Saturday, December 25, 2010

Milford Sound

Our last stop on our New Zealand road trip was Milford Sound. There really isn't much there at Milford Sound apart from the lodge and campground (RV hookups for us) and the quay from which boat tours depart daily. On advice from the campervan people from whom we rented the vehicle I booked a powered site at the lodge (which we later found out was sold out). We also picked the smallest boat tour of Milford. The small boat was the best choice I think—not overcrowded and able to get close to the fjords (to see the waterfalls for example).
The fjords here are truly spectacular, although the weather can be somewhat unpredictable, meaning often cloudy and/or rainy, as it was when we visited. When sunny it must be really fantastic. The way the cliffs line up visually is also interesting: apparently when surveying the coastline, Cook (I think it was Cook) had missed the entry to Milford, not seeing it from the ship. One major annoyance here were the black (sand) flies. They were all over the place. They didn't bite, but were a real nuisance. The Maori legend had it that the flies were there so that tourists wouldn't stay too long and spoil the scenery.
The waterfalls pictured above was one of three (if I remember correctly) to which the boat came close to. So close in fact that at one of them I got pretty soaked when standing on the bow (just for fun). The boat also got close to some of the wildlife in the area. There were supposed to be penguins, and I think I saw three in the distance, but I wasn't sure if they were penguins or seagulls. We did get close to some seals lounging on the rocks. They found a fairly windy perch, which we were told they did to keep the flies off.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Horsing Around Te Anau

A couple more pics from Te Anau (this was me trying to shoot behind me with my left hand). When we were in Queenstown we saw an ad for horseback riding, but since we went on the jetboat, we didn't have time to go on a "horse trek" as they call it. So when we checked in to our campsite in Te Anau, Corey noticed a horseback riding pamphlet and so I called them. We were going to go for a late afternoon ride, but when we called they said they'd pick us up in 15 minutes! So we quickly changed, and walked out to wait for the pickup. I wasn't sure what to expect, since most other "rent-a-horses" I've been on have basically been lazy...they were hard to control and would only pick up some enthusiasm on the return leg. The place we went to, Westray Farm provided me with the best horseback riding experience I've ever had. Not only was the horse nice, responsive to my gentle steering with the reigns, but the trek itself was excellent—it wasn't just a out-and-back half-hour walk, this was a long, circular trek up a hill and around a couple of animal herds. We first walked through a herd of curious cows, and on the way back we split a group of sheep. The terrain was also the most challenging I've ever been on horseback—on the way down there were a few steep parts where I felt I really had to lean back in the saddle. The horses were rescued from a former life of racing. Perhaps that was why they were fairly nice: maybe they were grateful for their new life. Mind you, perhaps because they were race horses in their former life, a few of them were a little flighty. I may have been laughing in the pic below because Corey's horse was one of these (she got stuck with the type of horse that I usually get). She eventually switched with the farm owner's horse who then had to discipline the misbehaving horse (had to give it a whack on the neck to stop acting up :)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Road to Te Anau

After our brief stop in Bluff, we went in search of our next campsite. It was supposed to be some sort of Holiday Road campground close to the beach. The online description sounded good, but when we got there, boy was it ever a dump! And of course only one set of toilets was opened, making them unisex. Corey said no way was she going to be showering there and so off we went in search of the other campground in the proximity that offered a "farm experience". The farm experience was night and day difference—very well maintained place, nice toilets, and baby sheep! So Corey made the right call moving us to this place, as it was most pleasant. The lambs were quite friendly, especially when hungry.

Lamb feedings were at 8am and 6pm (sharp!) with the lambs bleeting rather loudly, reminding everyone when it was time. The lambs got milk bottles while the goat and adult sheep got solid food in pellet form. The farmer/campgroundskeeper gave us quite a bit of info about his farm, number of sheep, etc. One new factoid was that sheep are born with a long tail. But as they are rather poor self-cleaners, the tail gets bobbed, either at birth with some kind of hot iron, or like these lambs, they get a rubber band tightened on the tail, which, due to lack of circulation, eventually drops off. I dunno which method is less painful. On the one hand hot-knifing the tail would hurt, but it'd be over quickly. On the other hand the rubber band has to be worn for a while, and I'm sure it can't be very pleasant. Another interesting observation was that sheep have horizontally-slit eyes (unlike cats who have vertically-slit pupils, weird huh?).
After our most pleasant stay on the farm, we got on the road to Te Anau, which would be something of a staging point for our trip to Milford Sound. It's a good idea to do this as the road to Milford is fairly tricky (think old road to Whistler, especially that old 13 or 17 mile stretch that used to be fairly crappy to drive), and there are no gas stations at Milford. On the way to Te Anau we stopped at this outlook to take a look at the Tasman Sea. It was a pretty blustery day. Later in Te Anau the fellow whose horses we rode told us that out here fishermen can only go out 56 days of the year due to these high winds. Btw, as you can deduce, most of the pictures were taken by Corey.  She got mad at me the other day for using her photos that she took with my camera.  I don't know what the big deal was, but truth be told she does take really good photos, and I've neglected to give credit where it's due.  Sorry about that, hopefully I've now corrected this omission.