South Island Adventure Part II – The West Coast

Since my last post, I’ve spent a lot of time studying for midterms, taking midterms, sorting out my life, and getting back into the regular swing of school and life.  Frankly I haven’t thought about the south island trip in a while.  But this is nice, the second half of our south island trip was definitely my favorite.  Mainly kayaking was my favorite, really…

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              After we left Dunedin we made the long trip to Te Anau, with a pit stop in Queenstown.  We were picking up our friend, Donnie, in Queenstown, but we figured we could have lunch at the “world famous” Fergburgers (none of us had heard of it before we came to NZ) while we were there.

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The one and only Fergburger!

Apparently it really was famous.  We were only in Quenstown for about an hour total, and we saw at least six or seven other Massey kids just by stopping at Fergburgers!  My Fergburger was a pineapple-burger with bacon and cheddar cheese.  Mmmm.  New Zealand cows are delicious.

            Queenstown was pretty awesome though, if I had to pick the #1 thing I regretted about the South Island trip, it would be that we didn’t hang out in Queenstown longer.  We kind of avoided it because it’s a tourist hotspot, and activities there are expensive.  But it was a really cool town.

            Te Anau was our next stop.  Te Anau is a rather tiny little town nestled in grassy, pondy, cavey bunch of mountain foothills.  After a little juggling of our accommodation plans, we settled into Te Anau feeling quite at home.  Ready for super fun horseback riding the next day.

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A short break from riding

            The trail rides were run by a father and his daughter, both locals to Te Anau.  They were perfectly nice people, except maybe a little weird.  He was fond of ranting about the government and all she really talked about was horses.  But they were very nice.  We were doing English riding in Australian stock saddles.  Both completely new to me, so my riding wasn’t superb in any way and about half our group caught themselves neck-reigning from time to time.  My horse was named “Rolly-Polly” and the guides called him the “wee horse!”  We were a cute couple, Rolly and I.  Our trail ride took us up the hills onto a plateau that overlooked nearly all of Te Anau.

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Te Anau as seen from the trail ride

Our guide told us about the area.  “We have a legend here,” he said, “about the Big Man up there.  You know how he created the whole world in 6 days and then rested?  Well he was so used to being busy, that halfway through the 7th day he got bored.  So he started throwing wee rocks at Te Anau.  That’s why we have stones everywhere – farmers find em’ everywhere all the time.”

            Our last real stop on the trip was the wonderful, magnificent, Milford Sound.  Milford Sound is one of many fjords in the “Fiordlands” of New Zealand.  To be clear, Milford Sound is a fjord, not a sound.  In fact most of the “sounds” in the Fiordlands were misnamed and are actually fjords.  A fjord is a “U” shaped inlet carved out by glaciers, whereas a sound is a “V” shaped crevasse made by rivers.  To make matters worse, after New Zealand had misnamed almost all of its fjords as sounds, it misspelled the over-arching area name “Fiordlands” (it should be “Fjord lands”).

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The beginning of the kayaking trip – paddling through the forest

            But anyway.  We stayed at the Milford Sound Backpackers, which is about an hour or two away from ANYTHING except a pub and kayaking place.  So we went to the kayaking place, then the pub.  Adam, our fjord guide, picked us up at the backpackers place in the morning.  He turned out to be a super cool guy – really funny and REALLY kiwi.  We all got outfitted with pippy-long-stockings style striped leggings and long sleeve shirts, and then put on sweaters, splash jackets, spray skirts, and the works.  We piled into our yellow, two-person kayaks and took off.  These kayaks, unlike white-water ones, had a little rudders on the end, and the back seat kayakers had foot pedals to steer the kayaks.  Our safety talk was short and sweet:  We haven’t taught you guys how to roll kayaks, so if you flip over just fall out of the kayak.

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Bowen Falls from a distance. We did get much closer, but the spray made it difficult to take a picture.

            Our first destination was a jungle-like inlet, and then we made our way out into the open water towards a waterfall.  The waterfall was Bowen Falls, or Lady Bowen falls, and drops 161m – making it the larger of the two permanent waterfalls in Milford Sound and three times as large as Niagara falls!  After battling the wind, we then kayaked around for a few more hours, learning about the geology and history of the area.  Apparently “tree avalanches” are quite common because of how steep the mountains are, and how the trees cling to the mountainside.  About 1 in 10 trees actually anchors itself to the rock face; the other 9 trees just root themselves to the root network of other trees and plants.  During storms, one tree blowing over could trigger a whole section of mountainside trees to peel off in an impressive and exceptionally loud “avalanche.”  When we knew what to look for, we could see the aftereffects of tree avalanches everywhere in the mountains.

Unfortunately no dolphins or whales were around, although they do make their way up into the fjord periodically.  A seal did visit us, and casually rolled around in the water about 4-5 feet away from us.  Life is good.  Adam finished off the trip by telling us the Maori legend for how the fjord was created – a story I’ll write about in a separate post.  Overall it was an awesome day!

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The pinky-toe of Fox Glacier

            The very last bit of our trip involved sending Brittany and Donnie off on the Routeburn track, and backtracking through Te Anau and Queenstown to make our way up to Greysmouth.  We briefly saw the Fox Glacier, but it was a long drive that day.  On our last day we drove through Arthurs Pass and flew home via Christchurch.

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A friendly, old-fashioned train that blew it’s whistle at us as it went by.

That was the New Zealand I wanted to see.  That’s what I had been waiting for!

Trip stats:

Number of days: 6

Milage driven: about 1500 k

Photos taken: 153

Alcoholic beverages consumed: 4

Souvenirs bought: 2

Games of gin rummy played: about 30

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