Saturday, February 1, 2014

Austrian visitors check out one of our wettest locations - on a sunny day :)

Saturday, February 1, 2014
oldbearnews editor

I added this in - because the supplies were getting low and then we could buy only the little one - which is going to last like 1 day and then we found a slightly larger one and then - salvation!! It was suggested that this represents Papa- / Mama- and baby bear!!  Hmm there is no breakfast like a Nuttella Breakfast - even my scouts know that!!!  In any case - up very early and ready to be picked up. I love doing this particular part.
A- it means I get a break from driving (it is 120km in and then another 120km back out again - along with the not so scary Homer Tunnel and steep drive to Milford and
B- we get to see places we might miss by ourselves as the locals know the little out and away from tourist route places!!  So we got picked up and had a lovely tour-guide - who stopped at several places - like the Mirror lakes - (early in the morning when there is no huff and puff from mother nature) and others.  Part of her job is also delivering the morning papers and the post - requiring us to stop at the LAST farm before you enter the National Park.  Luckily for us they were in the middle of shearing - so we were allowed to have a peek view of this quintessential NZ activity. It is hot sweaty back-breaking work - hmmm might be good for weight-loss. There are shearing gangs contracting out their skills and going from farm to farm . . . .
They have to do 3000 sheep - shearing them, getting the fleece clean and bundled up and then sell the wool - so that someone can knit a wooly jumper!!  :)  Doris finding the odour a bit much.  Surprisingly the only bonafide true to honest only kiwi in this group never has been inside a shearing gang building before - something I have :)   Soon it was time to be on the road again and a joke was shared - hmmmm something along the lines of using the shearers to work on  my beard??? Can't remember the punch line but it must have been a good one.
Looking up the Egglington valley and it is not looking promising.  I am reassuring the visitors that given the local usual weather patterns and current wider weather situation we will have sunshine at Milford - something they are just not yet willing to believe. They should know better by now.
The famous mirror lakes - hmmm well ok ponds, really not much of a lake is it?  It is certainly not as grand as say Lake Matheson.  That at least is a lake.  This little puddle however does do stunning Mirror images due to its clarity of water.  It is best when there is blue sky and some snow on the backdrop mountains (usually around early spring) - and early in the morning - as said before, later in the day there is usually a slight breeze blowing down the valley - and thus scattering the clouds!!  Still - even now it does do a reasonably good job!! - You certainly get the idea. 

Homer tunnel - hand hewn in and during the Depression area of 1930's and a miserable job that would have been.  Half the time it is buried under snow and at times the road is closed due to avalanches.  Occasionally the snow is so high that it is double the height of the roof entrance. You feel like driving in a Bob-sleigh course.  This image - and most of them following here -  do the GRAND vista no justice.
You just have to see with your naked eye - you just have to be there in person.  Would you believe if I told you there is another 1000m straight up before you run out of mountain??? In winter - there is not a single rock to be seen - it is white-out and way, way, way back in time this used to be all glacier country - must have been enormously deep glaciers!!!  However - as promised - we got blue sky and it should be even better on the other side!
We were booked on the Milford Wanderer which is half sailing boat and half diesel powered. It is the only boat that can be booked for a overnight stay in Milford Sound and grand that would be. Something to do on our Bucket list - or when we are rich and famous.   Hmmmm scrap the famous part - rich alone will do nicely!  So it  I S  a sailing boat and it does have a little part at the front of the boat looking like a gangway something rather and almost straight away there was no shortage of willing (female) volunteers to re-enact the famous scene from Titanic.  I refused to play Jack - rather admire the scenery - and take pictures!!
The Lady Bowen Falls - and you have a tour-boat for size comparison.  These particular falls also have a generator on the top somewhere that provides power to Milford sound - so that the "business" of tourism can flourish.  However at 10pm the power gets turned of and does not come back on 'till 5 or 6 am!! Must re-read Martina's blog - she did spend the night there in a back-packers place - and see what she said about that!  So yeah - for some 8 hours you are in blackout. Candles are a hot commodity. You used to be able to walk to the Falls and see some things - (such as the ONLY grave in Milford Sound) but no longer.  Seems there is too much risk now from a recent rockfall . . . .
The cruise takes a good 2-3 hours and takes you right from Milford sound end right out to the open ocean  and along the way you see - water - water - water - urm - wait water - and of course Mountains and more mountains and - two seal colony’s.  This one is named - so I am told - after a NZ politician who likes to pose . . . . and have his picture taken . . . . .      - just kidding    :)  
Surprisingly - given the annual rainfall - there are only four permanent waterfalls - varying in intensity.
First up - correct me  if I am wrong here - Bridal Falls??!?!  I was to busy taking a picture to listen to the commentary.
The intense rainfall creates dozens of temporary waterfalls cascading down the cliff faces, some reaching a thousand metres in length. :) wow what a sight that would be.  Smaller falls from such heights may never reach the bottom of the sound, drifting away in the wind. These temporary waterfalls are fed by rain water drenched moss and they last at most for a few days once the rain has stopped.
In rainy and stormy days tourists can admire the play of the wind with the numerous waterfalls in Milford Sound. When meeting the cliff face the powerful wind often goes upward and waterfalls with a vertical drop get caught by wind, causing the water to go upwards.
Papa-(bear)-razzi in great form! Look at his style - pose - and composure -as well as his winter-fat - urm belly as he takes a challenging picture.  OK scrap the belly comment :) Notice too the glare . . . . .  .  Personal comments aside (yes I do look great) urm - did you notice how close the boat is to the rock-face??  This is possible because the Milford Sound is actually a FJORD - carved out by the glacier and drops vertically for another 140 meters below the water line, so skippers can go within 1 or 2 meters of the rock-face - something that should come in handy on the return journey.  The falls are  quite thin and never thunderous - so the wind picks up the spray and moves them round like a net curtain in the breeze!!

