Fiordland Lodge

New Zealand: Te Anau – Part 3

Although I am not a fan of small aircraft, which definitely includes helicopters, I couldn’t contain my excitement about a flyover of Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound on day three in Te Anau. This would be my first helicopter ride. Alan’s staff had arranged the aerial tour, and our pilot would be Michael Hayes from Southern Lakes Helicopters. His father owns the company, and he learned to fly at a young age.

Mid-morning, Michael landed his chopper on the front lawn of the Fiordland Lodge, and we walked out to greet him. Joining us on the ride were Bruce and Jen from Melbourne, Australia. Before we took off, Michael told us the weather wasn’t cooperating and the sounds would be “too socked in” to see anything, but he would still take us up, weather permitting.

Armed with our camera gear, we boarded, belted ourselves in, and donned earphones before we soared skyward and glided over Lake Te Anau. I didn’t expect the ride to be as smooth as it started out. Michael said we might encounter some choppy weather, but he had made this flight so many times that he had learned to expect sudden current changes. His tone was so confident that I relaxed and concentrated on taking photos.

Jen, my seat companion, couldn’t have been more gracious, moving back when I wanted to take a shot from her side of the craft and I returned the favor. David sat in the front seat with Bruce, who was equally happy to share the sights for a photo op.

As a mountain loomed into view, I kept thinking, “Okay, Michael, pull up. Pull up!” But he circled, came alongside it, hovered, and landed on the side of the mountain in a small clearing. Exhilarating, to say the least. We spent some time photographing the magnificent views and were preparing to leave when clouds began to form over the sounds below. Michael said we should head back because “the weather was not the best to be flying in, period.”

On the return trip, we flew over the Kepler Track, which traverses the ridgeline of Mount Luxmore, and I made a note to put this tramp on my must-do list for our next visit to Te Anau. The alpine and lake views from this ridge had to be absolutely stunning. You can barely see the hiking trail along the top ridge of the photo.

Michael also suggested the Milford Track, considered “the finest in the world,” for tramping. According to the trail description, it starts out as a “limbering walk,” but a side track that leads to Sutherland Falls is one of New Zealand’s highest trails at over 640 feet.

Although the “soupy” weather had ruined our plans to see the sounds, we had taken some great pictures and I’d had a wonderful time on my first helicopter ride. I would do it again, and hope for better weather.

Another photo of the hiking trail.

For lunch, David and I drove into Te Anau and found a small pizza place. We ordered several slices and shared them outdoors, basking in the now-sunny day. We had just finished eating when Bruce and Jen waved as they entered the same pizza place. Te Anau is a small, quaint town, and we spent the afternoon sightseeing and shopping for souvenirs.

That evening, back at the lodge, we were sipping predinner drinks before a roaring fire in the lodge’s living room when Jen and Bruce walked up to the small bar near the dining room and ordered drinks. They found seats at the far end of the room and opened their laptops. Curious as to what photos they had taken during our helicopter ride, I approached them. They are a friendly couple and were happy to share their photographs. I asked Bruce if I could use some on my blog when I decided to post about my trip. He said he would go one better—burn a DVD and mail it to me. And he kept his promise, along with sending a video of our helicopter ride. I had no idea he had recorded our flight. I will post his photos and video at a later date. Stay tuned.

The four of us had dinner together and we were still seated, chatting away, long after the rest of the guests had departed. The waitstaff were patient and worked around us, clearing tables and resetting them for breakfast. But we still had plenty to talk about, so we moved to the fireplace seating and sipped port until late into the night. No, I do not recall what we ate for dinner. We were too busy talking.



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New Zealand: Te Anau—Part 2

We rose to a cold, overcast morning. I stepped onto our balcony to gauge just how chilly the weather was. Frost glistened on the front lawn, and heavy, gray and red clouds hung over an icy blue Lake Te Anau. We had a full day ahead—tramping (hiking) in Fiordland National Park in the morning and a water cruise of Milford Sound in the afternoon. We grabbed Windbreakers and day packs and went downstairs for breakfast.

 Alan Cunningham, who manages the Fiordland Lodge, greeted us as we entered the living room. He’s personable and welcoming, making you feel at home. He brought us hot tea and coffee while we waited for the waitstaff to finish setting the tables.

After breakfast, we met Stephen, our tour guide for the morning, at the lodge entrance and climbed aboard his small bus. Trips & Tramps specializes in small group tours and walks. Another couple and their two teenage boys on holiday from Tassie would be tramping with us. This was the first time I had heard Tasmania referred to as Tassie. Introductions were made and off Stephen drove.

We hadn’t gone more than a mile when Stephen reduced speed and then braked. Hundreds of sheep scampered from an open pasture gate and sprang into the road in front of our bus. Stephen shouted to a man named Peter, one of two shepherds who whistled commands to their blue heelers. The men waved back. “We aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” Stephen said, which was fine with all six of us. We disembarked, cameras and phones in hand, and the photo shoot began.

About thirty minutes later, we reboarded the bus. During our drive from one trail to the next, Stephen regaled us with local lore; recounted the antics of the cheeky, often destructive keas; and sadly, described the decimation of the native bird population by the imported stoat. Along the way, he demonstrated how a stoat trap, used to control the voracious predator, worked.

That day’s hikes were three easy ones. The next time we tramp in the Fiordland National Park, we will still choose guided walks but opt for longer, more intermediate-grade hikes. On our last tramp for the day, Stephen showed us to the trailhead, but he would not be joining us. He was staying behind to guard the bus. The notorious keas had done “a real number” on his vehicle in that exact location a month earlier, destroying the weather stripping around the bus’s windows.

