Milford Sound in the rain – Saturday 18th February 2012


Up early for the coach pick-up. Paul, our driver, is Irish, with the gift, I’m sure! We happen to be first on the coach so choose to sit in the front to get the best views. It’s a 12 hour trip. It takes 2.5 hours just to get to Te Anau and a further 2 hours to get to Milford Sound. Now a sound is a river cutting between two mountains that becomes flooded by the sea. A fjord is glaciated valley now full of sea. This will be important and there WILL be a test later!

The first explorers got this wrong and named Milford a sound when they should have named it a Fjord. The NZ government tried to help by calling the area Fiordland but they couldn’t spell it should be Fjordland.

Enough!

The boat took us right down the fjord to the Tasmin Sea and back. And it rained all the time!

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We learned about tree avalanches where the red beech simply could not hold on any longer to the bare rock and slipped, pulling all the neighboring trees with it. We learned about snow avalanches where the snow fell in a compact block hundreds of meters, and wind avalanches where the wind simply ripped the trees and everything else off the rock face.
We passed a mirror lake which was flawed because the rain pock marked it’s face with concentric circles, but it was still beautiful.

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The rain simply increased while we were on the boat. The cloud so low at times, it was impossible to judge the scale of this place. I get the idea it’s always impossible to explain the size of it. At times I looked up at a waterfall, so huge, only to see another layer of cliff above and another beyond that. One waterfall was compared with the height the Niagra Falls! Not the volume, because it was a slim fall!

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The sheer number of waterfalls was fantastic! At times the crew would bravely drive the ship under the waterfall and we would all be drenched. Luckily they offered bright colored raincoats for such an occasion.

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Three hours previously, there had been far fewer waterfalls so the rain was certainly welcome. Without it we would not have witnessed such a spectacle. It was stunning!
We also saw lots of New Zealand fur seals, all young males we were told, having a great time messing about in the fjord.

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Huge, wet, wonderful, Milford Sound!

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Glow worms – Sunday 5th February 2012


After breakfast we discuss plans for the day. Spellbound glow worm cave was made famous by Sir David Attenborough who filmed here in 2005 for one of his natural history documentaries. The company has a reputation for seeing more glow worms in smaller groups than its rivals and appeals to us.
The Spellbound tour begins in just 40 mins, so John has to drive hard to make it in time. Which of course, he does, safely!
The first cave we go in is lovely, but I am sure there are better in the area. We have seen more impressive caves in Europe but, don’t get me wrong, it is a great cave: huge, with cathedral sized spaces and vast numbers of stalactites. It is lovely to be in a group of no more than 12.

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Perhaps most interesting is the Moa bird skeleton which was found there. The company has a good reputation for being very friendly and offers us tea and biscuits in between caves! But we’re all excited to be going into see the glow worms. These are ridiculously difficult to photograph and Spellbound offer a service whereby the email you photos to compensate. These are their photos, not mine!

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On entry the cave opens up into a huge space. Once we have gone far enough in to stop light entering we are asked to turn off our headlamps on our hard hats. The darkness is total. You cannot see your tour group, you cannot see the hand in front of your own face.

Remember this darkness we are told. Then we look at the three stages of glow worm life. There are the flies, the egg and the larvae which glow. The lava is about the size of a thin matchstick and it is only the bum which glows. A match head of green luminosity. But each lava let’s out 10-30 cm of sticky thread to catch their dinner and you can see flies caught up in the fine curtain of fishing lines above our head. I am fascinated by the sticky curtain, ghastly death trap above us. Once we turn off our torches, the glow worms also turn off their light from this patch of inspection. Apparently they have control of when they will glow and when not. So we become accustomed to the dark and move towards the underground river.

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As our dinghy leaves, silently pulled by aerial wire, we become hushed. The light of the glow worm, in their millions, illuminate the ceiling of the cave so we can see its undulations, gradually as we become accustomed to the light, or lack of it, we can make out reflection in the river, the helmets of the rest of the group. It’s incredible how much you can see in this gloom. It’s unbelievable how many glow worms there are. You can see the whole tunnel lit up in front of you and behind. The boat only moves less than 100 meters down the river. Just as well because I can hear a waterfall ahead, but we are all silent in awe.

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The rest other day we drive the area in search of other natural wonders. We find:
A natural bridge at Mangapohua. An awesome hunk of rock that had been eroded to permit a river flow beneath it. So enormous that you need stairs built to climb to the first level of the bridge and can only stare at the second, higher level where trees grow in comfort.

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A natural tunnel at Ruakuri: demonstrating the power of water! This area feels like a puzzle! As you walk around there are at least two tunnels through which people can pass through rock! Bt there is also a huge underground cave with chambers which tell of the incredible story of how a river bored a tunnel underground and, finding impenetrable rock, turned a corner and continued its route to reappear at another aspect of the mountain.