Looking out into the open sea - yes there was a cold front that moved up and made everything cloudy out in the open sea!!  At least it did not rain - so there are some small blessings.
The other seal colony.  A mischievous  character once dubbed this the 'ladies club'  (with the Men's group on the other side - obviously) but I am not sure about that.
The sterling falls - close up.  Also usually called the 'Boat-wash' falls for obvious reasons. You get to within one meter of the cliff and the spray will soak everything, and I do mean everything.  Time to pack away the camera!!
well - it was a good wash.  The rinse cycle is just as great!!
The question was asked on board how high do you think the falls are and most people underestimate in a long shot - check the next photo
THAT boat is 30 meters long soooooo  :)  you do the maths . . . .
Yup - yet again.  4th time in Milford sound and of the fabled rain - not a hint!! Must have a special friend upstairs who looks after my travel plans.  We did walk the famous Milford track (Wilfried and Mamabears sister and myself in 1988 or so) - a 4 day hike - and sweated every day in 30 degrees along with the sunshine, while the rest of the country endured rain . . . . .   figures
Hey - how did this sneak in here??? hmmm a pre-valentine's day smooch???

I know he's happy - it was on his MUST-DO list and I was glad that we did and take/ showed Doris one of the most stunning places in New Zealand at the same time.
Mitre peak - almost without a hat!! Again - looks better in spring time with the snow and all . . .

Here cometh today's lesson ---->  Maori are believed to have discovered Milford Sound more than 1,000 years ago, returning seasonally to the fiord, collecting the much prized pounamu (greenstone). These treks from the east used traditional pathways across passes such as MacKinnon Pass on the Milford Track. The Maori named the sound Piopiotahi after the thrush-like piopio bird, which is now extinct. In 1912 John Grono was the first European settler to land in the sound. He named Milford Sound after Milford Haven in Wales.
The Maori name for Milford Sound, Piopiotahi, means "a single piopio", harking back to the legend of Maui trying to win immortality for mankind - when Maui died in the attempt, a piopio was said to have flown here in mourning. According to Maori Legend, Piopiotahi was carved out by Tu-te-raki-whanoa, an atua (godly figure) who was given the task of shaping the Fiordland coast. Chanting a powerful karakia (prayer), he hacked at the towering rock walls with his toki (adze) called Te Hamo.

 Here endeth today's lesson  :)

The lad decided on the spur of the moment to see if he could catch a heli-ride over the pass. And he did, experiencing a completely different look and feel of the Milford Sound. He was stoked!!

