Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park
Peter and Margie Benziger
Sun 24 Apr 2011 02:14
Where in the World are Margie and Peter? â Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park and driving up the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand!
Milford Sound is the most well-known of the 15 fiords that comprise Fiordland and itâs the centerpiece of New Zealandâs southwest corner tourist mecca. Fiordland National Park which covers basically the entire region is New Zealandâs largest national park encompassing 12,500 square meters.
Unless you are scheduled to walk the Milford Sound track, which is a minimum four day trek from hut to hut and carefully managed by the Department of Conservation so that there are not more than 100 people on the track at any one time, you must drive to and from the town of Te Anau on the same day. We were advised to time our arrival/departure because the bus groups arrive pretty much non-stop between 10am and 12noon and make a mass exodus between 3 and 5pm. No worries mate...we stopped several times along the way in to hike short trails or take photos and arrived just after noon and in time to have lunch at the Blue Duck Cafe right on the shores of Milford Sound and sign up for a 2 Â hour Nature Encounter cruise aboard the 35-passenger Lady Bowen, a cruise ship operated by Southern Discoveries.
We couldnât have asked for a better day as it was sunny and warm and there wasnât a cloud in the sky. We were told that we were lucky in that there are, on average, only 80 days in the entire year when it does NOT rain. I said a little prayer of thanks to âthe big guyâ and staked my claim to a sunny spot on the bow of Lady Bowen. Sue and Bill Redgrove were joining us on the afternoon excursion and Iâve attached a nice photo of the four of us below along with many other shots â none of which do justice to this cruise. It is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world and the cruise should definitely be one of those âDO NOT MISSâ items on your Bucket List.
While we were in Te Anau, we checked out this amazing film at the Fiordland Cinema. Itâs called Ata Whenua: Shadowlands. FYI â The Maori would often refer to the mountain terrain in the Fiordland region as âAta Whenua,â which means âa land so high and sheer as to rarely permit the sun through every valleyâ or the shadowlands.
The cinema was actually built exclusively to showcase this film which was shot from a helicopter with dizzying side effects. The director of the film was the location scout for Lord of the Rings. Check out the short preview attached. The movie actually runs 32 minutes and ended WAY too soon...
From Milford Sound on the west coast, we headed back towards the east coast of the South Island stopping along the way to do a number of spectacular hikes in the Fiordland National Park including Mirror Lake, Lake Mistletoe, Lake Gunn, The Chasm, East Home Nature Walk and our favorite, a 3 Â hour trek to Key Summit along the Routeburn Track, one of the celebrated Great Walks. From Key Summit, you have panoramic views of the Humboldt and Darran Mountains.
Moving on to the little town of Gore, we camped overnight in beautiful Dolamore Park and visited the Gore Historical Museum and then we stumbled upon the Croydon Aircraft Company.
Some of you may know that Margieâs father was a private pilot for over 60 years. In fact, he had the very first private pilotâs license in the State of Vermont. He owned many modern airplanes in his time as well as bi-planes, amphibians, stunt planes and vintage airplanes including several de Havillands and one of the famous de Havilland Tiger Moths. Imagine our delight to find one of the premier restoration facilities for de Havilland and other vintage aircraft right there in Gore, New Zealand? Check out the website and see some of the amazing aircraft from another era!
Leaving Gore, we covered a lot of ground to reach the Otago Peninsula on the west coast of the South Island. Itâs a long, narrow finger of land sticking up and out from the outskirts of the very Scottish city of Dunedin, known as âthe Edinburgh of the South.â In fact, Dunedin as well as the Otago Peninsula and all the land surrounding the Otago Harbor was chosen to be the site of the first Scottish settlement in New Zealand back in 1840. There is a distinctive Scottish âburrâ in the accent of current residents and you almost expect to see Robert Burns come walking out from one of the many iconic Gothic Revival buildings in the city.
Gold was discovered just outside Dunedin in 1861 and the arrival of thousands of English, Irish and Australian âdiggersâ meant that the original Scottish families became just another minority as the population literally doubled and then tripled overnight. The âgold rushâ turned Dunedin into a âboom townâ and then farming, railroad development and shipping kept it prosperous until the Panama Canal opened in 1914 and Auckland became the more logical economic port for the British Empire. Mining experienced a comeback in the 1980âs around Dunedin and, today, the city is flourishing once again.
But, back to the Otago Peninsula...famous for its outstanding marine wildlife viewing, the Royal Albatross Centre, the famous Disappearing Gun and New Zealandâs only castle set amongst spectacular gardens and protected woodlands.
