We took a package deal from Queenstown to Milford Sound via Lake Te Anau, an overnight cruise in the Sound on a luxury yacht and return. The drive and the stay was the highlight of our trip to New Zealand. A 300 Km – 4 hr drive in an extremely well appointed tourist bus with very large windows and an extremely knowledgeable driver cum guide made the trip even very interesting and memorable. The drive to Milford Sound itself passes through unspoiled mountain landscapes before entering the 1.2 km Homer tunnel which emerges into rain-forest-carpeted canyons that descend to the sound.
The drive to the Sound is via the famous Lake Te Anau. The lake covers an area of344 Kmsq, making it the second largest by surface area in New Zealand after lake Taupo. Unlike our understanding of lakes, these are created from volcanic processes. The main body of the lake runs North-South, and is 65 km in length. The surface of the lake is at an altitude of 210 m. It has a maximum depth of 417 m, so much of its bed lies below sea level, with the deepest part of the lake being 226 meters below sea level.
|The vastness is unbelievable|
|Residential area of Te Anau|
|Stop for lunch|
In our 23 days trip to NZ we were able to visit 7 of the top10 lakes of NZ. A good record indeed.
On the way we stopped to see a ‘Mirror Lake’, where the water was so still and clear that it mirrored the hills around and one could also see the weeds all the way through to its fairly shallow bottom. It was as a ’World Heritage Area’.
|The iconic Remarkables mountain range, one of only two mountain ranges in the world that run directly North to South|
|An amazing valley|
|See the notice board - Mirror lake|
|A number of rivulets on the way|
We got to know a lot of tidbits from our guide along the way.
Tidbits. Rugby is a way of life and religion in NZ.
The Maoris when they arrived in NZ had no script and their communication was all spoken using songs and stories. Tattoos too, play a large part in the identity of each Maori. Lake Wakatipu means a ‘Giant Hollow’ which comes with a long story of a beautiful girl, a jilted lover and a giant who falls, thus making the hollow in which the lake lies.
Possums were introduced to New Zealand in 1837 to establish a fur trade; the possum has become one of the greatest threats to their natural environment. The possum has a thick, bushy tail, a pointed snout and long, fox-like tapering ears. Adult possums are typically between 65 and 95 cm in length, and can weigh anywhere between 1.4 and 6.4 kg. In its native land, the possum is up against dingoes, bush fires and less palatable vegetation. In New Zealand there are no predators and lots of very palatable vegetation. As a result, possums have a huge impact on New Zealand ecosystems. It is estimated that there are 30 million Possums in NZ.18 Possums yield 1Kg of fur and 105 kg yields 5000 NZD. Today, many consider possums Public Enemy #1.In addition large populations of rabbits, rats, weasels, cats, stoats, goats, deer and hedgehogs also pose serious problems.
Oh deer! Between 1861 and 1919, more than 250 red deer were released in New Zealand for sport. They spread rapidly because they had no predators, there was plenty of food, and at first they were protected from hunting. By the start of the 20th century, deer had spread throughout the forests. Herds of wild deer damaged pasture, young exotic trees in plantations, and native forests, by eating the plants. As this did not help contain their population, hunting deer was encouraged, starting 1920; deer farming started in the late 60’s.Today, New Zealand has 1.1 million hinds and 500,000 stags – about 50% of the world’s estimated farmed deer. Today the farming generates 255 million NZD.
Pounamu refers to several types of hard, durable and highly valued Nephrite Jade stone found in southern NZ. Pounamu is the Maori name. These rocks are also generically known as "Greenstone". As it is extremely hard, Maoris used this stone extensively as weapons and for cutting wood, rope etc
Milford Sound or Fjord? What’s the difference between a Sound and a Fjord? Technically Milford Sound isn’t a Sound at all, it’s a Fjord. A Sound is created by a river; a Fjord is created by a Glacier. When Milford Sound was discovered it was mistakenly named a Sound because it was thought it had been created by a river. Also the word ‘Fjord’ was yet to be coined. However it was really created by huge Glaciers, which carved through the rocks to create the dramatic rock formations of the mountains there. As our guide explained, at Milford there is a huge bathtub – glacier at one end and the ocean at the other end with a narrow opening. Milford Sound runs 15 kilometers inland from the Tasman Sea. Sea water rests at the bottom and lighter glacier fresh water covers the entire sound up to depth of 80 meters. Lush rain forests cling precariously to these cliffs on either side of the sound, while seals, penguins, and dolphins frequent the waters. Milford attracts up to 1 million visitors per year.
The stay on the boat was very relaxing and interesting. At one point, we went really close to a waterfall and everyone rushed inside the boat to escape being completely drenched. On the way back from Milford Sound, it rained heavily and we saw hundreds of tiny waterfalls along the way.
|Sutherland fall. When it rains the number of waterfalls reaches 100|
|A view of the sound|
|Our guide on the boat|
|Late in the evening|
|Our abode for the night|
|Back to Lake Te Anau|
Glenorchy and Lord of the Rings. On the last day - 05 May in Queenstown we headed to Glenorchy prior to embarking a local flight to Auckland and thereafter to India on 06 May. The 45 minute journey from QT to Glenorchy is one of the most scenic drives you'll ever experience. The road follows the edge of Lake Wakatipu, providing spectacular views of the surrounding mountains which rise abruptly from the lake's shores. Glenorchy is a very small sleepy and wet town where we had a sumptuous breakfast.
|An extraordinarily artistic cup of chocolate coffee|
|Town of Glenorchy|
Just up the road from Glenorchy is Paradise. Some say this place was named for its stunning scenery; others argue that it's all to do with the paradise ducks that live in the area. Either way, Paradise deserves your attention - especially if you're an avid Lord of the Rings or Narnia fan. Mount Aspiring National Park is also located in this area. At its heart is a massive area of wilderness - glaciers, snowfields, mountains, valleys and wildlife habitats that require days of hiking to reach. To the west of the divide, where rainfall is plentiful, the beech forest comes with a sound track of birdsong and waterfalls. This place is very popular for extreme adventure sports.
|Drier face of the range|
|Short of Paradise|
|Crystal clear skies|
|Glacier water flow|
|Never ending valleys|
|The only exception a cattle farm|
The entire landscape is so prehistoric, one tends to get carried back by 35 million years when the main land mass ‘Gondwana’ split and NZ was formed. The land is lush with thick vegetation covering entire stretches of mountains and valleys. The entire area is bereft of humans and mammals and at times eerie and almost alien.
|A drive to remember|
We thereafter flew to Auckland and India – ending our 24 days of union with nature and its wonders. In the overall context New Zealand provided us with an excellent opportunity to bond with some of the few untouched and unspoiled areas left on mother earth.