Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dispatch 61 Fjordland

October, 2010

Fjordland is a magical part of New Zealand! In

fact, the general magic of the South Island is we can go from Iowa type farmland to Vancouver Island type coastal ruggedness, to Rockies type mountain terrain, to Olympic peninsula type rainforest to Alaska type fjordland all within a few hours drive. And, no bears, no spiders, no snakes, no raccoons, no kidding. If you look close, you can find penguins and how scary are they?

I took a Friday and Monday off work and we set off to take a cruise on Doubtful Sound in Fjordland, SW New Zealand. This area is just beautiful with mountains that fall straight into the water, still with some snow at the peaks. Everything is green because it rains a lot there, but, miraculously, not while we were there. We just nailed the weather. And, we were also privileged to get half price on the cruise because we live here! Bonus! Doubtful Sound is so named because James Cook, that intrepid explorer who conveniently has charted nearly all the

waters we have sailed in, took one look into the place and “doubted” that they would find good anchorage. We assume he remembered his experience at Desolation Sound, another drop dead gorgeous place he named so negatively because, for him and his crew, tall mountains and narrow waterways spell disaster. Desolation Sound trapped them for days—no wind and wild currents, usually in the wrong direction! So, the wiser for that experience, he didn’t venture into Doubtful Sound where he would have found trouble with the wind, but no currents to plague him.

We were on a purpose built tank of a ship with symbolic sails, but really comfortable little cabins and an awesome galley that produced food of both quality and quantity. Mmmm. With about 60 passengers aboard, we went out into the Sound, spotted dolphins, Blue and Fjordland Crested penguins, Fur Seals and albatross, (Mollymawk). We enjoyed Kiwi calls in the night on a still anchorage deep in one of the fjords and kayaked to one of the islands to see waterfalls up close and provide the sand flies with their dinner before we had ours. The weather was so calm,

the reflections in the water were perfect mirrors of the mountains above. Nearly every cliff face sported multiple waterfalls from recent rains even though we had gorgeous clear weather. Did I mention high quantity food? There was a dinner and breakfast buffet and we took good advantage of those. The trip

was also enriched by a naturalist who was both informative and funny. It was a fantastic experience!

After that overnight cruise, we took advantage of being on the West Coast and drove a stunning road up to Milford Sound on another beautiful sunny day. On the way there, we finally encountered Keas, the native parrot like bird of New Zealand. We have been trying to see them because they are interesting and pesky. They like to eat the rubber out from around the windshield and the wipers. We kept our eye on them every minute when they landed on top of our car. The road traveled through some of the most glorious mountain scenery we have ever seen and was well worth the side trip.

Remember we talked about farmed deer? As we drove the countryside, we noticed a guy driving a herd of big animals ahead of his truck in his paddock. He then proceeded to put gates across the road to stop traffic and create a lane to herd his animals to the other side. We looked closely at the animals as they passed (we got out to watch and take pictures) and thought they looked mighty familiar and not really deer-like. We talked to the farmer and, sure enough, the animals are Roosevelt Elk, exactly like those that run wild in the Olympic National Park in Washington State. The farmer raises them for their antlers which fetch a huge pricetag from places like Korea and are, after all, a renewable resource. He also farms some Elk for meat. He explained to us that the group in yonder paddock were soon to go on their “OE” (overseas experience) in little boxes.

On our detour home, we headed to the southern-most point of the South Island, Slope Point, latitude 46 degrees, 37’ 26”S. We came from Seattle at Latitude 48, so we’ll have to go down to Stewart Island, or beyond, to get equally south.
The south part of the south island is famous for its constant high winds. The trees reflect that environment, although, once again, we were lucky in the weather and enjoyed a walk around the rocky coast near Bluff in still conditions.

And here’s how small NZ is. In Bluff, we stayed at a small hotel. Unbeknownst to us, the couple running it are both ambulance crew which became apparent when I asked where the hospital was in the next town (a place where I had been offered a job so wanted to check it out). They wondered if they could do anything to help (thinking, of course, I needed medical attention). Well, I told them who I was and where I work, and we started comparing names of the people they know who work in Oamaru and used to work in Bluff, etc. It turns out they had trained one of our hospital porters who also happens to be an ambulance crew member. It’s not that strange, really, remember, only 4.8 million people in the whole country.