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NZ trip - part 5 of 7

(As usual, hit my "travel" tag or see the list of recent posts at right for earlier parts.)

Hmm, where was I? Oh yes, finishing going to look at the face of Fox Glacier (in the rain), running back into town to change into dry clothes, and then hopping back into the car for a sprint south and over the Haast Pass.

Haast really was one of those, "Seriously? That's all there is to the 'town'?" types of places. But it had a cafe, meant to provide services to people stopping before hitting the something like 180 km stretch of roadway before the next amenities. (So, load up on gas, basically.) It also had a catch-all tourist shop next door, which we stopped into -- you know, the usual assortment of wool products and possum products, and miscellaneous low-quality jade, and all. We *did* see a possum-fur throw that had been beautifully pieced together out of different colored pelts, and if it had been less than $500 I would have been seriously tempted.

As it was, the big score there was that the store had a very nice selection of red deer skulls with the antlers on. This is key since Tam is a big collector of Dead Animal Bits, which feature heavily in the decoration of their home. I'd sort of been wondering what to get them as a hosting gift, and I'm astonished that it took me that long to hit upon a deer skull as the perfect solution. (I still want to see a pic of it in situ, guys!).

The pic at the top of this entry, and the pic above, were taken of vistas along Lake Hawea, after going over the pass and coming down the other side. Since the pics in the previous entry showed you what sort of weather we were having on the other side just a few hours earlier, at the glaciers, you can see what a big difference in weather just going over the Southern Alps made. I was so damn excited to actually be able to SEE the snowy peaks of mountains that I made Tam pull over several times to take pics.

One of the humorous things about driving around NZ was... okay, you will have noticed thus far that I'm reasonably LOTR-geeky enough to want to go to some of the filming sites of the movies. There's a really great guidebook that is all about telling you how to do this (even in many cases providing GPS coordinates so, should you be GPS-equipped, you can tell when you're in the exact right spot). But also... you know how in most places, you can buy a standard detailed book of road-maps, for driving around? NZ has those, and we made sure to get both the North Island and the South Island versions. So... you know how road atlases like that usually have little symbols that they'll put on maps to indicate the location of various things, like camping grounds or skiing or hospitals or libraries, etc.? The two NZ road atlases had all of those symbols, plus others for "hot springs" and stuff -- and they also had these little dark-blue boxes with a little gold ring in them, which they put at the locations of most (though not all) of the LOTR filming locations, along with a little note in small italic text telling you *what* was filmed there. TOO CUTE!

At any rate, this was one of the ways we knew (plus the good guidebook, obviously), that on the road on the way to Queenstown, we would pass the location on the Kawarau River at which the Argonath (the colossal stone statues of the ancient kings) were digitally inserted. So we decided to take a stab at finding it.

What we actually found was the Kawarau Bridge and attendant bungee-jumping operation, which appears to be world-famous, given its proximity to Queenstown. Above -- taken from the bridge, a pic of the river and its gorge, which provided the big vertical walls necessary for Argonath placement.


While on the bridge, we also got to see some nutballs actually bungee jumping:

If you click through to the full size, you will be able to clearly see the blurry bungee-jumper in action. My feeling: there is not enough NO FUCKING WAY in the WORLD...

(To clarify: the thing I probably object to the most with the concept is the head-first-falling thing. If I could jump but somehow remain *upright*, I would probably do it.)

View from the bridge in the other direction, looking at the highway bridge.

Initially, our plan was to drive to the Queenstown vicinity and get a hotel-room there. But we made such good time over the Haast Pass that we decided to actually shoot for driving all the way to Te Anau, which is the town that's the gateway to Milford Sound, basically; and doing a trip out on Milford Sound was another one of my Big Goals. So we called ahead, booked a hotel room, and went into Queenstown to grab dinner.

The upshot of this is that we got only the most fleeting glimpse of Queenstown. This leaves me feeling ambivalent. The city has just a glorious setting. Below, a picture of the Remarkables, a mountain range that provides a backdrop to Queenstown across Lake Wakatipu (and which I unwisely gambled on and lost the opportunity to get a good photo of on our way into town):


The problem with Queenstown... well, it's a world-famous and popular gateway to all the landscape/environmentally-based Adventure Tourism of the region. The outskirts of Queenstown are choked with motels and hotels, but the road infrastructure doesn't appear to have been updated to deal with the traffic. Even late in the day on a winter weekend (ski season, granted), getting into the downtown and finding parking was crazy. The crowds were crazy. And basically -- I've never been to Aspen or other ski resorts in the Rockies, but I got this vibe off Queenstown that was just like what I imagine those places to be: crowded, and moneyed, with a lot of people as interested in being Seen and being Beautiful as anything else. Yikes. After four days spent along the empty west coast, Queenstown was a shock to the system.

So we found a place to eat dinner, and we got the hell out of there and back on the road. And the only regret was that we were doing a lot of driving along the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu in darkness, and through some rain that had moved in. But we did get to Te Anau, situated on its own lake... and there we discovered a different set of problems.

All the rain on the west coast and all the rain we'd been driving through had translated into the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound having been closed (due to ice and the dangers of landslides, or "slips" as they call them in NZ). The big question was: would it be open in the morning in time for us to drive to Milford Sound in time to catch one of the scheduled boat trips? In the event: no, no it wasn't. So, further questions: did we want to stick around Te Anau and try to amuse ourselves for another day, hoping we could get to Milford the next day? (We were a day early in our previous estimations, so if we needed it, we did have a day to play with.) Or ...?

