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: Christchurch and Aoraki Mount Cook


Christ’s College was built in 1925 in the Gothic and Tudor perpendicular style. The structure was reenforce against earthquakes in 1987 and only suffered minor damage during the 2011 earthquake.

As I’ve mentioned in several blog posts, I am not a fan of long flights. After three hours, I’ve hit my limit for sitting in one place. But the flight from Brisbane to Auckland was quite pleasant—the seats roomy, the service excellent, and the food tasty. For once, I was a tad disappointed when we landed three and a half hours later.

And what I dislike even more than a long flight is riding in a puddle jumper plane. David tries to appease me by saying, “It’s a regional jet.” Regional jet or puddle jumper, being sandwiched in a seat on a small plane for more than an hour is murder. Thankfully, the “regional jet” from Auckland to Christchurch landed just twenty-five minutes over the one-hour limit. But who was counting?

With back-to-back flights and a layover in Auckland, we arrived in Christchurch at 8:00 p.m. and drove straight to our hotel—the George. Tired and hungry, we wanted to dump our luggage in the room and grab something to eat. The hotel has a fine dining restaurant, Pescatore, but we wanted light fare, so we ate at 50 Bistro—tomato bisque followed by grilled scallops. We finally climbed into bed at midnight and I snuggled up to George, the keepsake teddy bear left on our bed during the first-night turndown. A nice touch. I still have George and he is such a good traveling companion, always well-behaved and welcomed at lodgings worldwide. You can follow him on Facebook  http://www.facebook.com/TheGeorgeBear.

Christ’s College

We woke to a chilly, overcast day and walked into downtown Christchurch. There were still some signs of the 6.3 earthquake that hit the town in 2011, and I thought about the two thousand people killed in the quake. One shop owner shared her story and the deadly details hit home, as I’d had my share of earthquakes over the years—Mexico, South Africa, and a number in Southern California. We spent the morning exploring Christchurch and wished we had allowed more time for sightseeing. But a reliable source (David) told me we will return soon to explore some more.

In the afternoon, with David behind the wheel of our rental, we motored onto State Highway 8, the Inland Scenic Route to Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village, about a four-and-a-half hour drive. Before we set out, the receptionist at the George said, “This is New Zealand. The journey is as exciting as the destination. Take your time and enjoy.”  And indeed we did, driving past acre upon acre of farmland, pasture upon pasture of countless sheep, cattle, and deer farmed for domestic sales. I fell in love and wanted to take home a lamb.  

David will be the first to admit that he does not have the “farming gene,” so he surprised me when he said, “I could live here and I’d farm.” What? I asked him to repeat that statement, and he has, many times in the past three years. In fact, he liked New Zealand so much that we plan to return in 2018. And I can’t wait to head Down Under again.

For one, I missed out on visiting Lake Tekapo, an alpine spot at the foot of Mount John. I was captivated by the deep turquoise of the lake’s water, which is created by rock flour from the surrounding glaciers that is suspended in the water. The glaciers in the headwaters grind the rock into a fine dust as they make their journey down toward the lake. Lake Tekapo is set against a backdrop of snowcapped mountain peaks—a magnificent blend of white and turquoise. I also wanted to see the Church of the Good Shepherd in Tekapo, so both the lake and the church are on my must-see list for trip two.

Nestled in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, the Hermitage Hotel was the perfect base camp for our hiking and ATV adventures, which is why we chose it. The building is not the typical log or timber lodge you’d see in the US or Canada. The commercial looking, blue-gray steel structure rises from the valley floor like a metal giant, and not everyone thought the modern architecture was appealing. “Military barracks,” I overheard one visitor say. Personally, I found the style intriguing, and we had a wonderful stay.

The first night, we ate in the Panorama Room. The porcini mushroom appetizer was good, but the entrées stole the show. I had smoked salmon with a potato mousse and baby peas. David ordered the venison with blueberry and juniper sauce and grilled vegetables—both meals cooked to perfection. For dessert, a sampler of homemade ice creams.

Damage to Christchurch Cathedral after the earthquake.



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