Our next stop on the South Island was to Invercargill, the southernmost city in New Zealand. But before we left Fiordlands National Park, we had a couple more hikes to complete. The first started on the Te Anau – Milford Sound Highway. It began in a delightful mossy forest; here we see an Intrepid Hiker working her way carefully down a steep hillside… the “trail” leveled out after this and followed a small stream for a mile or so.
Next was one of the most popular hikes in the park, up to Key Summit on the Routeburn Track, another of New Zealand’s Great Tracks. Within the first mile was this small but lovely waterfall. The trail was far from crowded, although we passed a group of Americans our age that were on a guided REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) Adventure tour.
The panoramic views of the Humboldt and Darran Mountains would have been spectacular in clear weather; at the top by a cold mountain tarn, with occasional rain, high winds, fog and low clouds, it was merely dramatic and awe-inspiring…
This chilly hiker was elated in having been a well-prepared Girl Scout – she was ready for the wind chill factor with a fleece under her windbreaker, gloves and a hood to keep her hair from becoming too windswept…
At the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand, you run out of road. Next stop after this beach and the peninsula in the background is Antarctica, but it’s a long, cold swim! (Oh, and again, there was not a single person in sight on the beach in either direction. Is there a theme here?)
The summer weather was getting milder down on the coast, and My Lovely Bride decided to dress in a more beachy style…
This part of the South Island is very sparsely settled, so we had brought lunch in a bag and a salad for an impromptu tailgate at Cozy Nook, a tiny cove where several fishermen had their cottages. It was a scenic stop, and the food was yummy, but we had forgotten to buy plastic forks, so we ate the salad with our fingers. “Suzanne, no photos, please!”
Being out in the boonies, this was the only “facility” for miles and miles. It reminded me of the tres chic outdoor privy our friends Joyce and Sharon had in their front yard for months during home renovations… but this upgraded model even came with fresh flowers! It was provided for the local fishermen, whose houses were perched on the rocks above the high tide line, and it was not without a bit of humor. Note the writing on the door: “Long Drop Lodge -Short stay only.”
These windswept trees give you an idea of the winds that buffet this coast year-round. We are in the Roaring Forties, which describe the wind pattern that circles the globe between 40 and 50 degrees South latitude with almost no land masses to slow them down.
One of our favorite stops was at Curio Bay, where a petrified forest in the tidal zone is the spot to see endangered yellow-eyed penguins (affectionately called YEPs) (Megadyptes antipodes). We arrived before dusk and stayed for an hour, and had a front row seat for this guy’s return from fishing. Others were said to be coming at or after dark, but hunger made us bid farewell before the rest of his clan returned to shore. This is one of the world’s most endangered penguin species, with only 4,000 or so remaining. They are about 24-31 inches long and weigh about 12-18 lbs, and 90% of their diet is fish. They fledge at about 3-4 months of age and are totally independent after their first trip to sea.
The next day gave us a chance to see one of the world’s greatest travelers, the Royal Albatross (Diomedia epomophora), at the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula. We were fortunate to receive a semi-private tour with one other couple, narrated by an extraordinary guide named Suzanne, who lives near the world-famous albatross colony here. MLB is shown here alongside a life-size model of the Royal Albatross, with its 10 foot wingspan.
We then proceeded to an enclosed viewing platform where we could observe three nests with adults sitting on incubating eggs or recently-hatched chicks. This telephoto shot shows the immense size of the adult albatross; the ranger is right next to the adult (could be the mother or father; one is always guarding the egg or chick and keeping it warm while the other is out fishing) and is holding this chick that had hatched just the day before our visit. Some amazing facts about these birds:
– It can fly at speeds of around 75 mph
– At 7 months old, the chick weighs 22-25 lbs, heavier than adults, since they have been sitting around being fed by their parents and have not yet flown
– After the chicks fledge, they fly away on their circumpolar feeding circuit for 4-6 years, mostly never touching land; they fly and land on the ocean surface to feed on squid and to sleep
– Mating pairs return to the same spot where they were hatched and where they raised their young, often arriving a year to the day after they arrived to mate the previous season
We also got to watch these Hooker’s sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) sparring in a nearby cove. They are the most endangered sea lions in the world, and can weigh up to 1,000 lbs., although these appeared to be smaller young adults. Wildlife sightings like this are common on the sparsely-populated South Island. I was shooting this photo from a hide (like a duck blind) about 150 feet from these impressive pinnipeds.
The famous Moeraki Boulders, unusually large, spherical rocks called septarian concretions, were nearby, but the tide was rising quickly. When I suggested that MLB go out and stand on one for a photo, the sideways look I received made me suggest dinner and wine instead…
Our last wildlife encounter was with another yellow-eyed penguin, this one between Dunedin and Christchurch at the Katiki Point Hide. We saw four of these cute critters there – three were in a nesting area, but this one was out for a stroll and posed like a Hollywood starlet. Love those pink feet!
While in Dunedin, we stopped at an artist’s studio to look at some carved greenstone. Suzanne fell in love with one particular piece, a koru (spiral in Maori), representing new beginnings and growth. Ewan Duff is half Scot and half Maori, and is an extremely talented young man. (Hey, he’s 45 – that’s young to me.) Greenstone (Pounamu in Maori) is also known as nephrite jade, and is a hard, durable stone revered by the Maori; in fact, it is called a taonga (treasure). The stone was used for gifts, tools and weapons, and is found only on the South Island, which the Maori even called Te Wahi Pounamu, the Place of Greenstone.
We also stopped to see the famous Dunedin Railway Station, designed by George Troup, who earned the moniker “Gingerbread George” for his fancy designs.
Our stop in Dunedin was mostly memorable for an incident at breakfast and its aftermath. We were staying at a B&B overlooking the beautiful harbor, and while eating fresh cherries, we were dropping the big pits on our plates. Then I had a bite of crusty bread, and felt something odd. I dropped what I thought was another cherry pit onto my plate… it went “clunk”. Suzanne said, “What was that?” OMG… a 25 year old crown had fallen out. I smiled and the look of horror on her face made my heart sink. I was… Snaggletooth! A quick call by the innkeeper to his dentist had us on the road to town; he had a cancellation in one hour, and it was Friday. Our plan that day had been to drive our longest day, from Dunedin to Christchurch, but this had top priority. We arrived at the office, the receptionist asked what the problem was, I smiled, and she said, “Oh, crikey! Let’s get you in the chair.” Dr. Adank came in, got to work, and in 30 minutes we were walking out the door, Snaggletooth banished, hopefully for another 25 years. (And for only $75.) I had mentioned to Dr. Adank about dentists in the US taking Fridays off to play golf, and he said, “What? I only get Wednesday afternoons to play golf!”
On the way to the car, this statue of poet Robert Burns reminded me of southern New Zealand’s ties to Scotland. One of Dunedin’s founders was Thomas Burns, one of the poet’s nephews. (But that seagull on his head…. doesn’t that bird have any respect?)
I offered to buy haggis (the delectable looking items shown here on the left), neaps and tatties for a memorial lunch in honor of Burns, knowing how much My Lovely Bride likes that famous dish of sheep’s heart, lungs, liver and stomach, mixed with suet and oatmeal, but she shivered and said, “Sorry, Bud, we have a long drive ahead of us…”