Sunday, February 05, 2017

Reflections

     We drop Gay off for her Stewart Island adventure where she will hunt for kiwis and search for New Zealand birds in an environment focused on their protection. Many of the birds in NZ evolved to be flightless as there were no predators until recently. Today, sadly many species are endangered but can be found on Stewart Island. I look forward to hearing her stories and seeing her photos. From the Bluff cliff overlook, we watch her ferry bounce across the waves in the distance. 


     Bluff has potential as a tourist town but the entire town is in need of a coat of paint. I wonder if it comes to life during oyster season. 
     My own journey is nearing an end and as we drive from Bluff to Queenstown. As the guys stop at local streams and fly fish in the gusty wind, I have a chance to read, something I haven't had a chance to do. I am reading the Orchardist, a story about a man's life on his family orchard. I also have a moment to reflect on our two week circuit through this pristine and beautiful country. 
     The scenery of the south island is unparalleled. As so much of the country is preserved through its14 national parks, 30 conservation and forest parks, and 40 marine preserves, every direction you turn, there are green or golden hills, sharp clifftops, lush forests, waterfall, rivers that ressemble canals, and enormous blue lakes framed by cliffs that fall into the water. Wouldn't it be magical to glide and soar quietly over this incredible landscape with a parachute or hangglider?


     There are 30 million sheep in NZ, more than there are people. On this trip, we see more cattle and deer grazing in the pastures than a decade ago. The grass is lush and the lamb meat superb. As with many countries, much of what is produced is exported, we are told by local residents. No wonder I do not see large quantities of kiwis in the stores and the local apples are half the size of those imported to the US. 
     Asians are immigrating here in large numbers, as well as visiting as tourists. Out of the 170,000 living in NZ, 117,000 live in Auckland. In CA, we see dual Spanish on signs and literature; here we see Chinese. The cuisine in NZ has become much more cosmopolitan and quite good; we didn't have a bad meal anywhere. Chinese food is everywhere and in some large cities, appears authentic. In Queenstown, we saw a group of Chinese men having hotpot with lamb at a Chinese Ale House! I have been approached by several Chinese speaking mandarin, some curious about fly fishing as Ray carries his backpack everywhere with rods sticking out. The owner of the b&b asked me where I am from and when I replied CA, she said I look like I'm from somewhere else, and where might that be (?), a question I haven't been asked since a trip to the coast of Maine. I don't think of myself from mainland China and am always taken aback when in a foreign country, am seen as another Chinese tourist and not as an American. Funny how we are defined by how we look. 
     Campervans appear to be a favorite way of travel here with rental vans of all shapes, sizes and colors, from traditional Britz to Jucy to hippie painted. Campgrounds appear to be similar to Iceland, many are grassy fields with large common kitchen/shower/laundry facilities. We don't see many tents, probably because of the rainy weather. Almost all motels have great kitchenettes, fully equipped, and all provide a small bottle of milk for your morning coffee and cereal. We find the low sugar in all foods much to our liking. I am convinced it contributes to to the leaness of people here. 
     Kiwis, the people, are laid back and friendly. In most towns, homes are very modest making some of the houses in the Bay Area appear like palaces in comparison. As in Iceland, there is less of everything. However, NZ and especially Queenstown, is no longer a country for just extreme sports; it has indeed grown up. Home prices are steep and it makes me wonder if it will feel growing pains in a few years, if not already. 
     For our short stay, we are at a funky backpacker's motel. Walking into the covered open air hut, I am greeted by the smell of incense, signs that announce yoga clases, and a reminder of hippie days gone by. 
     During the past 2 weeks, we have minimized our exposure to US news, choosing instead to hear a NZ perspective but also in small doses. when conversations have led to politics, we have shushed eachother up! Sadly, in the morning, I will be transported back toTrumpland but for now will relish in the thought that beautiful, peaceful, loving places like this exist.  
     

Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Catlins

     Instead of cereal in a motel room, we start our morning with breakfast on neal china in the bed and breakfast. It is finally feeling like a summer day as we head for the Catlins in the forest and mountain range along the southeastern coast. Our first stop is at the lighthouse overlooking the Tasman Sea. We spend several hours here, watching the seals, birds and waves crashing onto the jagged rocks. The beach is a perfect spot for our picnic lunch.



The scenic road turns into gravel and as we come around the bend, encounter an entire 
herd of cattle on the road, all rushing toward us but somewhat confused as to why we are there! 
They crowd around us then suddenly all reverse direction and move into the pasture. The pwer of herding!


     Purakaunui falls is reached via a short walk in the forest.

     At Curio Bay, we spot a Spoonbill and watch him take flight. Gay is giving me a great introduction to birding and I am loving the ones we are seeing here.



     At the end of Curio Bay, we take a leisurely walk on the beach. Suddenly,  Ray and Ron are startled at seeing a seal on the sand right in front of them, which proceeds to chase them! You would think men could outrun a flopping seal but he gives them a run for their money then flops down in the sand and can't seem to take more than 3-4 moves before flopping down again. it is such hard work when you don't have legs. 