What we actually ended up doing was, dashing a half-hour down the road to Manapouri, on the lake of the same name, from which all-day-long trips to Doubtful Sound departed. This was a big gamble -- all of the bus tours that had come to Te Anau to go on Milford Sound had immediately flipped over to trying to go to Doubtful Sound as well. There weren't any actual tickets left -- but we were told we could come and see if there were cancellations. We decided to take the chance; it would only take an hour or so to know whether we were going or not, putting us back at square one.

Luck was with us, though, and we wound up getting onto the tour of a small outfit at the last minute. We got put on a very tiny boat for the 45-min. ride across Lake Manapouri. The weather was still kind of crap -- low clouds and rain and wind -- but at least this tour was running. Once across, we docked beside the Power Station -- which is a feat of engineering so remarkable, I'm going to direct you to the following websites, because I can't do it justice:




Here is a pic of a model that was located in the visitor center where we landed, showing the long, curving 2-km long tunnel that they drove us down, to see the underground power station:

I have to say that the visit down to the Power Station, while unexpected, was a cool bonus, in a "wow, big machines and almost incomprehensibly difficult human endeavors" way.

Then we were loaded onto a bus and taken up and over the Wilmot Pass (while the tail-race of the Power Station was tunnelling through below us) on what was described to us as one of the steepest public roads in NZ, to get to Doubtful Sound, to be loaded onto another boat, only slightly larger (there were only about 18 of us), for a 3-hour tour. (Cue theme music.) Here -- taken out of order -- is a pic of our plucky little boat:

(It's seen above with Helena Falls glimpsed in the background -- one of three sets of falls in the Sound that runs year-round, not rainstorm-dependent. This is in the Deep Cove arm of the Sound, which is also where the tailrace of Manapouri Power Station lets out.)

Doubtful Sound is actually much bigger/longer than Milford, and has less traffic. (Milford has a small airstrip, which nonetheless means you have to put up with small planes droning in and out all the time.) Its name comes from Captain Cook mistaking it for a harbor and being doubtful as to whether he could sail his ship into it. (Of course, it isn't actually a "sound", either -- it's a fiord. What's the difference? Sounds are caused by river erosion. Fiords are caused by glacial carving.)


The thing about all of the crappy weather we'd been having was that although it did not make for the most sweeping, clear vistas, its effect upon the mountains looming on either side of the Sound was that it turned them into All Waterfalls, All the Time.

Another thing that I'd like to point out as I'm about to show you all these pictures is -- please notice how the mountains are all completely covered with thick rainforest greenery. Then, contemplate that there's no actual SOIL on those mountains -- they're way too steep. It's all bare rock, to which all of that greenery is clinging, sometimes by clinging to moss that has established a toehold on the rock.

I would also like to point out that many of the mountains edging the water are in the 1300-1600 meter range -- unfortunately, it's hard to capture that with a not-very-good camera, and without the ability to give much scale to anything. As Stephen remarked, as the day went on, 500-meter waterfalls became a commonplace sight.

Above is one of the many hanging valleys -- in which, perhaps, the fabled South Island moose still roams. (No, seriously. At one point they imported moose for big game hunting, and since a lot of Fiordland is just trackless wilderness -- and I think you can see why, here -- they can't be absolutely sure that they've hunting down the last of them. Not that long ago somebody found some hair stuck on a branch or something that was DNA tested and found to be moose. THE MOOSE ARE OUT THERE!)

Since there were so many waterfalls, our guide/boat's captain delighted in getting us REALLY close to some of them...

We turned into a side-arm of the Sound, in order to inspect some more waterfalls closely...

Now, here's the thing about this above progression -- those three waterfalls looked darned big, don't they? And they are -- they're easily several stories tall. But as the following picture will show -- "big" is relative in Doubtful Sound. Please direct your attention to the three waterfalls at lower middle-left. Yes, those are the three seen close-up above, at a distance from which you can see them in context against the whole mountain.

So even though the weather was pretty crappy and it all kind of looked like this, it would be hard not to count the excursion to Doubtful Sound as a spectacular success.

Next: Dunedin, albatross, more alpacas, guanaco, bizarre rocks, and more!


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 14th, 2007 10:58 pm (UTC)
I'm really envious you went to Doubtful Sound! We went to Milford Sound (staged from Te Anau as well), after a day in Queenstown where we decided that it wasn't really the place for us, either. (Although I had a nice breakfast there...) Milford Sound was pretty great, but the trip out to Doubtful Sound just sounded so cool! OTOH, the drive to Milford Sound is quite something, and I got some fabulous photographs.
Sep. 15th, 2007 12:16 am (UTC)
Wow, incredible photos. Amazing lanscape.

And yes, ixnay on bungee jumping. Meep.

Also: Mooshee!!!!!!!!!
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 5th, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC)
*waves* It's *extremely* worth going to NZ, if you can get there! Very, very different from Australia, from what I gather. (I'd like to get to Australia someday, too.)

But then, I see you live in Vancouver! *is jealous* You might find that NZ landscape looked kind of familiar! ;-)

(Go 'Nucks! Hmm... it occurs to me that I need to make some new icons to go with the new color scheme...)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )