Te Anau

Down Under Wrap-up

Happy New Year and the best of everything in 2018—Darcy, Bullet, and Pat.

Cruising Milford Sound.

Today I’m wrapping up my Down Under blog series and want to share a few parting photos that I hope you will enjoy. As I’ve mentioned on several occasions, I am not writing a travel blog per se. I only post about locations that will appear in future Darcy and Bullet thrillers. So yes, I do plan to set a novel Down Under, and many of the countries in my current posts will be settings for forthcoming books. 

Cruising the Milford Sound

a glimpse into my 2018 blog posts: in the coming months I will post about my Canadian trip and my St. Barth’s visit, also settings for new Darcy and Bullet novels. After these travel posts, I will do a series on art and architecture. Why, you might ask, would I write about these? Because both subjects are dear to Darcy’s heart and mine. Watching a talented person create a work of art, design a structure, or write a book is inspiring unto itself, and art and architecture play a part in my thriller series.


Let’s start with those cheeky keas, heralded as the world’s most intelligent birds. Dubbed “the clown of the alps,” and the only alpine parrot in the world, the kea is native to the forested and mountainous regions of New Zealand’s South Island. The screeching cries of “keeeaa” alert you to the presence of these highly social and inquisitive birds.

Although I haven’t had the privilege, I’ve been told that if you see a kea in flight you will never forget it. The birds transform from olive green to brilliant flashes of orange, scarlet, yellow, blue, and turquoise.

Keas are hardy birds that tolerate a range of temperatures, and they thrive on everything from berries, fruits, roots, and leaves to even carrion. They also loiter around picnic sites—an easy source of junk food. Insatiably curious, charismatic, and mischievous, these natural sleuths are bold, relentless, and downright destructive, but so cute. Easy for me to say when I haven’t experienced their fondness for rubber—destroying car door seals or chewing through wiper blades. I did get a kick out of seeing several board a bus during our tramping tour.

According to a British tourist, he had his passport stolen by a kea. The passport was stored in a brightly colored bag in the luggage compartment of a bus headed for a boat tour of Milford Sound. The kea struck when the bus stopped and the driver was busy in the luggage compartment. The driver startled the kea, which flew away with the passport.

Years ago, when a kea was spotted attacking a live sheep, the birds were branded as killers and a bounty was placed on their little green heads. Tens of thousands were killed, but today they are a protected species.

But why all the signs warning people not to feed them? Besides the bounty, their love for high-fat junk food very nearly killed them off. So for their sake and ours, do not feed the keas.


In the wilderness of Tasmania’s Southwest National Park, the history of its first inhabitants, and later its mining explorers, is being preserved at Melaleuca—renowned for its world heritage area and also for its mining history. A small mining settlement was established in the region in 1930s, where high-grade alluvial cassiterite (tin oxide) was mined. 

While digging deeper into the history of tin mining during my research on Sir Henry Jones, I discovered the life and accomplishments of Charles Denison “Deny” King, an Australian naturalist, ornithologist, environmentalist, painter, and the first tin miner in Melaleuca. To read more about him and the Deny King Heritage Museum,  http://tasminerals.com.au/news/news/about-deny-king-and-the-deny-king-heritage-museum,-melaleuca/

I also discovered during a conversation with one of the “birdies” from our tour of Melaleuca that they were not in search of “simply a green parrot” but were on a heated search to catch a glimpse of “the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot that breeds only around Melaleuca.”

The Melaleuca was originally part of the homelands of the Needwonnee Aboriginal people, and the Needwonnee Walk shares the stories of these original custodians of the land. Photo left: On the Needwonnee Walk.

Black swans at Melaleuca

Today’s Melaleuca is still virtually untouched, with only six thousand visitors each year. Due to the remoteness of the region and limited accessibility—by foot, plane, or boat—the area has maintained its wildness. Visitors’ facilities are intentionally rugged, catering to trampers, bushwalkers, day-trippers, and bird-watchers. As I wrote in a previous post, we flew into the small airstrip and then traveled on foot and by boat to tour the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Sadly, this wilderness area suffered a bad bushfire in 2016.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3429623/Tasmanian-World-Heritage-area-devastated-bushfire.html  


The infamous staircase at The Henry Jones Art Hotel

A last word on Sir Henry Jones. While Jones had a reputation for frugality, he was a very generous man who simply disliked spending money on “fripperies.” Rather than use first-grade timber to panel the Top Room at the Henry Jones hotel, Sir Henry preferred to reserve the high-quality wood for the crates that would be used to export his IXL jams around the world.

This grand staircase, also in the Henry Jones Hotel, has four carved newel posts, which support the handrail. Three have been decorated with stippling. When Jones walked by and saw a young lad from the factory floor working on the last post, he sent him back to work packing crates—an example of Jones’s abhorrence for needless expense.


From the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris to bridges in Melbourne and Sydney, love locks have been cut off footbridges, melted, recasted, and refiled. In some cases, they have become works of art with the proceeds donated to charity. From a previous post of mine: https://patkrapf.com//2015/06/18/europe-2013-the-notre-dame-bells/

My last shot of Australia as we flew back to the Unites States from Sydney.

For now, I will say a fond farewell to the land Down Under, but I will see you soon, Aotearoa—the Maori name for New Zealand, which translates as “the land of the long white cloud”—for we are already planning a repeat visit.

Writers Walk in Sydney.

You will notice I use famous quotes in all of my Darcy McClain and Bullet thrillers and I’ll leave you with one now from Eleanor Dark. “Silence ruled this land. Out of silence mystery comes, and magic, and the delicate awareness of unreasoning things.” The Timeless Land (1941).






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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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