Monday, December 21, 2009

NZ Sth Island - Pt 6 Milford again and on to Wanaka for a rest.

Day 13 (Friday 27th November) - Milford Deep, Milford Road and on to Wanaka

The weather is bright and clear early but by 8 am the wind is up and it's quite cold. We're checked out and on our way back down the Milford Road by 8:30. In the morning light rainbows are lighting up the lake and the countryside. We are entranced and stop for some photos.

We make a longer stop at the Mirror Lakes. The wind is rippling the water which prevents the mirror effect when we first arrive, but the birds here today are excellent! A family of grey ducks with half a dozen cute fluffy ducklings is feeding.
Several NZ scaup are diving in the crystal clear water and we watch and video them as they swim around under the water. Unique birds. I'm sure I've seen something about them on one of those David Attenborough documentaries. AWESOME!!
Then a pair of Paradise Shelducks fly in and land right in front of us, wasting no time in getting down to having a bite. Even a local chaffinch is ducking out and lightly sitting on the water plants feeding.
At long last though we see a fantail! Our first for the trip. It's doing the typical fantail thing of course, sitting on the waterside vegetation and flitting out over the water catching insects on the wing. With patience daughter manages to catch him in one of his rare stationary moments, his feathers all puffed up in the morning chill.

As we spread out along the lengthy boardwalk by the lake daughter has the good fortune to observe a robin. She was by herself at the time but fortunately managed to get a reasonable photo for us.

Having spent the better part of half an hour birdwatching the wind eases and we start to get some beautiful mirror effects on the water. The reflections of the snowy mountainsides are rippled as the scaup dive or surface. Who can resent a ripple when it's caused by such a special bird putting on a fascinating display right in front of you!

We still have a way to go and a deadline so we tear ourselves away from this delightful little spot after about 45 mins. As we drive away Sis announces that she thinks the Mirror Lakes are absolutely awesome and her favourite part of the trip so far!! I'm pleased of course. I have to admit to have been feeling ready to move on from Fiordland this morning so to be having this good a time along the way today is something of a relief.

Once again as we come up to the Homer Tunnel the weather is close and it's raining and cold. Waterfalls aplenty and as it's my turn to drive in, daughter is having a ball being able to concentrate on the scenery. She's in luck as there is even more of a display today in the rain.

We arrive at the cruise terminal bang on time for check in at 11:15 am for the "Discover More" cruise with Red Boats. We approach the desk for check in and find we have to present the credit card that paid for the tickets which seems a bit like overkill. A bit of guess work as we go through the range of potential cards I could have paid with all those months ago, but eventually the guy behind the desk hands the passes over with a smile and we head out to wait for boarding.

This cruise includes "a genuine kiwi bbq for [us] to enjoy" and as we step on board the staff greet us cheerfully and explain that the BBQ is ready and recommend we line straight up at the Bistro which we proceed to do. The lower floor of the boat is wall to wall tables and associated seating. A bit like a staff cafeteria in ambience. The array of food is disappointing to say the least. Patties of sausage meat - very hard and unpalatable, another tray with sausages. Limp chicken legs that looked like they'd been steamed.. Several salads, some kumara, some ocra and of course bread rolls and butter. While it's not terribly appetising to look at we each take a sample of various things and settle down at our table. Well. There's nothing else to do but report that the food was absolutely horrible. The general consensus was that the sausage was probably the best of it. I had skipped the chicken but others reported that wasn't too bad. My bread roll seemed OK. Having tasted, most of my meal was left uneaten. The bread rolls others went back for when they found they didn't want to eat the rest of their food were dreadful too. As any bread bakers out there would be aware, if you prove the dough at too high a temperature, and/or if you leave the bread proving too long, the gases in the bread go off and impart a really yucky flavour to the bread. I didn't eat another roll, but when my companions reported that the bread was inedible I was puzzled and had a sniff. Yep. Overproved. Geez. That takes the cake.
On return to Australia I did find an email asking for feedback on our experience on this cruise. Good to know that the operation is keen to know what we think and we can only hope that they do something about that food. We found it hard to believe that the food presented was a "genuine kiwi bbq" ... of course we're sure there are operators in Australia palming off horrible rubbish to tourists as genuine Aussie bbq too. Disgraceful. I mean sure, serve dreadful food if you want to, but why bring the national reputation into it?

Looking at the website it also says that we would be drinking pure glacial water on the trip. However when on board, while there was free tea and coffee there was no sign of free water anywhere. If you wanted a drink of water you had to buy the bottled stuff from the kiosk which we thought was a bit poor. More so now I read that we were supposed to get glacial water to drink.
On the up side, Red boats gave us some written information to back up the commentary and they had a table of interesting reading and reference material for passengers to use..and their website does tell you to bring your cozzie for the waterfall drenching LOL.