The short jaunt to our Mirror Lakes walk led us to a picturesque lake. We snapped photos, took a short break, and then headed back to meet up with our guide. When we returned to the bus, we found Stephen defending his vehicle from five keas. Two flew off as we approached, but the remaining three were happy to stay and pose for photos. A crowd of tourists soon engulfed the birds, and the mischievous keas appeared delighted to be the center of attention.

Back aboard the bus, we headed for Milford Sound via the Homer Tunnel, which cuts through the Darran Mountain range at the Homer Saddle. The tunnel has no lights and the two-lane road is narrow. The once-single gravel lane has been enlarged and the surface tarsealed, but the raw granite walls remain. The tunnel, located in a high-risk area for avalanches, was opened in 1954 and links Te Anau and Queenstown to Milford Sound.

Stephen dropped us off at the Milford Mariner, and we climbed aboard our boat for our afternoon launch excursion. The day hadn’t warmed much, and being on the open water was even chillier. We ate lunch belowdecks, and I decided to stay in the warm dining room after we finished eating. David, armed with his camera, went aft to take pictures. With him on deck, I knew we wouldn’t miss out on some great photos, and from my window seat, I had a good view of the canyon waterway as we broke moor and sailed for the sound.

Sheer rock cliffs soared skyward, the precipices originating from the depths of the fiord’s seabeds, and because of the high rainfall, multitudes of waterfalls from alpine lakes cascaded down the rock faces. The crowning glory was Mitre Peak, rising almost 5,400 feet above the waterways of the sound.

Tired but pleased with our day’s adventures, we were met on the docks by Stephen, who escorted everyone to the bus. When he asked David about our next destination, David told him we were headed to Dunedin. He smiled and replied, “Oh, the land of the Mcs and the Macs.”

Dinner at the lodge that night was tuna tartare with a cucumber relish, duck with a port wine reduction, new potatoes, and a lemon custard for dessert.


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New Zealand 2014: Te Anau

At breakfast the next day, we said goodbye to Diane and Denis, who were also headed out of Aoraki/Mount Cook. We hadn’t even left the alpine village when a light flashed on the dashboard of our rental car. The icon appeared to be a snowflake. Snowflake? It was overcast and chilly outside, but snow? Really? We pulled to the shoulder of the road and dug in the glove box for the owner’s manual. David was thumbing through the pages when Diane and Denis waved as they motored by. A few seconds later they reappeared and braked alongside our car to ask if they could help. We explained our predicament, and Diane said the light would go out as soon as the car engine warmed up. She gave us her cell phone number in case we ran into any more trouble, and they drove off. Precisely as Diane predicted, the light went out the minute the engine warmed up.

As we cruised along the shoreline of Lake Pukaki, we kept a watchful eye for tourists who were making last-minute decisions to stop for photos. Intent on capturing the views, most braked without warning and failed to park completely off the highway. Some even left their doors wide open as they bailed out of their vehicles to snap selfies.

In Twizel, we steered onto Highway 8, the scenic route. As David often is, he was on a mission to reach his destination—Te Anau— and wasn’t fond of making too many stops along the way, but he squeezed in a salmon hatchery tour, and on the recommendation of a friend in the US, found time for a much longer visit to Glide Omarama. Duly impressed, he put a glider flight on his must-do list for “Down Under #2.” I’m still mulling over this particular adventure. I’ve seen videos of the flight path and the vistas are remarkable, but I’d be crazy to even contemplate climbing aboard a plane with no engine to glide over glaciers. On the other hand, I might give in and go.

As noon drew near, we pulled into the Gibbston Valley Winery to have lunch. For us Texans—used to sizzling 100-plus-degree weather—it was a tad chilly to sit outdoors, but our server gave us a window seat—the next best table. We ordered a cheese platter to share and both had the soup special: white bean, cumin, and mint, an odd combination but absolutely delicious. After our meal we stopped next door for a look-see at Gibbston Valley Cheese, also part of the winery. Everything cheese—cheesemaking, cheese tasting, cheese platters to enjoy on site, and cheese and wine hampers to go. We made a note: picnic lunch next time?

We spent two hours sightseeing in Queenstown before we continued on to Te Anau. Prior to our trip, David had hyped the Fiordland Lodge to the point where I couldn’t wait to see our lodgings for the next few days. And I wasn’t disappointed. The lodge, constructed in 2002, sits on a knoll with rolling grasslands and commanding views of Lake Te Anau. Inside, the construction is natural timber with massive log trusses and full-trunk pillars. The ceilings are thirty-six feet high with plenty of glass to capture the vista, and there is an impressive fireplace of local river stone. And the lodge even has its own library.

Despite its vast size, the lodge feels warm and comfortable, and the setting private. In the main building are ten guest rooms with lake views, and adjacent to the lodge are two log cabins, ideal for parties of four or more.

As an outdoors person (fittingly, Earth Day was founded on my birthday), I took seconds to discover the flock of sheep grazing in the pasture next door, and even less time to notice the large vegetable and herb garden growing near the entrance. As soon as I unpacked, I made a beeline for both. Daylight dwindled. We bundled up against the chilly evening and joined several couples on the front lawn to sip drinks and watch the sun set over Lake Te Anau. The dark sky soon filled with stars, so brilliant, you felt you could touch them. As the dinner hour drew near, we gravitated toward the intimate dining room. The prix fixe menu offered three choices each of appetizer, entrée, and dessert. We both chose the cured salmon carpaccio with a lemon and dill sauce, the beef filet with eel risotto, and the chocolate tart.







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