Chapter 10 - Queenstown to Milford Sound and Te Anau and on to Dunedin

27 Feb 2013

We and the cricketers were at breakfast early, most of them looking as though they had already been training for hours - they all looked so fit and so young! We checked out and were BOS (bums on seats) at 7.45 am, all set for our next busy day. We travelled to Te Anau where we would be spending the night, stopping for a break on the way at a place called 'Knobs Flats' (honestly!) - Maurie told us the Caretaker at the loos there was known as The Dunny Sheriff! We only stopped briefly at Te Anau just to drop off the cases and so that we could buy a sandwich for lunch (Maxi said that 'Scenic Tours' should be called the 'F&T Tours' - the 'Food and Toilet Tours') and then drove for a couple of hours through the Fiordland National Park. We stopped briefly at Mirror Lakes, where the scenery was mirrored to perfection in absolutely clear and still pools of water.

We passed through the 1.2 km Homer Tunnel and visited 'The Chasm' where a fast moving stream gushed through huge underground channels and rocks. Whole trees were jammed amongst the rocks where they had been dragged and trapped by the current. Eventually we arrived at Milford Sound, just in time to board the 'Milford Monarch' which took us on a fabulous cruise around the most accessible of Fiordland's magnificent fiords. The scenery was absolutely stunning and peaceful and, despite the tourist boats, managed to look as unspoilt as it had been for millions of years. The boat went right up to and under a magnificent waterfall, ensuring that we all got a gentle soaking and giving everyone a great photo opportunity. A truly special day.

We have all been so lucky with the weather which has been virtually wall to wall sunshine since our first day. The two comments made most days on the coach are about the incredible weather and the fact that all the rivers are all at the lowest they have been for a very long time. When the cruise finished Maurie drove us back to Te Anau to the 'Distinction Luxmore Hotel' for the night. The room was very nice but like a sauna with no air conditioning - despite opening both of the two windows. We asked for and were provided with a very much needed fan which helped cool things down. The restaurant provided us all with an excellent buffet dinner and most of us caught up on e-mails (some of us even caught up with our diaries...!) before retiring to bed.

28 Feb 2013

We had a reasonably leisurely start to the day as we did not have to leave the hotel until 8.30 am when we walked a short distance to the lakeside to board a 9.00 am boat across Lake Te Anau to the western side of the lake where we were to explore the Te Ana-au glowworm caves. These are part of a 6.7 km, four-level limestone labyrinth known as the Aurora Caves system. The caves are about 12,000 years old, which is young in geological terms, but the limestone they carve through is ancient - up to 35 million years old. It is the only cave in the system that is accessible without having to enter it by diving under water.

We were welcomed at the Visitors' Centre and given a short talk on the life cycle of the glowworms before being split into three groups. Glowworms 'fish' for food by dangling as many as seventy 'fishing lines of saliva, which are 20-150 mm long and covered with thick sticky droplets of mucus. The glowworm's light attracts insects which then become trapped and paralysed by chemicals in the lines. When the glowworm feels vibrations on a line, it quickly hauls in its victim, kills it and sucks its juices. The light is produced as a by-product of excretion. A reaction takes place in small tubes near the tail between an enzyme called luciferase and other chemicals producing a blue-green light. The hungrier a glowworm is the more brightly it glows so as to attract more food. The only time during its life that it eats is during the larval stage as the adults have no mouths. Their main predator is the Harvestman, an arachnid similar to a spider. If food is scarce and glowworms live too close together they may even cannibalise each other. (You would never think they were such interesting creatures would you!). We had to bend double to enter the very low entrance to the underground passage but after a short distance were soon able to stand up comfortably and walk along the dimly lit passage which passed over rushing streams of water and waterfalls, helped by the handrails on both sides. It was pretty gloomy inside with not a lot of lighting because on the ceiling of the passage were dotted around what looked like tiny sparkling stars - the glowworms!

For the highlight of the visit we climbed into a flat bottomed boat and drifted gently along the river in complete silence and in complete darkness apart from the hundreds of tiny sparkling lights emitted from the glowworms on the ceiling just above us. Truly magical!

Sadly, no photos were allowed during the visit so the following three photos are ©RealJourneys and are taken from the web-site:

Once back on the boat and back across the lake we just had time to get some lunch before it was onto the coach for our trip to Dunedin.

We passed through Lumsden which used to be a sheep farming area but which now concentrates mainly on dairy farming. We crossed the Hokonui Hills and drove through Mandeville, famous for rebuilding de Havilland 'Tiger Moths', and stopped briefly in Gore in a very prosperous farming area. As well as being considered the country music capital of New Zealand Gore is also the trout capital and is named after Sir Thomas Gore Browne, a very unpopular Governor of NZ in the 19th century. Apparently anyone can fish for and catch trout anywhere in NZ so long as it is for personal consumption - no-one is allowed to sell it and it is therefore never found on the menu anywhere in New Zealand. We passed through Clinton, which in 1999 was visited by the then President Clinton and whose highway now bears his name. It also has a posh, old style Gentleman's Club where no women are allowed apart from maybe once a year by invitation. Apparently the women ring a bell downstairs when they come to collect their husbands! Not sure how that would go down at home...

The grassland everywhere has been so dry that an official drought has been confirmed in the North Island, and probably will be shortly in the South Island. As we continued our drive to Dunedin we passed quite a large grass fire and saw several fire engines and helicopters dropping water trying to contain it - almost every area that we've travelled through has had fire risk boards up, most of them showing the risk level as 'Severe'.

Our next town was Balclutha, meaning 'town on the tide', built on the banks of a very wide river which often flooded in the past. This was originally a Maori town with a population of around 100,000 at the time of Captain Cook. However, diseases such as TB, common cold, measles, mumps, VD and a civil war between warring Maori tribes from 1820-1850, resulted in a halving of the population. There is a document that recorded a measles epidemic killing 3,000 during that time! We passed through Milton, possibly named after the poet John Milton, and then Waihola, whose 15 minutes of fame came in the year 1868 when the lake froze so solidly that people were able to ice skate on it - a freak year as the weather is not normally that cold in the winter.

We finally arrived in the university city Dunedin, known as the coldest city in New Zealand. It was also the most prosperous due to the gold rush and was considered a Scottish city because of the large number of Scotmen who arrived seeking their fortunes. They brought with them the secrets of alcohol distillation - the city was considered the illicit still centre of New Zealand in the 1930s. Dunedin is very hilly and is cold enough in Winter to get snow which, just like in England, usually brings the city to a halt. However, it does have very good surfing beaches with lovely yellow sand. We were all very glad to reach the 'Southern Cross Hotel' in the city as most of us were beginning to flag - it has been a very 'full on' few weeks!

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