As we pick over the food, we head upstream to see the areas of the fiord we didn't cover the other day. We see the fishing fleet mooring area and sand fly point where the Milford track emerges. Not particularly memorable and I can understand why other cruises give this area a miss. In other respects the cruise commentary and the route were similar to the Real Journeys cruise. I preferred the ambience and facilities and overall experience on the Sinbad though and if I were heading out again, I'd go with Real Journeys.

In full on rain and mist it is a different mood in the Fiord to our previous visit here and we enjoy the cruise and revisiting the local wildlife. Once again we score the trifecta - Fiordland Crested Penguins, seals and dolphins. We're certainly having good luck with the wildlife!

We pull into the wharf at Milford Deep Observatory. We're curious as to what we're going to be able to see due to all the rain and advice from a number of people that when it's raining the visibility is poor and you don't see anything. Daughter however is not discouraged and reminds us all that lots of people think the sorts of things we are looking forward to seeing is not seeing anything and they probably just mean you can't see off into the distance.

Daughter was absolutely right. Around the windows of the observatory they have attached small platforms and on these they have collected creatures to establish a community of coral, sponges, worms and other things. The platforms can be moved up and down for cleaning the viewing windows or to keep the creatures out of the thick layer of fresh water that sits across the top of the fiord. There are a range of cool fish hanging about and all sorts of tiny creatures which no doubt daughter and Mum could name, but it's outside my area of expertise. It's interesting to me too but can take it or leave it. However this is so far up daughter, Sis and Mum's alley it's just not funny. They could stay down here for hours just waiting for some tiny sea slug or something to wander across a rock. Towards the end the local leatherjackets Bruce (?) and his other half come past. A more characterful fish you would be hard pressed to find and the tour guide tells us some amusing anecdotes about this couple. We were among the first group to go down (to give mum the longest time for climbing up the stairs) and once again she copes OK. Fortunately the up flight is separate to the down flight so her slow ascent doesn't bother anyone coming down. As we climb up the staircase I notice a number of gadgets for testing the salinity which also have a thermometre attached at the salt water level. 12C. I'm still wondering if the fresh water layer - which is several metres deep - is colder.

It's windy and raining and the hillside across from the Observatory is streaming with water as we wait to reboard for the short final leg of the cruise back past the magnificent Lady Bowen Falls.

We are back at the terminal by 3pm and I'm anxious to make a quick getaway as we have a long drive ahead of us. As we queue for Homer Tunnel several kea are loitering about and entertaining us with their antics chasing after the apple being offered by some of the vehicles.

We take our run through the tunnel and find half a dozen or so kea in the car park on the Te Anau side. YES!! We pull over to spend some time with them. Daughter extracts an apple she's been carrying around in her bag and offers small slices to the kea who has landed on our mirror and is poking his head in the window in expectation. He's got his leg in the car and looks like he's about to topple in if we're not careful.
We spend about half an hour entertaining and being entertained by the kea. Surely one of the world's most charismatic birds. They can seem quite drab in plumage if they are just sitting quietly, but whenever they fly you get flashes gorgeous orange red and metallic bronze and green. But no matter how they look, their intelligence and personality are their most striking feature.
After a bit of practice and several reasonable shots, I finally get the timing just right and get one of the kea with wings extended that we are thrilled with. HOWZAT!!

Once again we tear ourselves away. It's about 4pm and we have a long way to go. No further stops possible along the way today and we are very glad to have had taken the opportunity to explore the Chasm and the road down to Hollyford on our first Fiordland day. We stop to fill the petrol tank in Te Anau before Sis takes the wheel for her driving stint. We are very glad to have three drivers along. It would have been impossible to set the pace we did without the ability to change drivers regularly and nap in the car between stints.

