Saturday, 3 September 2011

South of the South Island, NZ -Te Anau 13-20th August

Te Anau seems another lifetime today. I’m sitting on a park bench in the semi-shade of a timber-framed lodge set in the heart of what is left of the Bornean jungle in the state of Sabah. Since my last entry many thousands of miles by land, sea and air as we continue what can only be described as the most self-indulgent honeymoon in history. 

It is hard to overstate the juxtaposition of our experience during our final days in NZ to where we are now, so I’ll simply describe our final days in wonderful South Island and then go on to describe our first 10 days in Malaysia and Borneo in a separate entry.

Te Anau is one of the gateway townships that lead to the massive Fiordland national park that sits on the far south west of New Zealand. It is still relatively unspoilt in areas and still contains vast stretches of forest untouched by humans since the dawn of the country. Packed with stunning landscapes of mountains, lakes and lush woodland, it attracts masses of tourists every year and although we do leave an impact, it is still fair to say that DOC have done their best to keep much of the area intact.

We booked onto a tour from Te Anau to Milford Sound on our penultimate day in the national park and we were treated to fine weather and a really good tour guide. We were chatting with him about our upcoming trip to Borneo and he explained how he and his wife had been here and they hired a car and saw lots of the island that way. We decided it was food for thought. He also told us how sad it was to drive through the thousands of acres of Palm-Oil groves here, where there used to be jungle (more on that later). The tour took us on a winding road through ancient forests of beech and over crystal clear waters, past enormous avalanche piles on both sides of the highway and these served as a reminder as to how lucky we were with the sunny conditions that day. That highway is the only road in or out of Milford Sound and due to the large amounts of tourist buses going through, up to 150 per/day in the summer months, they do a pretty good job of keeping it clear.
The Mirror Lakes on the road to Milford Sound

Avalanche area!

The road ahead - a bit chilly

On arrival at the ferry terminal, they tried to sell plane and chopper tickets to us for our return journeys, with prices starting from as little as $600 for around 35 seconds in the air I estimated. They do make their money! Once herded onto one of the massive boats, the 2.5 hour trip around Milford Sound began. I had heard it stated that it is impossible to describe the beauty of Fiordland because of it’s immense scale; powerful waterfalls, 2,000 metres to the bottom of the Fiord, 1,500 metres to the top of the mountains, dolphins, penguins, fur seals… You get the general picture. Had Mel and I had a little more time on our hands, I think we would have spent the night there though, so that we would have a chance to see all these things without the other tourists. There were people on that ferry who didn’t even go outside to look at it all. The was a young boy of around 12 who sat and read his book for the entire journey, a spiteful look on his face, and everywhere, the sound of digital cameras turning off/on/off/on. People spend more time photographing things of interest and outstanding natural beauty than they do looking at them. Why travel at all if this is your obsession? We had a brilliant time, don’t get me wrong, It’s just people I don’t understand at times. Over the last few years, the same thing had been happening during every event imaginable. Kids filming other kids getting beaten in the classrooms, people fighting to get the front at a Kings of Leon gig to watch the entire thing through their blue-screened little touch phone, after the riots in Tottenham, people meeting and greeting the Prince of Wales, not even looking at his face in case they missed a chance to capture it for their Facebook or Youtube site. I must be getting old or out of touch, but does anyone else out there agree that we should think about enjoying the reality of things a bit more again? My point being that Milford Sound can only, truly be experienced through your own senses, any effort on my part to seriously describe it can only fail – go and see it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean. Failing that, check out the photos and smell my hypocrisy.

Mel and I were really pleased we took in the national park and we felt rested after being confined to our room for the vast majority of that week. Just as well really, as we were about to head up to the shaky city on a 10 hour coach journey the following morning.

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