Steve and Mad's mini adventure travel blog

The aftermath of the coffee disaster

Doubtful Sound

Monkey Island

Yellow crested penguins

Mads at Doubtful Sound

Lake Te Anau

View of Mount Luxmore

Lake Te Anau - calm as a millpond (only happens annually)

Quite a pleasant drive from Invercargill to Te Anau, taking in such delights as a VERY small town which proclaims to be "NZ's Sausage Capital". Stamp on the brakes only to find the sausage outlet is closed (and has been for some time by the look of it). We stopped at a couple of points to savour the view, once at Monkey Island which looks like it is accesible at low tide but not high tide when we were there. Steve did test the water but it wasn't at an inviting temperature. We also stopped at Clifden Suspension bridge, a very historical landmark opened in all of 1899 and looks disused since about 1901! It's still very, very windy. We arrived at Te Anau early afternoon where Steve got a text from an old work colleague, saying he too was in Te Anau and how about we met at a pub called The Moose for drinks/dinner (Moose, wasn't a indication of the clientele, by the way). Hurrah!

Any O2 readers who have been there too long (like me) will remember Roy Bareham. He retired nearly 4 years ago and now seems to spend his winters in the Southern Hemisphere and who could blame him for that? So, completely by chance, Roy and his wife were in the same place as us at the same time. We couldn't possibly have planned that. After several hours of reminiscing (and too many beers) we went to a splendid restaurant. It was superb and, double bonus, Roy paid (thanks, Roy!). It was great to catch up with him, we've tried and failed many times in the UK! He is thoroughly enjoying retirement and enjoyed hearing about the current state of things in O2 in a "glad I'm not there any more" / "oh they're are trying that again, it'll never work" sort of way.

Having worked with Roy for a few years, I should have know better than to listen to him and go on a day walk he recommended. So the next day, armed with a sketched map, I caught the river ferry to start of the 30ish Km walk up to the top of Mount Luxmore - a stunning walk, alledgedly. (Mad knew better and pottered around town!) Half way across on the river ferry, it started tipping it down, really tipping it down. Across the water, I relucantly got off the ferry only to be told that the return wasn't until 4:30 PM (current time 9:30 AM)! So I persevered through the rain and wind. (The area gets an incredible 7m of rain per year - it rains 2 days out of every 3. Am I selling it well?) Anyway the walk was enjoyable, albeit damp and the views magnificant - when the cloud lifted for a few milliseconds. There were some fantastic caves on top of the mountain, but being on my own and a bit of a girl when it comes to caves, I only ventured in a short way - actually to escape the rain and have a sandwich.

In the evening we went to visit the Te Anau GlowWorm caves which is a 30 minute scenic cruise across the lake and then an underground walking/boating trip to the glow worm grotto. Sadly it was hoofing down with rain so hard that we couldn't have seen anything at all on the "scenic" cruise so the captain just whopped it into top gear and we zoomed across to the caves. The cave tour is in small groups of about 12 people and is a combination of walking along low paths and boating across the watery stretches. The glow worm grotto is really fantastic (Roy has a theory that they are all LED's but I don't think so). There are hundreds and hundresd of them, enough to light up the cavern. You can't take pictures as it freaks out the worms and then they don't glow any more so you'll have to take our word for it that it was good. Only a tiny part of the caves is accesible by us mere mortals, there was a map on the wall showing the discovered cave complex with such names as "Kneebreaker Passage" and "Balrog Rift". I'm glad I didn't read that before I went in. All of you LOTR fans will know that a Balrog is NOT what you want to be thinking of in a dimly lit cavern! We're both agreed that caving would be our worst job ever.

Next day was our day to go on a cruise round the stunning Doubtful Sound and it couldn't have been more different. In contrast to yesterdays constant torrential rain we woke up to clear blue sky and sunshine. We didn't need to be in Manapouri until 11.00 so we had a leisurely pancake breakfast at Fjordland Bakery (you need energy for these cruises!) The boat left Manapouri early as we'd all turned up so we got a 1.5 hour cruise across the lake instead of the scheduled 45 minute zoom. The scenery is wonderful, we sat up top on the open deck and savoured the views. At the other side of Lake Manapouri it's on to a coach for a short visit to the underground power station. A 2km tunnel takes you 200 metres below ground to a viewing platform where you can see the mighty turbines in action (made by GE no less!). When I say tunnel, I really mean rough hewn hole in the rockface with gravelly road... the highlight of this is when the coach driver has to turn the bus round. The bus is 11m long. The tunnel is 6.7m wide (with lumpy walls) and the turning "hole" is 5m deep. You can do the math yourselves but it's no mean feat! From there it's 22km across Wilmots Pass, a very uppy-downy, unmade road. This is the only way to access Doubtful Sound and up until the power station was built in the early 70's there was no road at all meaning you had to make a 2 day return hike across the pass if you wanted to get anywhere.

A few stops on the bus to ooh and aah at the scenery then on to the boat for a 3 hour cruise around the Sound. It's absolutely breathtaking, and very difficult to capture on camera or in words as you get no real idea of the sheer size of everything. There is only 1 company that runs cruises here and they only have 2 boats so you are really alone out there. It's a 3 hour cruise and you are free to wander around the boat at all times. There is also free tea and coffee which is where it all went a bit wrong....

Steve decided to go and get a cup of tea which was fine apart from the fact that we were on the open upper deck which had about a 40+ km/h wind blowing across it. Imagine someone carrying 2 cups of full to the brim coffee in a wind tunnel and you'll get some idea of what happened. Alternatively you can try visualising the cubs who ate their lunch on the rollercoaster on Jim'll Fix It, it's the same effect. Anyway, it was chaos. There were coffee splats everywhere, old ladies handing him tissues, onlookers sniggering and me laughing so hard I thought I'd yak! A group of earnest Germans were none too pleased when their expensive cameras received a fine spray. A major dimplomatic incident was really only averted when Steve went to hide in the belly of the boat for a while. So just in case you were thinking of trying it, don't attempt to drink coffee in a wind tunnel.

We did eventually manage to concentrate on the scenery which really is amazing. We were lucky enough to see some yellow-crested penguins on the rocks in a picture perfect pose which the captian said almost never happens, and also some fur-seals swimming about, plus a very small glimpse of the resident dolphin pod. At one point they turn all the engines off and ask for silence so you can hear how quiet it is. It's all very soothing with a few birds twittering and the sound of a waterfall here and there. Then they put the engines back on and tell you that the reason it's so quiet is because some bugger (British, of course) introduced stoats to the wild to help control the rabbits (that they'd previously introduced) and then they went nuts and consumed everything in sight. Cue one boatload of very fat stoats and a dramatic decline in local birds. Back to Te Anau via the same route and think about some of the high-octane activities we can do in our next stop, Queenstown.

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