The stunning scenery continues as we head north. We travel along yet another marvelous scenic road along Lake Wakatipu. We are suffering quite badly from scenery fatigue by now though. Daughter announced early in our time in Fiordland that when she comes back she plans to make it quite a short trip because as the trip goes on and scenery fatigue sets in, it becomes harder and harder to be impressed. You are faced with one jaw dropping spectacle after another and in the end you just aren't doing them justice. Dipping in and out for a week at a time seems a practical solution when you live just across the ditch.
As we drive along the winding road around beautiful Lake Wakatipu, I find myself wondering what it must be like to be a south islander. Do you stop noticing the beautiful paradise all around you like I did growing up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney? I remember taking the kids back to see where I grew up and, having not been back for some years, driving around the boulevard with sweeping ocean and lake views near my childhood home and actually seeing, I think for the first time, the beauty that had kept my father entranced his whole life. And the time we took the kids on a ferry ride one christmas eve on Sydney harbour and again, having not been into the city for quite some time, actually seeing and appreciating the stunning beauty of Sydney harbour. It is such a loss to have one's eyes clouded to the beauty around you every day. Do these winding and magnificently scenic roads become just a slow irritant in the need to get from A to B? Like the guy we met just north of Kaikoura who was whingeing about the road north along the coast from the town? We hadn't noticed any problem, but he was terribly frustrated by the slowness of the traffic with a truck that was passing through even though he was only jaunting up to Nin's Bin for fun. We are indeed fortunate to be able to travel and come home with freshened eyes.
Another stop for fuel just out of Queenstown and we finally remember to purchase a recharge for the phone.
Along the way we pass a field with some dwarf cattle and coloured sheep. We're really enjoying the different varieties of sheep here. Many of which are very different from what we see at home, which I guess isn't so surprising given the very different climate. Daughter does her grandma a favour and hops out to take a portrait or two. The sweet little guys come over to her expectantly. We wouldn't dream of feeding a farmer's sheep without permission, but it's a shame to disappoint them. They soon figure there's nothing doing and lose interest.

We arrive at the Moorings on the lake in Wanaka just before 9pm when reception closes. We unpack our luggage into our 2 bed apartment and pause to admire a stunning sunset across Lake Wanaka. It was a beautiful sky, but I'm not so sure the sunset setting on the new camera really gives completely realistic colour.

We settle in, daughter and I upstairs, Mum and sis downstairs to try and minimise the impact on bung knees, back and lungs. Daughter hops in the upstairs shower to freshen up before bed while the rest of us are talking and organising stuff downstairs. I hear dripping coming from the bathroom. I'm curious, and of course being Australian conscious of potential water wastage. I open the bathroom door and there is water streaming out of the halogen downlight in the bathroom. A quick call to reception and our host is over. Fortunately there is another 2 bedder vacant and although I would be fine with staying put and just using the downstairs bathroom, Sis is a bit freaked by the whole water/electricity thing and so we opt for the change. Our host helps us with our luggage etc and is appropriately apologetic. Oh well, these things happen sometimes. We laugh at the luck to have had halogen downlights pouring forth water again. Same thing happened to us in Adelaide recently! Go figure.

I'm sure people can imagine how exhausted we all are tonight as we fall into bed once more.

Day 14 (Saturday 28 November)

We are absolutely buggered this morning#. We've been going like the clappers for two weeks, our restful couple of days on Stewart Island notwithstanding. Our time in Wanaka has been reserved as some potential down time so although I've researched a few options we have no set bookings. Turns out just as well. Boy do we need a down day!!
[# For international readers in Australia and NZ "buggered" is not an offensive term. It just means we are beyond serviceable. In this case due to being extremely tired.]
I always wake early and this time I spend a few hours lazing in bed watching TV as the Sis and daughter watch 21 with Kevin Spacey on pay TV and mum potters about doing who knows what. I on the other hand opt for some extremely interesting and entertaining kiwi TV. Now I may have the programming order muddled but first I watched Ground Rules a gardening show. I'm a bit of a gardener myself, so this was an interesting insight into gardening life across the ditch. Then "How Clean is Your House?". The answer to which turned out to be "not at all". This show has a couple of cleaning advisors with pursed faces and filth held at arms length in gloved hands, talking plainly to a young Auckland couple about the state of their dwelling. This was very funny. I love the distinctly kiwi humour.. kiwis have an absolutely brilliant dry sense of humour.. my favourite quote from this program, delivered absolutely dead pan in semi hushed narrator voice after a pile of mess was moved revealing a small fridge "They may be members of a fridge worshipping cult. There's fridges everywhere". Cracked me up. At any rate and as I'm sure the unfamiliar can guess, the wizzes work their wonder. The hygienically challenged young parents return and have seen the light and we get a follow up visit where we see what a good job the young couple are doing with some trouble shooting advice for areas where standards are slipping. Most entertaining...
Next in the line up I enjoy Country Calendar. This time about long line tuna fishermen working out of Paihia. We learned about the strategies being employed to avoid unwanted fatalities in sea birds, specifically albatross, and this particular operations efforts to develop Tuna Gold. A health product they sell at the markets in Kerikeri on Sundays (we must keep an eye out for that when we're there).
Another amusing program followed a british chap as he set up a B&B in France somewhere. He goes through all sorts of bother and he's just about right to open when he is awoken pre-dawn by the blood curdling screams of chickens being slaughtered en masse in the nearby chicken farm! You can just imagine the patrons of the B&B coming away for their idyllic country break to be awoken by that. I did feel for him, but honestly separated by half a world of distance and total lack of personal financial involvement I laughed so hard!! You had to see the funny side of it. I imagine he'd just have to find out when slaughter days are and not book anyone during that period. Oh dear!!
Finally I drag myself out and head off on my own for a walk along the lakeside. There's a lovely kids playground complete with dinosaur slide. Great big fish you can feed from the pier near the i-site. I'm tempted to buy some food for them right away but figure the others would enjoy it too, so I'd better just let them know and we can do that later. I check in the i-site for what's showing at the cinema paradiso. Nothing tempting. Then it's off to explore a few souvenir and other shops, which all seem more expensive than other places we've been. Finally a stop at the supermarket for milk and cheese and a few other basics before walking "home".
Late morning we drag our weary bones out to the car for a drive up towards Mt Aspiring. This is a bit of an iffy exercise due to the terms of our car rental but we're keen to sus the drive out and maybe find somewhere for our picnic.
It's great to hit the dirt again and as always we very much enjoy an encounter with a nice herd of cattle that are on and along the road. We pass one or was it two pretty waterfalls which appear to involve a bit of a walk. We've seen SO many waterfalls though and exertion of any variety just doesn't attract any enthusiasm, so we leave those to the folk whose cars are parked there.