To proof it - and no photoshop - rather another 'selfie' taken some 1500m above sea-level - on the Ice of a glacier.
The green 'look' of the water is from the Ice grinding away on the rock - but you already knew that from reading about Lake Tekapo and Pukaki - same idea!!
It does make you feel small and insignificant when you see the homer tunnel entrance like that.
Meanwhile - further along in our tour - and having picked up the fly-boy - 2 of our party got the opportunity to do a decent hike up the mountain while the rest of us shall we say more maturer (hmm ok ok lazier) folks had a more gentle stroll ahead - along with the guide. We got shown a true left over original part of the forest where trees have stood untouched since time began. There is moss everywhere - a testament to the wet nature of the area.
It is still untouched and the Beech trees are generally older then in most parts of the National Park - now there was a reason for that - but I forgot.  In any case - it was a gentle stroll through some pretty unspoiled nature and we saw many trees / ferns / moss and more moss and - yes - 3 french young tourists having had a riverside cooked lunch and indulging in a card game on a lazy sunny afternoon. It is all about location location location.
A so called Tree Burr - and prized by wood-turners.  Make a salad-bowl out of that and you can ask for $$$$ and some.  Not quite sure why the trees grow what is essentially pimples - but for some bizarre reason they do!
Ah there we go again - back into Lord of the Rings country.  In fact somewhere near Te Anau is - or rather was a film location.  LTR fans will lambast me - but I think it is the river scene claiming the foe thanks to . . . hmmm what was her name ? ?
The second short stroll was up and to the Marian Falls.  Noisy water falling down over rock after rock.  So ok 'Krimmler falls'  they are not - certainly they do lack in power - but still they were pretty spectacular and long!!
To get there you had to go across this particular bridge and a swinging bridge this is indeed.  I was pretty ok on it - but Bernhard and Mamabear had a more challenging time. In fact I made a video of him crossing on the return journey and yes he did good!!
Phewwww -- made it!!  From there it was afternoon tea in a special car park and lookout point, where we heard Tui and Bellbird and saw some southern rata and enjoyed the lovely warm afternoon sun.  Too many pictures to publish - as no doubt by now, I have you sent to sleep already.  Just a few more fun lines to read and check out the video . . . . .

PS - from the fabled rain - no sign at all

Fun facts:
  • An underwater tourist observatory found in one of the bays of the sound provides viewing of black coral, usually only found in much deeper waters. A dark surface layer of fresh water, stained by tannins from the surrounding forest, allows the corals to grow close to the surface here.
  •  Milford Sound has a permanent 7-12 meter layer of FRESH water over the sea-salt water.  Yes it is drinkable - bar for the tannins from the rock and forest above it!
  • Milford Sound doesn't have rock-avalanches rather - accumulated rainwater can, at times, cause portions of the rain forest to lose their grip on the sheer cliff faces, resulting in tree avalanches into the sound. The regrowth of the rain forest after these avalanches can be seen in several locations along the sound.
  • Only a 120 people actually live permanently at Milford sound - all servicing the tourism industry.
  • Lush rain forests cling precariously to these cliffs, while seals, penguins, and dolphins frequent the waters and whales can be seen sometimes along with over a million of tourists.
  • Milford Sound is an incredibly wet area with a mean annual rainfall of 6,813 mm on 182 days a year. With nearly 7 metres of rain a year, Milford is one of the wettest inhabited places on earth. Rainfall can reach 250 mm during a span of 24 hours.
  • Not often talked about but the main-alpine fault line runs just outside the sound into the deep ocean and the area can and does get frequent shakes - some as large as 7.5 on the richter scale.
  • Sand-flies - a subject best avoided. At Milford they breed prolific and they usually are double the size of "normal" sand-flies.  I avoided getting bitten once. Seem's they have developed a taste for fresh European or Asian blood!!   (Check out the deal I tried to make for when Martina was here ----->   Martina and the deal with sandflies   )
  • Lastly - it is about 119km from Te Anau to Milford Sound and same back of course - so if you are driving - do check your PETROL levels - there is NO petrol after you leave Te Anau, and it is a long way to push your car back :)
Night - have fun

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