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A beautiful waterfall at Marokpa: where John set himself the challenge of taking a photo where the water streamed down, by lengthening the exposure.

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And lastly the Piripiri caves, where a torch was very useful! This cathedral size cavern has recently had a staircase built inside to assist travelers entry and safe return to day light!

Mount Ngauruhoe – Saturday 14th January 2012


Mount Ngauruhoe dominates this region but it remains covered in cloud today. We are close to Rotarua and everywhere is thermal; springs create spas for enterprising motel owners, lucky enough to buy land with geothermal activity. However, as a tourist we felt the Takaanu region had taken this too far! Arriving at a thermal pool, we felt it more like a swimming pool with additional kayaking facilities. Ok we were highly judgmental and refused to get out the car when we saw the shop with ice cream flags either side posing as an entrance.
New Zealand seems more laid back about it’s spectacular view points. Whereas Australia put up signs, and created big car parks, NZ chooses to comment there is a picnic spot, and forget to mention the amazing view. Is worth pulling up at some picnic areas just to look out.
Clouds scud across the sky as we drive up into Tangariro National Park to explore the 20 minute walk to the spectacular Tawhai waterfall.

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Pass the Pampas grass which runs wild in the area to the visitor information centre. Many people set out for the Tangariro crossing from here. It’s a full day, but if you prefer to spend four days walking, there’s plenty of huts to sleep in on the mountain.
This is the area where Lord of the Rings filmed for Mount Doom. The low cloud is helping to set the scene. It’s dramatic, dark and beautiful. In all there are three huge volcanoes competing with each other for mastery of the universe. It is such a live volcanic area that the visitor centre is full of advice and points out the safe areas and the dangers of walking unprepared in this area.
Luckily the Iwikan ski resort road is open and we travel on up a good road. The landscape changes dramatically.

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Within a thousand feet height it is stark with no snow, black volcanic boulders are spewn across the barren landscape. You cannot see the top of the mountain; the cloud level meets the end of the road. The plants fascinate me; a small white daisy pushes its way through the blackened moss.

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How can anything grow here?
When you walk on the terrain it is surprisingly moist, but it has been raining lots! The lavar is red or black. Where the road has been cut through the strata seems to ooze glassily with amazing plasticity.

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Lower down, we return to flax which are in full bloom.

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The walk around Lake Rotopeunama should take 2 hours but the beach part is flooded today. It’s a beautiful walk none the less.

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What incredible contrast in flora and fauna we have seen today. The place changes every two minutes! It really is beautiful.

Snake scare at Dorringo National Park -Sunday 4th December 2011


I’m desperate to get inside Australia. We’ve seen so much wonderful coastline but what happens just a few miles in? There has been so much sea, beautiful, varied in colour, temperament and texture but what is it like inland a little?

Drive along the Pacific Highway to Raleigh and head in, you will be traveling along Waterfall Way and no prizes for guessing what you might see! There is also farmland: macadamia, cattle, mangoes, tractors much of which remind me of Surrey the way the hills roll.

Past Thora we pass Newell Falls and Serrand Falls and arrive at Dorringo. Just beyond this is Dangar Falls with its convenient car park and viewing platform.

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Impressive but trapped behind a fence and viewing platform.
Back then to Dorringo, through the rainforest centre and straight onto the skywalk. It’s safe and has a great view, it’s too close to the centre I feel.

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Wonga Walk begins with a lovely walk with the birds high in the treetops, lifting you half way up into the canopy. Not many birds actually but a lovely place. Suspension bridges feature a lot in this walk for we view the Crystal Falls from one. You can also walk behind this waterfall.

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Tristania Falls cascade over a wall of jagged rocks, impressive in the afternoon sun. Although the path is man made, the whole atmosphere of this walk is natural and exciting. You walk through dense forest with sun trickling through the crevices left between the leaves.

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Suddenly John is leaping backwards towards me and at the same moment I see why. A two meter long black red-bellied snake has uncoiled itself from the side of the path, just over a meter from us. It loops up some 50 cm high, startled by our noise, just as we are startled to see it move. Wildly we move back, and it throws itself off the edge of the path into the shadows. I KNOW it is venomous. I know we are far from help and anti venom. My heart is thudding and my body prickling with fear.

I can no longer walk slowly, we march full pelt, stamping to alert any future snakes of our arrival. We are only half way through our walk and we make it back in about half the expected time! It’s mostly uphill, so we must look totally bedraggled when we arrive back at the centre.

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It’s a story to tell! After a glass of wine and a swim in the pool back at the apartment we laugh about it but in the car I think we were still shivering!