We come to the first ford across a fast flowing creek. The water looks deeper than would be sensible under the circumstances. Seems there are a lot of people who thought similarly and there's quite a lot of parked cars on the Wanaka side.
As we sit taking in the vista for a while a car approaches full of young people. They pull up before the water and get out. Then wander down to the river for a good look. They consider for a few minutes then the driver hops back in the car while the others wait and makes a dash through the water emerging up the far bank to cheers from his companions. The water came pretty high up the wheels. We're not up for that I'm afraid especially given being on this road at all is risky given our hire contract. We turn around and head back to town.
Once again we enjoy some beautiful views across the lakes which in the bright sunshine thismorning show a rich blue that is beautifully complemented by the yellow lupins along the road. I still can't get over the way in which the weed flowers coordinate with the rest of the scenery wherever you go.. These yellow lupins wouldn't look nice with the blues of Lake Tekapo and the blues that grow up at Lake Tekapo would be a bit lost here against the deeper blue of Lake Wanaka. I'm going to pay attention to this issue at home also. I'm wondering if this is some sort of deep intelligence in nature.. now I think of it, I don't recall seeing jarring weed flowers at home either.. though I guess with the more muted palette at home the chances of a clash is much less.

The route back to town takes us along tree lined streets of elegant stone houses. The whole town exudes an atmosphere of quiet prosperity. An alpine resort. A haunt for beautiful people. This effect is even more so when we get to the town and find that great crowds of people have emerged to enjoy the warm weather. The lake is full of bathers who are jumping off the pier and swimming within an area which is roped off, we presume, to provide a clear demarcation to motor boats who might be out and about. So much for feeding the fish now. They've made way for the laughing and leaping youngsters. Daughter and Sis head off into town on an errand and to photograph the dinosaur slide to show Sis's grandchildren and Mum and I head back to the Moorings for something before meeting up back near the i-site and heading off to seek some dinner.

It's Saturday night and we have no reservation. Always a tricky situation and sure enough Missy's Kitchen is closed for a private function and Botswana Butchery is fully booked so we end up at Trout along the main drag. Here, after yet another excellent bread course this time of garlic bread with balsamic reduction, I dined on lamb rack with mint and kiwifruit sauce accompanied by a side of way too peppery mashed potato. Daughter once again opted for the blue cod and this was quite acceptable of course, but everything is in the shade for her after the steamed cod from the Kai Kart on Stewart Island. Sis had steak I think, but my notes are quite sketchy on that particular point.
Mum mustn't be as picky about cheesecakes as the rest of us and decided to try the baked lemon curd cheesecake for dessert. It was OK for a baked cheesecake which is not really my preference. I had the chocolate pots which were very nice and Sis went for the Creme Brulee. This was old and past it's best. The custard had separated some and the toffee was soggy. It got sent back. They tried again but that was not better so it also went back but we opted for no replacement. It's time we retired for the night. Tomorrow we're off to Glacier Country.

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