful yet often harsh landscapes.

The above photo was actually taken from the shore. Safely off the boat I decided to walk along one of the short tracks and this is the view I came across after a short walk through some local forest. It does not do justice to the grandeur of the place as you drive into it on the boat (then again, nothing could) but I like it because of the interplay of colours from the trees, plants and grass, the snowy mountains in the background and due to the calm that I remember  about this moment. The ferry was lovely but of course there was lots of noise from this and other ferries as well as helicopters and planes up in the sky but in this spot,  I did manage to get a moment of true quiet to take in the beauty of it all.

The drive to Milford Sound in itself was wonderful. I had to set off very early (at 6am) to get there on time from Te Anau, driving past golden fields with sheep and horses, beautiful forests gradually up into the mountains were the road got windier and windier, the snow capped mountains slowly coming into view.  The Homer tunnel, carved deep into the mountain, was quite an experience-thankfully in summer taffi drives through this dark tunnel in single file, regulated by traffic lights….I would not want to navigate that on a wet or icy road with two lane traffic and was glad to have a large camper with 3 Danish ladies, a toddler (Max who waved at me) and a baby ahead of me. Incidentally I had a lovely chat to them on the ferry later and we have exchanged contact details.

On the way back I stopped to see some of the highlights of the route from Milford Sound to Te Anau including the chasm (giant waterfalls which have spun timy pebbles around and around in the same place, carving , over billions of years, what looks like giant potholes into the rocks by the waterfalls, and by the pristine Monkey Creek with its clear waters,  which you can drink (and I did after finishing a cup of tea).  I had a quiet moment there to write a letter, and just sit, ignoring the many tourist buses who stopped, released swarmps of tourists who dashed to the stream to fill up their water bottles before hopping back on the bus. How privileged I felt to be able to sit there for longer, with the view of the mountains, the beautiful flowers and the sound of the water beside me.

Of course on my return to Te Anau, a furthr highlight of my visit to the area was a trip to the Te Ana glow worm caved. I survived the short ride in the bumpy boat without sea sickness and despite the pouring rain loved every moment of the visit which are actually quite young for cave standards, spring chickens at the age of .  This is also why stalagmites and stalagtites have not as yet formed. Again what I saw was not what I expected…..a cave with massive rivers of crystal clear waters tearing through them, with their own underground water falls, ,making a huge amount of noise….and then suddenly, after a short underground boat ride the silence of the magnificent caves, sprinkled with hundreds and thousands of timy little glow worms. It felt like I was staring staring at a mini galaxy of thousands little stars-it was so precious it nearly made me cry.

What heightened the experience for me was the presentation after, which told us more about the lifecycle of glow worms. I did not know that it is actually the larvae which switch on the light to attract food,trapping their prey by sedating them through contact with a tiny thread which they painstakingly spin together for this purpose. After becoming pupae, suspended from the cave ceiling in a kind of coco,  the adult flies escape and mate, females and males living for only another 3 and 4 days respectively after that.How complex and intrinsically perfect each part of our creation is!

One annoying part of our creation are the sandflies and my experience here on the beach has proven that  Deet only deters the rascals for about 45 minutes. Methinks it is time for me to bid farewell to te seagulls amd oyster catchers here in this bay and slowly walk back to the hustle and bustle of the hostel, a nice shower, a bite to eat, some more maths (yes, I did some today!!!) and….another bush walk…perhaps…

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