Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sounds Good to Me

There are a couple of natural wonders that I can't get enough of. These include waterfalls, shooting stars, rainbows, and colourful sunsets. I know, I'm not exactly unique in loving these things, but I love them more than, say, pretty plants or something.

So Fiordland was pretty much the ideal place for me to take this all in. I was running a bit late on my way up to Te Anau on Saturday night, but I was rewarded with pink clouds as the sun sank below the mountains. I have witnessed a good number of Otago sunsets now, and they continue to take my breath away each time.

By the time I got to Te Anau, a tiny little town on Lake Te Anau, the stars were stunning.

There are two main sounds that people visit from Te Anau: Milford and Doubtful. I should note that they are technically not sounds, but fiords (sounds are carved by lakes; fiords by glaciers). But when the Europeans named them, they did not have a word for fiord, so we are stuck with the names.

Milford has a reputation for being more touristy--which definitely turned out to be true. But instead of miss out on this "8th wonder of the world" (to quote Rudyard Kipling), I figured I'd see it in the least touristy way possible: by kayak. I had never been sea kayaking before, but I can't imagine a better introduction. I want to mention the name of the company I went with, Fiordland Wilderness Experience, because it was definitely one of the best tours I've taken. The guide was fantastic and the trip was nonstop fun. I can't even begin to think of a word that describes the majesty and beauty of Milford. Basically, it's being right in the middle of the mountains, but on the water instead of on a hiking trail. And it rains about 2/3 of the time (I was super lucky to get a clear day), so there are waterfalls constantly rushing down the lush green walls of the mountains. Pictures cannot even come close to doing it justice.

One fun little trick is what our guide called the dwarfing effect. Everything is so huge, that things appear closer than they are. When we started off, she pointed to a waterfall in the distance and asked how far away we thought it was. (It's the little white streak to the left of the mountain in the picture below. The orange thing is the tip of my kayak). I would have guessed a kilometer or so away. Wrong. It was 8kms away.

On the way back to Te Anau, we stopped at some choice spots along the Milford Road. Below is the Hollyford Valley. It looks like it's been deforested, but it's actually naturally free of trees. The air gets so cold down in the valley that trees can't grow--sort of like the tree line on a mountain.

I was a huge fan of the mirror lakes. No specific reason; it just looked really cool.

I had thought about kayaking on Doubtful Sound as well, but am glad I didn't. Being physically inactive while travelling has definitely made me weaker, and after a full day of kayaking my arms were ready to fall off. So I went for a "cruise" on Doubtful Sound. Getting there is a little trickier. First you take a speedboat across Lake Manapouri, then a bus ride through the mountains. The remote-ness definitely makes it less touristy. Which was awesome.

While the walls of the mountains were not as high as in Milford, the sound was bigger and pretty much empty except for our boat. We sailed out to the Tasman Sea and back, again passing waterfall after waterfall.

Also a highlight was sampling the clean, fresh mountain water--straight from the waterfall.

And with so much moisture in the air, I even got my rainbow.

The thing about seeing all these awesome places is that it just makes me keep planning my next trip back to New Zealand. Next time I'm in Fiordland, I will be skydiving (what a view!) and doing an overnight kayak trip. Eventually I will become a good enough kayaker to make my way to the more remote, more challenging Dusky Sound. Yes, all this in my spare time.

1 comment:

Linda said...

If the pictures are so amazingly beautiful one can only imagine how breathtaking it must all be in person. I grow my envious by the day. I will skydive with you fiordland any time you want to go.
Love, Mom