Thursday, 11/18/93, 9pm
Boy, the days are starting to fly by at breakneck speed. On Wednesday we got up for breakfast at 9am, with the English, Aussies, Kiwis, and Yanks. It was quite tasty. Another good start for the day.
We started up towards Arrowtown, which is a small, rural, ex-ghost town which now caters to tourists. It wasn’t too big, or too interesting, so we did a tramp up to a monument on a hill, and through an early-day graveyard. A tramp, by the way, is used to mean walk or hike. We took a side road that went up to Coronet Peak, the local ski area. The road climbed very quickly from Lake Wakatipu at 1060 meters elevation towards the peak at 1651 meters. That’s a 600 meter change in less than 15Km (1800 feet in 7 miles). On the way up, we notice a small dirt road to the left that said Skippers Canyon.
Being the adventurous people we are, we went up. An up. And up. It finally came to a pass (not “it came to pass”). Right at the top, there was a sign that read “STOP. Budget and Avis cars are not insured past this point”. Seeing as how we rented from Hertz, we decided that we needed to continue. Straight down. One lane. With a sheer cliff of 200 meters on the right (Bill’s side), and a sheer cliff going up on the left (my side). Through a cutout in the bluff called “Hell’s Gate” and it’s sequel, at this time unnamed. Further and further we went, eventually deciding we should turn around, since we didn’t know where the road went. Needless to say, turning around was another unique experience.
Once we worked our way back up to the main road, we continued up to the ski area. It was pretty strange seeing a ski area with no trees, but that’s the way they all are here in New Zealand. The views from up there were amazing.
Back down the mountain, it was time for our jet-boat trip on the Shotover river. We put on damp, stinky full jackets filled with foam so that we’d float when the boat hit a rock wall and sank. Then twelve of us piled into this little red boat that sounded like a hot-rod. We pulled out into the current, and started upriver. After a brief trip, we turned around and the driver opened the throttle. The only acceleration I’ve ever felt like this was in a nearly empty jet in Santa Barbara. Intense.
The boat skipped up onto the surface of the water (it has only a four inch draft), and then we went flying down the river into a gorge with vertical granite walls. Nigel (our driver) was very good. I swear we missed the rocks on both sides of the boat by less than an inch!
It was exciting and petrifying at the same time. We went under one ledge where I had to duck, or my face would have been pate (is that “duck pate”) After about two hours of this (OK, maybe two minutes) we came to a wide spot in the river where another boat was waiting to come upstream. Nigel zoomed towards it at nearly full throttle, yanked on the wheel, and did a complete 360 degree turn in about 20 feet. It was wild! After deep-breathing for a moment, we were off downriver to do more close calls and crazy spins. It was a GREAT ride that anybody who comes to New Zealand should do. It seems slightly expensive at $54NZ, but when you consider it’s only $27US, it’s worth it. What a rush.
Once we warmed back up from the ride, we headed back to Queenstown to walk around, take pictures, and pick up our tickets to Doubtful Sound (for two days later). By this time, the wind that had been picking up all day decided to get serious. It must have been blowing about 80Km/hr. Bill’s camera is still freaking out and rewinding rolls of film far too early, but we really don’t know what to do with it.
We headed back home and picked up hot-dogs at the local grocery store to cook for dinner. It was a very unhealthy dinner, but did the job: we lived until the next day. As evening progressed, the wind really kicked in, even blowing stronger than Wellington. It blew hard all night long, but we awoke to a gorgeous, sunny day with no wind at all.
Thursday : After breakfast, we packed up (yet again) and headed off to Te Anau and Milford Sound. Even though Milford is only 50Km due west of Queenstown, we had to go 150Km south to Mossburn, 30Km west to Te Anau, and then 150Km back northwest to get to Milford. We began to understand the roundabout trip when we started to see the main part of the Souther Alps. Very impressive, very vertical, very large country. It was a beautiful drive, getting more and more impressive by the mile. Vertical granite walls hundreds of meters high, waterfalls everywhere, glaciers, huge steep ravines, and much more. Up and up into the high alpine country we drove, finally driving into a tunnel drilled right into a 300 meter high granite wall. We came out the other side halfway up an even large granite wall, with a birds-eye view of a huge glacial valley. A camera just wouldn’t (or can’t) do it justice, which isn’t to say I didn’t waste a roll trying.
When we got to Milford Sound, it was beautiful. The sun was out, the birds were singing, and the waterfalls were falling (the Sound was sounding?) We parked the car and decided to take the cruise out on the sound, since we were doubtful about the weather for the Doubtful Sound cruise tomorrow (a fortuitious decision). It’s very hard to describe how large everything actually is. A huge waterfall (Bowen Falls) started the trip out into the sound. The peaks on either side raise almost vertically to 1,600 meters (over a mile!), and underwater, the sheer sides drop down just about as far. Almost any size ship can cruise within 5 meters of the walls, since they are so steep. I seem to remember the guide saying something about some of the large cruise ships tying up directly to the shoreline! The day remained beautiful for the entire trip through the sound.
It was pretty funny when the boat finally docked. Everybody who drove up to the sound in their cars practically sprinted back the 100 meters to the parking lot. The lot turned chaotic as everybody tried to back up at the same time. You see, everybody wanted to beat the busses to the road at any expense, which nearly included yours truly.
Driving back to Te Anau (our next stop) was just as beautiful as the way up. We still had sunshine and very high peaks, but this time we seeing the other side. It was awe-inspiring.
We stopped for dinner in Te Anau, where I had to finally try local venison. It was actually very good, and not nearly as strong as I remember as a child. Maybe it’s because the deer are raised in captivity by the thousands down here, but I’m not sure. Bill had his standard Fish -n- Chips dinner that night.
A quick side note: For the last couple weeks, we’ve been amazed at the number of birds that sit in the road until the last possible second. Well, today a seagull waited just a little too long. It hit the protector screen over the left front headlight (that’s what those plastic screens are for!). I made the local news that night as “Tourist Seagull Killer at Large!”
After dinner that night, we headed to our next homestay just south of Te Anau. Our hosts were Barry and Pam Eaton. We had a good evening sitting around, shooting the bull. Pam and Barry were the youngest hosts we’ve had yet. Barry was raised in Fiordland, working with the Department of Wildlife. Apparently New Zealand had only two native species of mammals, and all others were introduced. With no natural predators, the introduced species went crazy. After awhile, deer were classified as a nuisance species. So young Barry (and alot of other locals) were employed to trim the herd by helicopter. After a year or so, the realized that they could sell the pelts, and started bringing them out by helicopter at the end of the day. This made a nice profit for the young kids.
Shortly thereafter, the venison market started to pick up, and some of the local sheep farmers decided to switch to deer instead of sheep. To be able to do this, they obviously needed a couple live animals. So Barry and friends started jumping out of helicopters to TACKLE LIVE DEER. Talk about gutsy. It was very interesting and entertaining listening to their stories. Now Barry is a guide for fishing, backpacking, hunting and whatever else needs doing throughout Fiordland. He leads a wonderful life in a wonderful location.
Barry was able to show me the real Southern Cross. Remember that I had tried in the north island with Thomas, Beatte and their son, but that night ended in an argument about where it was. It’s quite strange looking up in the sky, and recognizing nothing…