Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Downside of NZ

In an effort to take the sting out of our return to reality, a list of reasons to be here instead:
The tree nettle has allegedly proved fatal once, probably due to anaphylaxis.
The giant carnivorous Earthworm promise it's real, but eats nothing larger than slugs.
The giant carnivorous land snail, also real, but endangered as tasty to the possums. Watch this too.
It's addictive!
And don't forget the sandflies, the only real downside. The Maori myth about these vile creatures concerns two ancestors/gods: Tu-te-raki-whanoa carved out Fjordland in all its complex and convoluted beauty, planted all the lush ferns and forest, filled it with an abundant treasure trove of birds and waited for people to come and enjoy it. The goddess Hinenuitepo saw it all, thought firstly "these people are lazy, spend too much time standing admiring it all when they should be working" and secondly, understanding human nature too well, "if they hang around for long they'll spoil it all" so she made the sandflies.
Without the generous rain there would be no rainforest with its excess of lushness, although with all the introduced mammals Europeans have done their best to wreck it. Captain Cook described the birdsong as waking them while still anchored at sea, what a wonderful experience.


We're back! The weather hard one last little trick for us, Storm Katie sent us to Manchester, having got within 100 feet of the runway at Heathrow where Amy was waiting, having crawled out of bed on Bank Holiday Monday. We then sat & twiddled our thumbs&toes on the runway for three hours before flying back to Heathrow where Laura rescued us. At least we weren't abandoned, like some poor people we read about facing £500 taxi bills to get home.
Thanks girls x

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Sea Lions, Albatross! Penguins, Bye.

Our last day, I can't believe how quickly it's all gone. Went for a guided nature expedition around the Otago peninsula, started at a superb sandy beach with white-chocolate-coloured female NZ Sea lions, camouflaged brilliantly, the males are much darker. They reintroduced themselves a few years ago, and with help have thrived. Next the albatross colony, three fluffy chicks weighing as much as a large turkey. Shags also have a nesting colony, with their guano-volcano nests. Many fur seals lounging in the sun or playing in the surf. Two blue penguins lurking in their nest-holes moulting, they lose all their feathers at once, so aren't waterproof for a month or so and have to stay ashore. They may lose half their body weight in this time. Finally The Penguin Place, a sanctuary set up by a farmer, funded purely by tourism. They've planted local trees for shade and made nestboxes, hides and rodent traps, all with some success. Jim a 22 year old yellow eyed penguin was nearing the end of his moult, no doubt hungry. He's nearly twice their average age. They also run a small hospital for injured or underweight ones.
An excellent place and fine end to a brilliant holiday.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Still Sunny, Dunedin.

Woke early as engines started at 6.30, clear but really cold, about 6*, last of full-moonlight gave way to daylight as we had breakfast, off back to Deepwater Bay, stopped to watch bottlenose dolphins on the way. They started playing in our bow-wave, but rapidly lost interest when we stopped to discourage them interacting with a potentially dangerous species. Next stop, "Sounds of Nature" ten minutes in Hall Arm, one of the sound's branches, no engine or generators, we were asked to switch off our cameras, stand still and just listen to birds and waterfalls. 73/75 managed. How hard can it be not to take a photo of something unchanging for ten minutes?
As we drove back over the Wilmot Pass the clouds built up, but the forecast for our last couple of days is good. Long not-terribly-exciting drive to Dunedin, with its much photographed Victorian railway station and more hills, also an impressive collection of churches and statue of Robert Burns in the main square.

Doubtful, Sun, freshwater sea-swim.

Grey drizzly start to our cruise day so went to the Fjordland film in Te Anau, tantalising aerial photography of what it might look like in perfect conditions. Set off for the quay in Manipouri, while we were waiting the rain stopped, looking distinctly hopeful by the time the boat was on its way. We passed the mountains we crossed on the Kepler Track last year, looked so benign, but we were nearly blown off the ridge. At the far end of Lake Manipouri, a small quay and insignificant looking building, the top of the hydroelectric station, the water drops 700metres to an underground power station before running out into Doubtful Sound. A two Km 7metre wide road spirals down inside the mountain to service it, huge but so little to see on the surface. A coach took us over Wilmot Pass, fantastic blue-sky views of Doubtful Sound heading out to sea, Cook originally called it Doubtful Harbour. Our boat, the Fjordland Navigator was waiting, so off up the sound, actually a fjord as it's a flooded glacial valley, a sound is a river valley, the early pioneers couldn't see the shape of the seabed, or maybe the distinction has been made since they were named. Stunning mountainous scenery, still enough water to keep the waterfalls flowing. After a trip in the tender to take a closer look at the coast, and a swim (warm at 16*) we headed out towards open sea, gales, albatrosses and a seal island. The top couple of metres of water is fresh and brown from tannins leached out of fallen leaves, fools deep-sea life into living in much shallower water as it's dark, perfect for divers. More spectacular scenery, many small islands. Clear bright full moon over the water.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Out, Drought.

Set off at first light, around 7.30, the path mostly dry, unlike the tales we'd heard. Many birds, mostly invisible in the half-light under the  trees, but bellbirds and tui are easily recognised by their songs. Six hours along a good path, more streams, lakes, waterfalls and dripping ferns.
Bell Rock is an extraordinary feature, the sort of hole made by boulders in a wild torrent, then picked up and turned upside down. Imagine the power needed to overturn a rock with a cavity 15 feet high, wide enough to hold a dozen people, and to put it down without breaking it.
We made it back in spite of the weather's best efforts to stop us, in fact had a 30 hour near-drought, the rain starting again as we got on the open boat back to the road head, back to a spa-bath and glass of wine in Dunluce, our lovely B&B.

Waterfalls, More Waterfalls, Wekas, Keas & Something Missing!

Woke in gloom during the night, constant rainy sounds, so track certain to be impassable. On going out to the loo (inevitable if you go to bed as soon as it gets dark) found it was only waterfall & river noise. River levels significantly down, so off & up. 600m up through rainforest, beech then scrub,  grass and alpines. Stopped to photograph rock wrens and rifleman, tiny busy birds, both with legs too far back and almost non-existent tails. We were first to the saddle and McKinnon memorial, amazing views of the world, mountains & glaciers, many waterfalls all around. Thanks to all the people who wished us rain to see them at their best, we certainly did! After another short ascent to avoid the cliffs below the saddle Kea-squawks warned us of the hut. Highly intelligent and mischievous parrots, they dismantle anything, and seem to get a thrill from nicking boots. On down a total of 1100m, passing the spectacularly beautiful Anderson's Cascades, a series of crashing waterfalls, then the 580m Sutherland Falls: big, wet & noisy. Nosey Wekas followed us on&off. An hour's easy walk to Dumpling Hut, sadly the promised 300m thigh deep wade had fizzled to a small puddle and some mud. We are the first people in three days to get through.
And missing? Didn't rain all day!