Sunday, 7 February 2010

Fjord of the rings

Well, technically not - Fjordland seems to be one of the few places Peter Jackson didn't film, though it can't have been because it lacks the requisite beauty.  According to Maori legend, demi-god Tu-te-raki-whanoa carved the fjords out of the coastline with his adze, with the northernmost fjord (Milford Sound) being the summit of his art.  However, when the goddess of death saw the glory of what he had made, she was afraid that visitors would never leave, and so created sandflies as the price of all that perfection.

I've now cruised up both Milford and Doubtful Sounds (geographers will know that these aren't sounds, but fjords - the distinction was lost on me!).  V- or U-shaped lakes aside, they are as wonderful as the legend has it (even with the sandflies!), and not one of my pictures can do them justice - as always in New Zealand it's beauty on a heroic scale.  

Milford Sound was fantastic, but the real experience for me was my overnight stay last night on Doubtful Sound.  Because it's so hard to get to (you need to drive from Te Anau to Manapouri Lake, then take a one-hour boat trip across the water, then another 45 minutes on a gravel road down to the fjord's edge) there are few tourists there, so on the Navigator we had the place pretty much to ourselves.  The boat was a palace of luxury (well, for a backpacker, anyway!), with old-fashioned bunkrooms below and a mini-stateroom to eat all the wonderful food they kept dishing up.  And in between times, you could wander out on deck and stare at the mountainous hillsides, decked out in myriad shades of green except where there had been a tree avalanche and the vertiginous slope was scarred white (the trees have no taproots - the entire forest clings to the side of the mountain by intertwining their roots like velcro; when one goes, a great swathe goes with it).

We even had the best of the weather - Fjordland is notoriously wet (they have in excess of 3 metres of rain a year, and only 50 days without a drop), but yesterday we had blazing sunshine throughout, and the views were spectacular.  And this morning we woke to a world of grey mist, through which the boat drifted, muffled - amazingly atmospheric.  Across the far side of the sound we saw bottlenose dolphins playing about the bows of another boat, and fur seals lounging on rocks right at the edge of the Tasman Sea.  And for a glorious 10 minutes we stopped, switched off the engines and just listened to the birds in the forest, while the water mirrored the trees around us.  A definite highlight of the trip.

And now I've got one more day in Te Anau, before I head back to Queenstown and rejoin the bus tour madness, after which blogs will be in short supply for a couple of weeks - we'll be mostly bush camping, with very little internet access.  I'll try to post when I can, but won't be online very often till 28 February.  If anyone is wondering why I'm not replying to emails/Facebook, that's why.  Normal service will be resumed as soon as...  Au revoir!

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