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Wanaka, Te Anau, Milford Sound, Twizel, Mt. Cook

World Trip Two

Saturday, April 18, 2009: Fox Glacier-Wanaka, New Zealand

A snowcap peeking up from behind the forest.

Today's word must be primordial. It is the only word that could possibly describe the flourishing, green, and dense sub-tropical rain forest along our drive from Fox Glacier to Lake Wanaka.

Draping clouds.

The sharp and craggy hills that surrounded us were draped in clouds; draped like a dress maker would hang material on a model to test a look. The look nature achieved was one where we could imagine dinosaurs still roamed and Homo sapiens had not yet evolved. We drove for hours through this wilderness without seeing another car, farm, or human. Its splendor staggered us and its remoteness tore at our hearts.

Cliffs and gray sand beaches.

We eventually reached the ocean and stopped to view rugged cliffs and gray sand beaches. When we returned to our car we found it infested with small, but ravenous, flies. They soon began biting Julia, and when they bit they caused a sharp pain like someone jabbing you with a needle; quite a disproportionate pain compared to their size. Julia began hunting them down and squashing them like the filthy bugs they were. But she was bitten another two or three times while engaged with their destruction. I consoled her, but was sure she was exaggerating their bite and sting, then one bit me on my hand.

I knew then she was not overstating the pain. In my struggle with the beast I inadvertently swerved the car all over the road, but managed to regain control and kill the monster. I now knew what was sending Julia into her extinction frenzy. My goodness, these little buggers could bite! It took several hours before Julia had eradicated every last one from the cabin of our car. We had planned to take a hike on one of the trails nearby, but after this experience with the little flying terrors we decided against it and push on to Lake Wanaka. We hoped it was far enough away that we would not have to endure these creatures again.

Sunrise over Lake Wanaka.

In what seemed the blink of an eye we had left the rain forests for Lake Wanaka's dry, brown, hinterland. The Southern Alps cause a vast rain shadow.

Less rain produces a completely different environment; still beautiful in its own way. Lake Wanaka is very large and surrounded by tall and weathered mountains denuded of trees and forest. The township of Wanaka was filled with magnificent fall colors. The golden brows, dark reds, and honey colors of the tress took our breath away, as we drove the main street. These colors, produced by non native tress mainly, seem to fit perfectly with the brown plains and mountains all about. We finally arrived at our hotel and immediately took our walk along the lakeshore amongst the glorious fall hues.

Wanaka Video

Sunday, April 19, 2009: Lake Wanaka-Te Anau, New Zealand

Lake Te Anau.

We drove from Lake Wanaka to Te Anau this morning. Mount Remarkable was just as remarkable as the last time I saw it, even though it had no snow on it this time. Lake Wakatipu was very lovely and the weather was getting clearer.

Te Anau, which a local informed me, is pronounced as one word: Teanau sounding like piano but with a T; is a splendid little town. It is rather like Wanaka but situated on the shores of Lake Te Anau. Its main attraction is its proximity to the Milord Sound and the New Zealand Fiordlands. But Te Anau has its own wonderful walks around the lake and a bird sanctuary which we visited and were privileged to see the now nearly extinct Takahe. We ended the day by going on an astronomy tour. Richard the tour guide guided us through the Sothern night sky and it was a bejeweled spectacle.

Monday, April 20, 2009: Milford Sound, New Zealand

On top of the Milford Sound.

The Milford Sound is a most beautiful area filled with many glacial sculptured mountain horns. At its edges valleys, which would normally have rivers flowing in them, have been filled by ocean water from the Tasman Sea. This forms fiords which decorate the area. We walked around the shores of the Milford Sound with the bright blue sky as our canopy.

Once we were filled with the sights, sounds, plants, and birds of the sound we moved on to hike up the Key Summit a nearby hike that took us to the top of this world. The three hour hike had us climb slowly for two hours into the alpine world of the Milford Sound. At the top the flora changed from dense rain forest to low shrubs and brown mosses. The view from up there was spectacular and we could now look the surrounding peaks in the eye.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009: Te Anau, New Zealand

The enchanted forest of Te Anau.

From Julia: If you have three or four days to spare and don"t mind sleeping in a mountain hut you can walk the entire Kepler Track loop. It's another of New Zealand's Great Walks, passing through forest and gorgeous scenery as seems to be the norm for all tramps in this incredible country.

We spent a day on part of it and it was a magical experience. We could hear birds singing in the trees, on occasion we saw them flitting in the branches. We stopped to spot them without luck when suddenly a small, round, and fluffy blue and white bird came up to a nearby branch and stopped to look at us. He came closer and perched on a branch a few inches from our faces before flying off. We were even more amazed when later on in the day a yellow and white bird with a long tail did the same thing! We wandered like enchanted children through the moss covered, green forest. David said it was like the yellow brick road and it really was like a Disney film set. We expected to turn the corner and see fairies lying on the moss drinking dew drops among the multicolored toadstools.

Milford Sound Video

Wednesday, April 22, 2009: Te Anau-Twizel, New Zealand

A fire burning on the dry terrain.

We left behind fiords and lush green forests for brown, semi arid, fields and craggy hills on our four hour drive from Te Anua to Twizel. The good news was the weather was great, clear blue skies all day. Once at Twizel, and settled into our B&B, we took a short walk around the town. It was a very short walk as Twizel is not a big place. It was, in fact, a community created for the workers of a hydroelectricity project many years ago.

Once the project was complete the settlement was supposed to be torn down. But because of it location to Mt. Cook the residents moved to stop the demolition and so the town of Twizel was born. We passed the time in the car by listening to F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz"; he is now my new favorite author.

Thursday, April 23, 2009: Twizel-Mt. Cook-Christchurch, New Zealand

Feeling cold and small on the vast Tasman Glacier, with Mt. Cook behind us.

After spending a very cold night in Twizel we drove to the little town of Mt. Cook at the very base of the mighty peak. It was a bit out of our way and not planned for but we could not miss the opportunity to see the behemoth up close. The town does not have much, a few varied accommodations, and a tourist center with all the normal facilities.

A lonely ski plane our only way home.

But there is an airport and they make flights to, and land on, the various glaciers around Mt. Cook. The day was perfect for a flight so we could not resist it. Off we went into the wild blue yonder. I had made a flight once before around the Southern Alps but we did not land on the glaciers. This time our aircraft came equipped with snow skies as part of its landing gear allowing us to touch down on the icy masses. Our first stop was the Tasman Glacier. The trip to it was spectacular as we glided past the sharp peaks, scree filled river valleys, and Mt. Cook itself.

Our pilot put the airplane down without a bump on the ice. We were soon out on it and stunned by the majesty of our surroundings. It was an extra landing that the pilot threw in so we did not stop the engine or linger too long. Soon we were zipping down the glacier quickly picking up airspeed and then without effort were airborne once again. After another spectacular view of Mt. Cook and its sister peaks we flew over to the western side of the range and landed on the Franz Josef glacier. Once on the ice the pilot stopped the engine and we spent a good 15 minutes taking photos and immersing ourselves in the splendor of the place. Not since visiting Antarctica had I had the same sense from a place. We landed safely back at Mt. Cook airport and began our long drive to Christchurch were we leave New Zealand behind and move onto the vastness and family of Australia.

New Zealand, what an amazing place, if you do not come here you are truly wasting your life.

Goodbye New Zealand
Mt. Cook Video

Trip stats

Miles Flown: 7,411

Miles Hiked: 80

Miles Driven: 1,926

Miles Sailed: 89


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