Thursday, March 25, 2010

Milford Sound

Departing Wanaka, we took a bus to Te Anau (try as I may, I cannot figure out what the correct pronunciation of Te Anau is; the guidebook says “Tee Uh-Now,” but most people -- even locals -- call it “Tay Ah-New”) which is a gateway to the Milford Sound.  On the bus, we met a couple of nice Brits who were living in Melbourne, Australia and happened to be staying at our hostel (the YHA Te Anau -- which was like a 1950s summer camp; ask me about the wrecked bathroom -- not suitable for a blog).  We had a good time with them; a lot of backpackers are younger than us, so we have little in common.  These guys were in our generation and actually had jobs, so we could relate better.

We had booked a day tour of the Milford Sound (which is actually a fjord, not a sound).  The Milford Sound is also the end point of the world-famous Milford Track.  Initially, we really wanted to hike the Milford Track, but access to the track has been monopolized.  It is a 4-day tramp, and if you want to stay in lodges and have your meals prepared for you, that’s about $2000 per person.  For four days.  It looked fabulous, but not budget-friendly.  The other option was “do-it-yourself,“ in which you stay in NZ Department of Conservation “huts” (a bunkhouse) and bring your own meals and water.  This option had two massive downsides: (1) you have to carry your own equipment; the addition of 30 pounds of camping equipment and food is not minor, especially when you‘re an out of shape desk jockey; and (2) I had no idea how much food or water we might use in 4 days, and I did not want to be fighting Violet -- Lord of the Flies style -- for the last granola bar.  So, we decided to do the Abel Tasman tramp you heard about earlier.  The day tour was probably not as wonderful as the hike, which I’ve heard nothing but raves about, but life is full of hard choices.

The day trip consisted of a scenic bus ride in a coach that made stops at various observation points, including a scenic meadow and a place called “Mirror Lakes.”  Here are some photos:

The above picture is from Mirror Lakes.  Notice the reflection?

On the way, we also saw some parrots called Kea.  Believe it or not, they are carnivorous.  They are also extremely mischievous.  They love to peck apart rubber, and have been known to pull all the rubber off of a parked car´s windows; tourists are cautioned against leaving vehicles or motorcycles in areas where Kea live, because they will do permanent damage.  They are also known to pull up tent pegs and then fly away with them, leaving them far from the poor campers´ tent.  Kea became a pest in NZ because they kill sheep to eat them.  According to our guide, they have even been known to work as a group, herding sheep and causing them to run off a mountain; the Kea then eat their remains at the bottom.  Here is a photo:

When we arrived at the sound, we took a boat out to explore the sound.  Here is our boat:

The tour of the sound was beautiful.  The biggest peak coming out of the water is called Mitre Peak.  In addition to the mountains, we also saw a lot of seals again.  There was even a baby seal.  Check out my photos:

After the boat ride, we boarded the bus back to Te Anau, where we spent a last night at the YHA before taking the bus to Queenstown, the so-called “Adventure Capital“ of New Zealand (that means it’s a place where lots of idiots jump off whatever heights they can find).

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