     By evening, we reach the town of Bluff. Expecting to see a small quaint fishing village, we are surprised to see stacks of shipping containers on the pier, a large lumber operation and deserted streets with only a tavern and small shop open. We learn that there is no food to be found - oyster season has not yet started and the rock lobster, or crayfish are all being shipped to China! Dinner can only be found by driving to Invergargill, 20 min. away. Our bed and breakfast is lovely and we wish we could spend more time here.  The view over the harbor is lovely and after dark, with the help of google and Night Sky, we successfully find the Southern Cross. 














Friday, February 03, 2017

Dunedin

Today we leave the lush and wet fjordland for the southern coast. But not before making one last stop, at the Bird Sanctuary, where volunteers rehabilitate and maintain several endangered and rare birds. The kakapo is one of the world's most critically endangered birds, living dangerously close to extinction for more than half a century.  It is the world's heaviest parrot, and the only flightless and nocturnal parrot.  After many years of holding on with just a few females in New Zealand's most extensive controlled breeding program, the future looks better for kakapo since 22 chicks hatched in 2002, bringing the total up to 84 birds. 


The takahe is the largest living member of the rail family which is found throughout the Southern Oceanic islands.  Takahe were hunted until they were rarely found in the 19th century. None were seen after 1900 and it was declared extinct, but amazingly, 200 pairs were found in a remote region of Fiordland in 1948.  The North Island takahe is extinct, but about 220 of the South Island species continue their dramatic brink of extinction existence. 


The Moorpark Ruru is New Zealand's only surviving native owl.


The kaka is a large parrot, also endangered.

     Our drive to Dunedin is 3 1/2 hours and along the way, we encounter several humorous sightings. 
Two towns Gore and Clinton-

Sheep being transported somewhere-

Dunedin is a lovely city along the coast, with beautiful historical buildings. This is its railway station. 
We end the evening with a terrific dinner at Ironic Cafe, the best seafood chowder I have ever had, lamb of course, and smoked beef. 








Thursday, February 02, 2017

Doubtful Sound

     Our tour of Doubtful Sound starts with a morning pick up at our motel and 30 min. bus ride to Manapouri, where we board a ferry taking us across Lake Manapouri. This lake is often described as the loveliest lake in NZ with a shoreline of 157 km covered by lush rainforest. Traversing the lake lengthwise takes about an hour. We then board another bus which takes us across the Wilmot Pass which an hour later opens up to a breathtaking sight, Deep Cove of Doubtful Sound. 
     This is the deepest and second longest of the fjords at 40 km, completely untouched. In a period of 3 hours, we traverse the fjord with its lush cliffsides and ribbon waterfalls, coves and islands out to the Tasman Sea. Along the way, we are treated to views of seals sunning on large rocks, dolphins swimming in the distant cove, seabirds soaring in the misty skies and a small group of kayakers along the shore. It is a magical place, so pristine and impenetrable. We are fortunate to have cloudy but dry skies, "about as good as it gets" says the announcer. The boat has several decks, covered and sheltered or open and blustery. Most of the ride is calm except at the mouth of the Tasman where swells rock the boat and waves crash against the rocks.
     As we head back to port, a light rain begins to fall and by the time we arrive, turns into a downpour. The dark clouds and rain change the mood of the area and we relish the chance to see this dramatic shift. It is a reminderof the power of the seas and wind, and how treacherous being in watercraft can be when the weather turns. 
     We prepare to leave the fjordlands after so many wonderful adventures. We will not be sad to leave the sandflies, which look like gnats but bite like chiggers!











Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Milford Sound

    Fjordland National Park, consisting of Milford and Doubtful Sounds and the Routeburn, Kepler and Milford Treks, is considered to be the best place in NZ for hikers. The owner of the Arran Motel is extremely friendly and helpful with tips on spots to fly fish and points of interest going to Milford Sound. We are learning to appreciate the few sunny days we have and are joyful that we have blue skies for our outing. 
    The 75 mile highway to Milford Sound includes lush forest, rugged mountains, cascading ribbons of waterfalls running top to bottom, rushing blue rivers and beautiful overlooks. We stop in a large meadow for a first glimpse of the scenery. The field is bustling with Chinese tourists taking photographs of girls posing like movie stars. In the parking lot, a kea flies onto our car and is up to no good, pecking at the rubber around our windows, then proceeding to sit on the roof preening itself. These mischievous birds will take your belongings and not return them. This one tries to go in through an open door!


     The glacial valley is surrounded by cliffs forming a bowl. The Routeburn Track, a well known 24 mile backpacking trail with huts for overnighters, starts at The Divide. We attempt a few of its switchbacks to get a flavor for this famous hike. 
     The road narrows as we get closer to the 3,940 ft long Hormer Tunnel completed in 1954. The tunnel is one way traffic only and as we wait, we are entertained by keas that swoop down when cars are stopped, and mischievously peck at car antennas with drivers often unaware. Soon the road winds sharply down the valley. We ooh and aah at the tall cliffs with wispy waterfalls running down to the base. The road goes through a forested area before reaching the sound, a 10 mile long fjord.The scenery is spectacular and we are pleased that most of the large tour buses have already left the area. 





     On our way back, we hike to the Chasm, an area of unusual rock formations carved out by rushing water. The road is nearly empty at this hour and we enjoy some solitude.