Sunday, 13 April 2008

Saturday 8th March 2008

After successfully booking a 'Twilight' sea kayaking trip in Milford Sound I had a little time to cruise around lake Te Anau (well, part of it, it's shoreline is massive) on my velo. I also rode some tracks just behind my shanty town, I mean camp site. Turns out that some school kids had built them on some csrubland and forested area. On Ya Kids! The riding was enjoyable, they'd made good use of the space available as I meandered for an hour on their more tricky stuff which was pretty easy going except for one black section where you hit a board-walk that disappears off into a bog, unfortunately I didn't spot that a two foot section of the boarding had vanished. My second visit to the bog that day.

Pioneer Spirit
As Sir George of Hilton (a slightly rotund but massively enthusiastic C/O from Hull) used to say 'A pioneer should always have a pie in here' (whilst stroking his belly). Having wiped myself clean of rotting bog swamp I grabbed an excellent organic venison pie (they had venison wars here not too long ago!) from Miles Better Pies and began my journey to Milford Sound in The Pulsar. Drove from Te Anau to Milford Sound via Homer Tunnel and The Chasm.
Homer Tunnel
is a long old tunnel that has a hefty downward gradient as you travel towards the sound. 'Twas hewn out of the rocks by hardy labourers in the 1930's on the back of the Great Depression. The Homer Camp where the workers and their families lived received no direct sunlight all year. Tough cookies, they did find time to have the odd game of cricket tho, that's the main thing.

The Chasm
Realizing that The Pulsar had carried me on her wings faster than a Peregrin Falcon at a skydiving tournament I reckoned I had time to ramble on up to 'The Chasm'. I had seen the name on a map and thought it must be worth a dabble a Kiwi's don't name things on a whim. Flip-flopped to the max I stomped past the Rohan wearing masses up to The Chasm and checked out the sculpted rock forms and rounded stone basins that the force of Cleddau River had created as it is forced funnel-like into the narrow soft bedrock forming waterfalls and gorges below. I can't put it any better than David Henry Thereau who said: 'The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time'.

Dafur with Ross Hore (AKA 'Horey'), an eco-nomad but a dude nontheless. Horey showed us his luxurious accommodation which was essentially two cut and shut caravans, it looked like real squalor, he called it his penthouse and assured us that despite it looking like something from Dafur it was actually quite a nice place to live. You might like it, but it's not for me.

Kayaking on the Sound
The 'Sea Ka' took us out to 4k from the Abel Tasman Sea, we paddled back for 5hrs, twas quite hard work. The key to kayaking is to hadly disturb the water as you paddle along, when you can do this you are being efficient. Being Billy No Mates I got to ride in Horey's two-man kayak, which was cool as he knew how to steer the thing. The trip takes about five hours to row back from the Tasman Sea opening to Deep Something Or Other Point, even with a helpful following wind and the tide pushing us home.
Great Shack!
Milford Sound is the place where Shackleton used to set sail from on his Antarctic expeditions. I had been dying to see what it looked like as my imagination had struggled to conjure any concrete image of what it might be like. Around every turn in the Pulsar I was craning my neck to see if I could see an opening to the sea – Milford Sound. Finally I was here, and right down at water level too. It is truly epic scenery, you paddle through what is basically an estuary but instead of having little river banks you have these huge mile high walls of granite rock that tower straight upwards and plunge deep down into the sea bed. The landscape is formed by huge sheets of ice gouging out the rock and leaving a U-shaped valley. The sea then comes in and fills up the 'U' but not completely, the result is that you can paddle/sail up the valley and see these huge towering slabs of granite with waterfalls coming crashing down the walls, we paddled straight under one. The smaller waterfalls only get half way down the rock face before magically evaporating into cloud and causing rainbows all over the shop, it is just stunning. Milford Sound then is actually a fjord – caused by glaciers cutting through rock rather than a sound, which is where a river does the same thing. Ditto for every other Sound in Fiordland!

There are two permanent waterfalls in the sound and literally hundreds when it has rained heavily. The largest waterfall generate electricity and provide drinking water for the few residents at The Sound. We paddled right under the big waterfall, the wind and spray it generates is pretty awesome as it crashes hundreds of meters down onto your head.

Tree Avalanches Did you hear about the time when Paddy and Murphy went to the job center looking for work? One advert was for Tree Fellers. 'That's a shame' said Murphy, 'there's only two of us'. Boom Boom. As you look up from the waterline you can see trees that literally hang out of the vertical rock faces. Their root networks all interlink and they help each other cling onto the rock face. When the trees get really big and the wind blows you get a tree avalanche where hundreds of tonnes of trees slew into the sea. Slowly moss starts to form and just like you get Succession on a beach (ie. pioneer species like Marram Grass begin to colonise sand dunes then once they are their other species can begin to grow) then bigger plant life starts to take hold, bushes then little trees. Horey says the whole process takes a century or so then the tree avalanche happens and the cycle begins again. Did you know, if you cough at young male seals they cough back? It's all to do with their manliness. When they get bigger and start competing for females they cough at other males. Useless but true.

We then cruised back in, in the squally rain as the sun set and the Sound went as flat as a pancake. At this point we rowed straight past a seal that was barrel-rolling in the water, he didn't even notice us, Horey said he was probably asleep and would wake up and go fishing out to sea at night. Really glad I went even tho weather was somewhat wet, in future I would like to see the top of Mitre Peak!

Farming is the root of all Evil (sorry dad)
Horey was really disgruntled with the negative environmental impact of dairy farming - ruining natural ecosystems for export to foreign countries. One firm has a huge monopoly and artificially keeps prices high - cheese is 300% more expensive now than two years ago. He reckoned that the Kiwi's only got the second class produce too as the best stuff got shipped over seas. Drove back at warp speed, as the day turned to night – was rushing to get back before the food places shut.

Te Anau
Just avoid this place if you can, although to be fair, having concluded that the people really are Kiwi versions of rednecks and sworn never to return here, some dude called Dan bowled up to me with a crate full of beer and forced me into a taxi for a house party with Leanne, Kate and this lad who kept taking his eye out and licking it, they called him 'Bungy'.

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