Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Logbook: Fjordlands

Fjorlands1We were on the road pretty early Saturday morning for the long drive south and inland from the west coast glaciers. Along the way we made a number of brief stops at points of natural beauty and one at a salmon fish hatchery which now holds the title for being the place where I spent my best three bucks in New Zealand. You see, as I watched the salmon swim an endless, highly organized, clock-wise circle in the pool I decided to try a science experiment to see what it would take to disrupt their pattern and flow. So, I bought a one-dollar container of fish food and tried throwing individual pieces at various places in the pool, only finding out that each piece was quickly consumed by the nearest fish with no disruption at all. Next I tried throwing small handfuls of food over a broader area, but found that only got the interest of the few nearby fish who took the food in stride as they continued their pattern. Not to be defeated, I went back to the counter and bought two more dollar-size containers of food and just dumped them in one place in the pool. Sure enough, that was much more food than could be consumed by fish in passing and it caused complete chaos for just a few moments before the fish returned to their natural swimming pattern. Entirely satisfied with my scientific conquest -- and my ability to at least momentarily alter thousands of years of evolution-driven fish behavior -- I celebrated the most fun I've had with three bucks in NZ and got back on the road.

Fjorlands2Late in the afternoon we arrived in the small town of Cromwell which -- as you might guess from the 50 foot high Carmen Miranda style statue at its entrance -- is in the very heart of NZ's produce growing region. On first impression, one can't help but think the town has absolutely no reason for being there. It turns out this impression is completely accurate, and the town only exists because the region was flooded to make a reservoir lake some years back and the "payoff" was relocating the few structures that existed to higher ground and developing the new, sterile, ultra-modern planned town that is Cromwell. Imagine a movie set of a modern day mini-suburb and you'll pretty much get the picture. Sunday turned out to be a day of relaxing, partly because we had been moving pretty far pretty fast and partly because Sunday is naturally a day of rest, but mostly because there is nothing else to do in Cromwell. So, Betty and I had a leisurely brunch, did all of the crossword puzzles in every paper we could find, watched some TV including cricket -- which I'm actually starting to understand with Betty's help -- and the Formula One Grand Prix from Australia. (Attaboy Lewis, Bummer Kimi!)

Fjorlands3Monday was another "road day" on our long trek to the Fjordlands. Our first stop along the way was in the unbelievably touristy mecca of Arrowtown, yet another former gold mining town that has been "restored" as one more "must visit" collection of arts galleries, "locally grown and made" crafts shops, trendy/overpriced cafes and public, pay-to-pee automated toilets. We were able to eat breakfast despite being revolted by what we saw around us, thanks in great part to a particularly good cryptic crossword and a rather difficult sudoku. A little further down the road we entered Queenstown which I personally hate despite its being hailed as one of the great tourist -- er, travel -- destinations in the world. My glee knew no bounds -- and my gas pedal hit the floorboard -- when Betty said something to the effect of "Crikey! Let's get out of here!" Yet another couple of hours down the road we arrived in Te Anau which is the jumping off point for Fjordlands exploration. After a quick check-in at our accommodations we went into the town proper for a quick snack before Betty went on a "glow worm tour" and I -- as you might imagine -- happily read a book. (Okay, okay, I admit it. I've become a really, really, really bad tourist!)

Fjorlands4The weather yesterday was absolutely spectacular -- a relative rarity in the Fjordlands which is one of the rainiest and cloudiest places in the world -- and we made the most of it with a day-long excursion to Doubtful Sound. As usual, the tourism industry is finely tuned around here and there are several vendors which offer well run packages. From Te Anau, a bus took us half an hour away to Lake Manapouri where a water taxi sped us on a fifty minute trip across the lake to a brief but interesting tour of an underground power station. From there, a bus took us another half hour over a mountain pass to Deep Cove where we boarded a scenic cruising boat for a few hours of sightseeing down the fjords and out to the Tasman Sea. It is hard to describe Doubtful Sound, but it is clearly the gem of the Fjordlands. I've put a few shots in the photo log which do it some justice, but you really have to see it in person. By the time we repeated the bus-boat-bus process and returned to Te Anau, we were pretty worn out but very, very happy with our day. If you are ever in the Fjordlands, a day trip to Doubtful Sound is a must-do.

Betty left this morning on another day-trip to nearby Milford Sound, but since I have already been there I have opted instead to spend the day doing a variety of chores, making some arrangement going forward and generally catching up with myself. In the morning we will hit the road again and head south to Invercargill where Betty will do the day-trip to Stewart Island that I did a month ago -- How time flies! -- and where I hope to spend another day goofing around with Sandra and her dog Pep back at the Surrey Court Motel! Stay tuned!

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