My trip to Milford Sound was pretty much a washout–literally. It was pouring rain the whole time, and while the ship’s captain made a great to-do about the lovely waterfalls that spill down from the top of the fjord when it rains, he was just making a virtue of necessity. One couldn’t even go outside the boat without getting immediately drenched, and as for seeing the Sound itself, well, forget it. I’ll try to put some photos of that “liquid sunshine” experience below.
But it was compensated for by my lovely 8-hour bus trip today from Queenstown to the next destination on my Journey to See the Big Parrots (“Kea or Bust”): Fox Glacier, a small town on the west coast. Tomorrow I take another 6-hour bus journey to Greymouth, which is the hopping off point (1.5 hours) for Arthur’s Pass, the place where I hope to see keas.
New Zealand commercial buses are great, and today’s trip was particularly lovely. The drivers give a running commentary on the landscape, geology and animals, and they know their stuff. And we went through some spectacular country, punctuated by hourly stops for food, tea, bathroom breaks, and scenic spots. Truly, a bus ride on the inter-city service here is like a tour bus!
Here are some random shots on my 8-hour journey. The country is expansive and stupefyingly gorgeous.
Beech forest with ferns. I’m told there are three species of endemic beeches, all non-deciduous (keeping their leaves in winter): red, white, and black. They grow slowly and so aren’t the basis for a big logging industry.
Red beech cut up since it was blown down. Its color and hardness were, we were told, especially prized by the furniture-making trade:
Wet forest with tree ferns (tree ferns in the wild!!):
It’s WET! Look at these lovely epiphytes decorating a tree:
I don’t know what these gelatinous plants are. Readers?
The next two photos were taken on the way to Milford Sound yesterday. No wonder Lord of the Rings was filmed in this land. . .
Apparently, before the Europeans came, the forest came smack down to the Tasman Sea, like this (west coast of South Island).
Here are ducks; I have no idea whether these are garden-variety mallards or some special New Zealand duck (their heads aren’t very green). Readers?
And a few more shots from the all-day trip to Milford Sound:
A great glacial valley from 14,000 years ago. We were told the glaciers went up to tree line on the mountains at either side. The grass is New Zealand’s native grass, which is not green but golden:
A tree knot or something. . .
Rock scoured by a waterfall:
Finally, a lousy shot of Milford Sound, showing the waterfalls that appear when it’s rainy, and a few New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri), who don’t mind the rain. (The seals are also found in Australia).
It was pouring sheets of rain and the air was full of mist; I almost ruined my goddam camera getting these shots!
Such was my disappointing day at the world’s #1 rated tourist site. You can’t control the weather, of course, but if I were going to the Sound, I’d look at the five-day weather report and book a day predicted to be clear. It hadn’t rained for 16 days before I showed up—and then, boom!
Here is my backpacker-hostel digs in Queenstown. My bed is lower right, foreground, and I shared the room with 7 women who appeared to be in their early 20s. They were MESSY: it looked as if a bomb had exploded in the room, scattering clothes and toiletries everywhere. (Note how neat I am.) The picture doesn’t do justice to these women’s messiness, AND when I put a book and some toiletries on my bed to claim it when I left for the day, someone had stolen them when I got back! Beware if you stay at the Base Backpacker’s Hostel in Queenstown: it’s not safe. (I’m in a much better place here in Fox Glacier.)
To end on a high note, here’s a scenic spot between Glenorchy and Queenstown, showing Lake Wakatipu and some of the surrounding mountains:
On to see keas. This photo was provided by reader Gordon, who took a photo of a kea he encountered at Arthur’s Pass and who followed him down off the pass. What a story! His comment (note that the bird is banded):
This one joined me at the top of Arthur’s Pass and flew down with me to alight on the car each time I stopped.