Saturday, April 21, 2007

NZ - Fiordland and the south

Doubtful Sound

After leaving Queenstown I drive around the lake and on to Manapouri, a few hours south west. This is the gateway to Doubtful Sound, one of the most remote wilderness and inaccessible areas on the South island. It was named incorrectly by Captain Cook, as it is actually a fiord... when contemplating sailing down it, he was "doubtful" if there would be enough wind to get him back out again...hence the name!

I went to an adventure kayak company as I though it would be the nicest way to see the place. Leaving ant 7.30am we first take a speedboad 30km across Lake Manapouri, past NZ's largest undergound hydro power station. Then we have to transfer to a bus to take us over Wilmot's pass and through dense woodland to the start of the sound. There we get into kayaks to travel about 15km and explore the area. In total we are 8 people in 4 kayaks. Apart from the guy who picks us up at the other end in the speedboad, we are pretty much the only people here. The silence and the remoteness are stunning. We are accompanied by dolphins near the beginning and again at the end of the trip. They swim straight at the kayak, then suddenly dive below, shaking the kayak with the swoosh of their tail fins. Too fast to get a good picture though. There was also a seal swimming next to us for a while. A true encounter with nature as it was meant to be! The day was fantastic even though it rained. (The area gets 255 rainy days per year, so the odds of getting glorious sunshine were not in our favour.)

Milford Sound

After experiencing Doutful Sound, I hadn't planned on going to Milford as it's similar scenery but filled with tour groups due to it's accessibility. Another factor was that from Manapouri it is a 280 km round trip in the wrong direction for me. However, Tim the kayak guide, had told me it was worth the drive as the scenery is fantastic (like everywhere in NZ!). Spontaneity prevails and I get up the next morning and drive there. He was right, the scenery was truely breathtaking with snow capped jagged peaks and incredible places to stop along the way. Such as the "Mirror Lakes", "Cascade Creek" and "The Divide" (see pics).

Finally I make it to Milford Sound and it's exactly how I expect it to be. Full of tourists, tour operators, tour groups, tour buses. Terrible! The sound itself (actually it's also a fiord) is pretty spectacular. The drive was certainly worth it, but hanging around wasn' I head south again and stop for lunch at a more pituresque place with less tourists. I drive back through Te Anue and Manapouri to head south towards Invercargill.

Invercargill, the Catlins and then north..

You can tell the Scottish/Celtic influence in the area by the street names, but even the green rolling hills, rugged coastline and weather are reminiscent of Scotland. With street names such as "Larne" and "Armagh", I was thinking a lot about Northern Ireland. I stayed in Invercargill but didn't find it that great and the weather was getting progressivly worse... The next day I drove around the coast through an area known as The Catlins. Again, outstanding scenery and hardly anyone around, just loads of sheep in the fields. The road is very windy, so progress is slow, but enjoyable. I stopped at a few places on the way before arriving in Dunedin (gaelic for Edinburgh). The jouney keeps going and I drive up to Timaru to spend the night. This is only a few hours from Christchurch, where I want to be the following day. The road to Christchurch is depressingly dull compared to the scenery the previous days on this road trip, but hey you can't have everything... Shortly after lunch i get into Christchurch, clean the rental campervan and give it back to the depot. Pretty tired of freezing in the van and roughing it, so looking forward to a hostal bed and plenty of warm showers. People too, as I haven't seen many the past days...