Day 10. Wednesday 15 November.
Fiordland National Park has rain on 200+ days each year, with an annual average of 9 metres – this year it was 11 metres. That’s where we’re going today. What are our chances?
It is a perfect day, hardly a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind. Paradoxically, the bus driver on a later part of the journey tells us that the view and the rain forest are magnificent in the wet, and it has in fact been dry for a few days.
We walk down a forest track for 15 min from our campsite to board the first boat leg on Manapouri Lake and the camera starts clicking. 45 mins later we disembark at the West Arm (underground power station at the top of the lake). The power station is at its half-life, and transformers are being replaced over the next 4 days so there’s a bit of road traffic happening (50 tonnes at a time, requiring two prime movers at the front to pull the trailer, and one behind to push). WA power station was built in the 1960s to provide power to an aluminium smelter. It draws water from Lake Manapouri, drops it through tunnels etc, sends it through the mountains and then pours it into Doubtful Sound. An amazing piece of engineering, even by today’s measures.
And at the power station we board a coach and drive 45 mins over Wilmot Pass the most expensive road in NZ at $80 per square metre), marveling at the towering rainforest which is anchored to the vertical granite mountains through a carpet of moss, lichens and liverworts. These soft green mounds are a giant sponge, soaking up the 9 metres of rain and allow the next storeys of plant life to grow.
We hear that this is virgin forest, ancient wilderness that has had no genetic modification over millions of years. The habitat provides for fish and birds only…there are few other places on the planet which are still in this pre- mammal stage of evolution. Needless to say, it was the arrival of Europeans who introduced alien species (rabbits, then ferrets, stoats and weasels to control them) that stuffed it up, resulting in the extinction of several native bird species. The birds were flightless because they had no predators, apart from the Maori, and were vulnerable to these introduced hunters, who developed a taste for this easy prey.
Then onto the next boat at Deep Cove to motor up Doubtful Sound to the Tasman Sea.
The granite mountains, some with a little snow still, the forest in its 50 shades of green, the hanging valleys….and all carved by ice!
We stop in at a little cove to check out the Blanket Bay Hotel. When the National Park was created, some enterprising cray fishermen realized that it started at the high tide mark, so built this infrastructure below that line! The law was immediately changed, but the ‘hotel’ continues to operate as a station and transshipment point for the fishermen.
At the entrance to the Sound (40 kms of motoring), we see seals, sea lions and a bit of magic with humpback whales and finally a pair of Fiordland Crested Penguins standing sentry on a rock. Then it’s time to repeat the journey in reverse.
On the homeward stretch T sits next to a tiny Peruvian lady who mentions early into the conversation that she is travelling with a group of Chicago University alumni (and she’s not happy with the group). Her husband had worked there and they all talk about their jobs….blah, blah, blah. In fact this is her third husband ‘I don’t kill them, I scare them’ she says. The day has not been good for her because she has just received news about the death of her sister in New Jersey and is now trying to change flights to get home early. The tour guide was working overtime to get new flight bookings. It was a reminder that travel is not always a joyous thing and how wonderful it is to have empathetic assistance at difficult times.
Sitting outside in the evening writing this blog, and we’re sharing the space with bitey little sandflies, who invaded our van this morning. And a few feathered friends…
Dinner out tonight at the Church. This one has walls and is perhaps food for thought? Hairven was transported to Manapouri from????? And we’d heard earlier today about Rimu, the native pine formerly used for construction and furniture-making (now preserved). The church/pub was totally Rimu. Our host was the ideal ‘minister’ and while the food was (very acceptable) ‘pub’ the experience was overall very satisfying.
P2, 3, 4