Peter and Elizabeth - RTW 2009-11 travel blog




















September 9, 2011

Today was another day of driving but even better was that at least today the rugby finally started! The drive out of Queenstown heading south to Te Anau took a couple of hours, with stops for some picture taking, but generally the roads were clear. The views as you come out of Queenstown are lovely, with mountains either side of you and the lake directly alongside you. The road winds around the shores of the lake before heading west towards Te Anau. We’d driven the first part of this road when we were here before and heading towards Invercargill but the second part was new to us. It was surprisingly flat as we drove along but we could see the larger peaks ahead of us, the weather being reasonably clear. It was a quick drive and we were soon checked in at the YHA having stopped at the National Park centre on our way into town. We had a tour booked for tomorrow and then planned to do a short hike the day after. We found out the forecasts were not looking good so we decided we’d make decisions as we went.

We headed straight out to get some food. We found a café which said it had wifi but like many places here it wasn’t free. I really don’t remember having so many problems finding free internet 18 months ago and the cynical part of me wonders if the new networks cropping up all over the country have something to do with the World Cup. The sandwiches we had for lunch were pretty good and afterwards we stopped at the supermarket. The hostel had a decent kitchen and we decided we’d try and eat in a couple of nights to save some money as well as to have a choice of what we actually wanted, too.

If the afternoon we decided to pay for the internet at the hostel and I managed to get my travel journal up to date and we managed to arrange a few other things for the next week or so. After a home-cooked meal of chilli we headed over to the local bar, The Moose, to watch the opening ceremony and opening match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. I generally hate opening/closing ceremonies as I think they try too hard to be something and promote something that doesn’t exist. In this instance, it seemed to really press Maori traditions which is great as it is the heritage of the country but it completely ignored the fact that Maoris are actually a significant minority now and there are lots of other things which make NZ a great place. Quite honestly, I wish they’d just get on with the bloody matches! When the game did start, NZ v Tonga, it was great to be surrounded by lots of locals willing their team on but we were also joined in the pub by a couple of Tongans. The atmosphere was really fun and we enjoyed the match, too, even though it wasn’t much of a spectacle. NZ were way ahead at half time and the second half was quite scrappy. We didn’t hang around for long after the match as we had an early start tomorrow.

September 10, 2011

Today we headed out to Doubtful Sound. We had to take a tour to get there and we’d chosen Doubtful Sound over the more popular Milford Sound as it was supposed to be less touristy and much more scenic. When we woke up the rain was falling heavily and we hoped this wouldn’t affect our tour. I got up and made us sausage sandwiches for breakfast while Elizabeth made our lunch and before we knew it the tour bus was here to collect us.

The tour bus was only taking us a short way, about 20km, to the town of Manapouri. Here we stopped at the edge of Lake Manapouri to check in with the tour company and to wait for our first boat trip of the day. Doubtful is really remote and to get there we have a boat ride across the lake, then an hour drive and then we board another boat within Doubtful itself. This first boat road across the lake was really pretty but as we went the rain seemed to be getting heavier and heavier. The guides seemed to think this was a great thing as it meant the waterfalls in the sound would be much stronger and powerful.

We soon arrived at West Arm on the far side of the lake where there was a small visitor centre and a power station. You’d barely know there was a power station there other than the couple of large pylons on the side of the lake as this power station was actually almost 180m below ground! We were due to be visiting that later in the day so we weren’t told very much about it at this point.

Our next mode of transport was another bus which was going to take us across Wilmot Pass. This road had been built when they were constructing the power station. When the plant had been designed the plan was to ship all the parts into Invercargill to the south, bring them up by road and then ferry them across Lake Manapouri on barges. It soon became clear that the parts were too big and the barges would not support them and another route was sought. Doubtful Sound connects directly to the ocean and is a deep port and was ideal for the job apart from the fact there was 22km of forest and mountain in between its main arm at Deep Cove and West Arm in Lake Manapouri. So, this road was built to transport much of the equipment. This road was estimated to have cost $100 per centimeter, even back in the late 1960s, and is still thought to be the most expensive road ever built in NZ! Even with the road, some of the largest pieces took some moving. The large generators were transported using three vehicles. The main vehicle carrying the load was sandwiched by two other trucks which used their power to help it up the hills and then used the additional braking to help it down the hills. Even so, each generator took about 1.5 DAYS to do the 22km route. Due to the deep water at Deep Cove, the wharf there had to be constructed directly into the rock as it could not be built from the floor of the fjord. A ship was docked there almost permanently while all the construction was going on as it provided living accommodation for the workers. Apparently, the bar was the most popular room on the ship, particularly on Christmas day when all beer was free!

The drive across Wilmot Pass provided some nice views although the weather meant you couldn’t see very far. The waterfalls cascading down the side of the road were really cool and most of them were temporary, caused only by the amount of rainfall. This region is really weird for rainfall. The town of Te Anau gets about 1m of rainfall per year. By the time we had crossed the lake to West Arm, this area got about 3m of rainfall per year. Once we had crossed Wilmot Pass and were heading towards Doubtful, we were in an area that gets about 5-6m of rain per year. The difference was noticeable, too, as the rain was so much heavier and with a strong wind it seemed like a very drab day, brightened by the lovely greens of the forests and bushes and mosses around us which thrived from the wet conditions. Our driver stopped at one point where you could get a view of Doubtful and asked if anyone wanted to get off. He seemed disappointed nobody did but given the clouds obscured any view and it was pissing it down I didn’t see the point in getting off – it wasn’t prime photo taking conditions!

