01/15/2009 64 °F
Te Anau sits on the largest lake in the southern island of New Zealand and has a beautiful backdrop of mountains. As I mentioned in the previous post, it is the known as the "walking capital of the world" due to many hiking (or known in New Zealand as "tramping") trails running through or starting at the town.
Of the many trails leading out from Te Anau, we chose the Kepler Track. It forms a 4 day loop through Fiordland National Park, but since we only had 1 day, we would hike to the first shelter and return back to Te Anau. We would pass by the filming locations of "River Anduin" and the "Dead Marshes" on the trail. After a quick stop to check-in at the information center, we hit the trail.
The hike started by walking across a large swinging bridge over the Waiau River. The water was flowing very fast (I think Waiau means "fast flowing" in Maori, I can't really remember the information sign at the edge of the river), but the water looked crystal clear. After crossing the bridge, there was a steep incline that took us up to get some good views of the surrounding area. The views continued as occasionally the forest would clear as the track came near the cliff line.
The forest was very green, with the ground covered with ferns and the beech trees reaching high above us. Small streams followed the path for a portion of the trail and we had to cross over a couple swinging bridges. Dawn had commented on seeing several large boxes that looked like traps. We found out later that these boxes are used to capture rats that eat the rare kiwi's (the bird, not the human from New Zealand) eggs. The area we were in supposedly was home to kiwis, but we didn't really expect to see any since they are nocturnal and very reclusive. We did get to see some wildlife, a gigantic spider.
I'm not really afraid of spiders, but I certainly didn't want to dwadle around it. We moved out of the heavy forest and came to a clearing. Another informational sign indicated that this was a marsh. When the glaciers receded, soft dirt and water filled the area. It could be 5 feet deep (although it looked firm on the surface) and acted like a giant sponge to retain water from the frequent rain falls. A side track led to a pond. Since no water flows into the pond, nutrients are scarce. Only a few types of plants have adapted to live in this area. At this point, Dawn got tired of me reading every bit of information on every sign and threatened to leave me behind. We took some pictures and then continued on our hike.
After a couple hours we reached the first shelter on the trail. The resting spot sat on the edge of Lake Manapouri, giving us a chance to rest our legs and take in more pretty scenery. The sand flies were pretty vicious, but we had 20% deet bug spray that kept them at bay.
As bugs became less and less deterred by the deet, we decided it was time to head back. Even though we were back-tracking over trail we had already hiked, it was still great. The woods were somewhat quiet, not too many birds chirping or flying overhead. You could hear the trickle of water when we passed close to the stream. It was very relaxing.
We eventually made our way back into town. The plan was to drive to Milford Sound to spend the night. We filled up on gas (as we were warned that this would be the last place we could get "petrol" as we traveled north). This would be the shortest drive on our trip, a meager 120 km (75 miles), and we planned to reach the hostel in 2.5 hours.
At this point, Dawn was sick of talking to me, so she tried to turn on the radio. She pressed the seek button and radio dial started spinning to find a radio station. The radio scanned through all the frequencies without finding anything. As if to rub it in, the radio displayed the word "NOTHING" and turned off. Dawn's only choices were to listen to me spout more facts I had read in the guide book and various pamphlets, or to take a nap. She opted for the nap.
The drive through Fiordland National Park offered the best views we had on our trip yet. Since it is a national park, there were no houses, no grazing fields, nothing. The mountains loomed overhead. The west coast of New Zealand has rain 220 days of the year (nearly every 2 out of 3 days), and a light mist began to fall. Dawn woke up and began taking pictures out the windows of the car.
We reached the tunnel leading down into Milford Sound. The tunnel only runs one direction, but switches direction every 15 minutes. We had our first encounter with the keas. The kea is a parrot found in the mountains of New Zealand. Keas are notoriously curious, very intelligent, and bold. They come right up to your car hoping that you'll give them something to eat (although there are huge signs indicating that you should not feed them). Working in teams, one kea will distract a person while its buddies go through bags and purses to find food. They are known for chewing through the plastic and rubber moldings on cars. Keas have even been reported to kill sheep. When I saw them start coming over to the car, I immediately rolled the windows up and sprayed them with the window washing fluid. The car in front of us wasn't able to deter the keas as successfully.
It was finally our turn to go through the tunnel and temporarily escape the keas. The Homer Tunnel was started in 1930 and originally dug out by 5 men with pickaxes and wheelbarrows. The tunnel didn't open until the 1950s, it's a long tunnel. The roof is unsealed granite, so water gushes down in some spots. It is also extremely dark in the tunnel, the only illumination is the headlights from your car. After coming out of the tunnel, you are immediately rewarded with a view of the Milford Sound valley. Tomorrow we will be exploring Milford Sound, one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand.