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Good weather for Fiordlands

March 2, 2014

Our ferry ride back from Stewart Island was a little bumpy as the storm neared and we had snow on the mountains the next morning as we drove to Fiordlands. The temperature dropped during the day and the wind was howling by the time we reached Lake Manapouri. We later learned that a Navy captain that patrols the Antarctic pulled into Stewart Island to escape the largest seas he’d ever seen. We rode out the storm in a Holliday Park in Te Anau.

We looked at the weather for the week and determined that Wednesday would be excellent and Saturday would be the next best day, so we booked excursions to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound on those days, respectively. We filled in the time taking short hikes and playing card games while it rained.

We drove to Milford Sound on Tuesday and spent the night at a Holliday Park. The drive itself was incredible with steep glacial canyons and raging rivers. We passed through a tunnel blasted through a solid rock mountain and descended into Milford Sound. Nice start to a wonderful excursion.

The next morning was cold and clear as we met our excursion boat, the Milford Mariner, at the docks. The sky was wonderfully blue as we set off across the sound (actually a fiord that was misnamed and it stuck). There were countless waterfalls from all the recent rain. It turns out that it rains 220 days a year and Fiordlands is one of the wettest spots in the world so there are always waterfalls. We passed fur seals drying in the sun and spotted a mother and its pup. The skipper of the vessel remarked that this was the best weather they’d had in some time and with the calm seas he took us out into the Tasman Sea.

We followed the north side of the fiord on our way back to the dock staying just outside the shadows cast by the towering mountains. We spent the rest of the day enjoying a slow drive back to Te Anau.

The weather report was accurate and it rained off-and-on for the rest of the week with temperatures just above freezing. On Saturday there was high overcast but no rain! Our excursion to Doubtful Sound started with a boat trip across Lake Manapouri to its West Arm and the location of NZ’s largest hydroelectric power plant. The excursion included a tour of the power plant that is at sea level 200 meters below the level of the lake. It is carved out of solid rock and all that can be seen above ground are the high voltage power lines.

The bus took us on the 2km spiral drive inside rock to the level of the turbines where we learned that the major restriction in building the site was that the level of the lake could not be altered. The primary need for the power was to refine aluminum at a site in Bluff which currently uses 85% of the generated power. The aluminum oxide is shipped to Bluff from Australia where they lack the power needed to refine aluminum.

The bus continued over a saddle and down into Doubtful Sound where we boarded an excursion boat. The overcast remained for most of the day but it was high enough that we could view the steep sides of the fiord (also a naming mistake). It was like riding on a lake until we entered the Tasman Sea and the swell created a bit of excitement for the land lubbers.

We came across several dozen very rate yellow crested penguins that were feeding. The skipper said that it was the largest group of these birds that he’d seen. There were colonies of fur seals that the Kiwis are very excited about since they were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1800s.

We were exhausted when we arrived that evening at the dock where we had started. We decided to spend the night in Te Anau before heading for Queenstown which we will cover in our next posting.

The drive to Fiordlands

The drive to Fiordlands

The drive to Fiordlands

The drive to Fiordlands

Lake Manapouri as the storm comes in

Lake Manapouri as the storm comes in

Drive to Milford Sound

Drive to Milford Sound

Drive to Milford Sound

Drive to Milford Sound

Glacier above Milford Sound

Glacier above Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

The boat went into the waterfall in Milford Sound

The boat went into the waterfall in Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Twin waterfalls in Milford Sound

Twin waterfalls in Milford Sound

Fur seal and her pup

Fur seal and her pup

Milford Sound excursion boat

Milford Sound excursion boat

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Doe and fawn on our evening walk

Doe and fawn on our evening walk

Evening walk along Lake Manapouri

Evening walk along Lake Manapouri

Ride across Lake Manapouri

Ride across Lake Manapouri

Ride across Lake Manapouri

Ride across Lake Manapouri

Ride across Lake Manapouri

Ride across Lake Manapouri

Boarding for the trip back across Lake Manapouri

Boarding for the trip back across Lake Manapouri

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

Very rare yellow crested penguins

Very rare yellow crested penguins

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

Heading out across Doubtful Sound

Heading out across Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound from the saddle

Doubtful Sound from the saddle

Generation plant carved out of the rock

Generation plant carved out of the rock

200m below lake level

200m below lake level

Power lines are all that's visible at the power station

Power lines are all that’s visible at the power station

From → Travel

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