We charged up to Larnach Castle which sits high on a hill with beautiful views across the harbor to Dunedin. Completed in 1871, the 19th Century Gothic Revival building was home to the Australian banker, politician and importer William Larnach. With building materials shipped from all over the world and then dragged uphill by oxen-drawn sleds, the castle took almost 12 years to complete and it is clear that money was no object.
But, on the other hand, money canât buy happiness and the Larnach family (3 wives, multiple spoiled, bickering children, including a âfavoriteâ son accused of an affair with Larnachâs much younger 3rd wife) eventually lost possession of the castle after assorted business ventures, bank failures and a murky political career caught up with Larnach and he shot himself to death with a revolver in the New Zealand Parliament in 1898.
The castle went through several owners and then lay in ruins for many years until a young couple bought it in 1967 and made it their home. Theyâve spent the past 44 years restoring Larnach Castle and the spectacular gardens to its former glory. Check out the website at http://www.larnachcastle.co.nz. For anyone traveling to New Zealand, Iâd suggest booking accommodations at Larnach Castle if youâd like a special treat. The rustic renovated Stable contains six rooms with shared baths which are really nice but the much grander Lodge has twelve ensuite rooms with stylized dÃcor and fantastic peninsula views â just awesome!
After visiting Larnach Castle, we drove out to the end of Otago Peninsula to Taiaroa Head for some wildlife viewing and we were certainly not disappointed. There are huge colonies of sea mammals and seabirds congregating here including fur seals, sea lions, blue-eyed penguins and the much rarer endangered yellow-eyed penguins (They are only about 4000 left in the world and are found only here on the South Island of New Zealand) plus shag, muttonbirds, shearwaters and, of course, the Royal Albatross, which Peter described to you in an earlier email.
In fact, Taiaroa Head hosts the only mainland albatross colony in the world! The Royal Albatross Centre is on the grounds of historic Fort Taiaroa which Iâll talk about later. Our guide at the Royal Albatross Centre was a graduate student from Japan who was conducting research for his PhD on the mating patterns of albatrosses. Did you know that albatrosses mate for life? The female lays one egg per breeding season and the parents take turns incubating it over 10-12 weeks. Once the chick hatches, the parents again take turns feeding and guarding it for up to a year before it takes flight. At that point, both parents will leave New Zealand and theyâll fly, in opposite directions, all around the world for another year before returning to the EXACT same place within days - sometimes within hours - of their partner to breed again! WOW!! Thatâs devotion for you!!!
But, MY devoted mate tells me that Iâm rambling a bit about albatrosses and I havenât even mentioned the Disappearing Gun! So, moving onâwe headed underground to explore the tunnels and gun emplacements that were built in 1885 here at Fort Taiaroa.
For some reason, New Zealand felt in danger of attack by Tzarist Russia in the mid-1880âs and then again by the Russian troops during World War II. I guess it made an appealing target because Dunedin was an important center for commerce and shipping between New Zealand and the United Kingdom way back when and, more recently, the harbor offered a well-protected anchorage with an excellent look-out in the form of the existing fortifications.
Iâm not sure how the Kiwis planned to protect themselves in the 1880âs but, by the time WWII rolled around, the Disappearing Gun was their secret weapon! Shhhhhh! Donât tell a soul but this gun was set on a hydraulic lift and it could be raised, fired and lowered in just a few seconds. Peter was transfixed! Itâs such a guy thingâunderground tunnels and guns and bullets and weapons of mass destruction! He loved it!!! I was more concerned that they would lift up the gun and accidently blow away the albatrosses nesting just a few feet away from the turret. (See photo below) Anyway, we had a great time. I got to see several albatross families up close and personal and he got to play with guns!
The next highlight along the way as we drove up the west coast of the South Island was the Moeraki Boulders. These are SO COOL!!! Along this one stretch of beach lie dozens of huge grey, almost perfectly spherical boulders sitting along the tide line. The boulders actually started forming 60 million years ago in muddy sediment on the sea floor and gradually (YesâI know thatâs a relative term when you are talking 60 million years) morphed inside the mudstone cliffs behind the beach. As the cliffs eroded, out popped these bionic bowling balls some of which are over six feet in diameter! They are smooth outside with a surface pattern that looks like veins all around and they have a center core of lime crystals that gives the interior a honeycombed pattern which you can see within several along the shore that have broken open over time. Check out our photos and view the link Iâve attached.