Down at Deep Cove, we rushed to board our boat. It was a massive vessel and had room for lots more people than were in our group. This was great as it meant we could move about freely and have plenty of room to see whatever we wanted to. As the boat left, we had our lunch, knowing that the boat was coming back past the same things later on! The outside deck was actually covered and had some great viewing areas but with the wind and rain it was still difficult to keep me and the camera dry! I was constantly going in and out to dry the camera lens and then had back out again. I wasn’t too worried about the camera itself as that was staying fairly dry but the pictures would be worthless with a rain-splattered lens. The scenery here was spectacular but I found myself comparing it to the glaciers and fjords we’d seen in Alaska and even some of the scenery we saw in Norway. There was no doubting this was amazing and the rain certainly added to the views with the addition of the waterfalls but I felt we lost the true sense of scale of the fjord given that we couldn’t see the tops of the surrounding mountains through the clouds. It was really a shame but I guess when you visit one of the wettest places on Earth you have to expect some water!

We carried on through the fjord until we reached the open ocean, where the water became a lot rougher and the winds were in excess of 60 knots. It was pretty tough standing outside taking pictures at this point as the swirling winds made the rain go sideways and even under the protection of the roof you didn’t feel like you were staying very dry. Not to mention, the movement of the boat at this point was pretty extreme, too, and holding on with one hand and taking pictures with the other is not really recommended! Some of the smaller islands near the entrance to the fjord, fittingly called the Shelter Islands, provided some respite from the waves and wind and here we were able to see a small hut, built for the fisherman looking for crayfish and providing a point for them to stop at rather than having to go all the way to the end of Doubtful. We also stopped near a set of islands called the Nee Islands where we saw a colony of seals lazing on the rocks. The islands were very steep and rocky but the seals were still easily able to scale the rocks even with the strong winds and surf around them. There were plenty of pups, too, following their mothers around for food and probably warmth!

We were told the reason this area was called Doubtful Sound, too. From the sea entrance, this area don’t look very big because of the all the small islands dotted around. Captain Cook had sailed past here and was looking for somewhere to land. He had decided against going into this opening as he wasn’t sure whether the surf and current would carry him in but prevent him from getting out quickly. On his map, he noted that this was a “doubtful harbour”, a name which has stuck. Also, these bodies of water are fjords, not sounds, but they were called sounds when they were first discovered and the name stuck. It was later discovered that they were the result of glacial activity, a large body of ice having carved out the deep trench which is now full of sea water. This is what makes them a fjord.

Once at the sea we started making our return, heading into calmer waters and following one of the arms of the fjord, Crooked Arm, to get a closer look at some of the surrounding land and some of the large waterfalls created by the heavy, persistent rainfall. As I’d said before, the waterfalls were stunning and it is an amazing place but we completely lost the size perspective with the clouds.

From there, our journey was mostly a repeat in reverse of what we had done earlier but with an added stop at the power station. The Manapouri Hydro Power Station was constructed in the 1960s despite the idea being raised over a decade earlier. Due to the problems with the road and how best to drill down beneath the surface, the construction was painstakingly slow and challenging. The water from Lake Manapouri has to drop some 180m below the surface to the turbines it drives which help produce the energy. Of course, this meant that not only did they need to build tunnels for the water to go down, they also needed a plant 180m beneath the rock with the generators as well as further tunnels to take the water away. The access road that we went down was 2km long and just 9m wide and descended in a gradual spiral. At the end was a small side turning which provided our bus just enough length to be able to do a three-point turn. In Bali I’d had to do a three-point turn on a road with a ditch one side and a steep hillside the other with Jay and Elizabeth screaming at me. At least this bus driver had some peace and quiet to conduct his tight maneuver! We stopped to look at the huge generators and a lady there told us more about the plant. This included the construction of the tailrace tunnels, which take the water away. The two tunnels are over 10km long and start at the main powerhouse just below sea level, dropping to 40m below sea level before eventually pumping the water out at Deep Cove just below the surface. The first of these was not big enough to completely cope with the water flow when the plant first opened and so a second one was added later. The station now produces enough electricity to power the majority of the South Island’s population but the main purpose for the plant was to provide for an aluminium smelter, which even to this day uses about 85% of the electricity produced by this plant, the rest joining the national grid.

The whole project took 1,800 workers about 8 years to finish, eventually opening completely in 1972. In total, 16 men lost their lives building the road and digging the tunnels and these are commemorated with a plaque just by the viewing platform in the tunnel. It was really interesting to see this power plant even though I hadn’t been too bothered about it at the beginning. The nature and construction of the plant is quite unique and it isn’t something you’ll see everywhere.

The final boat ride across the lake went pretty quickly and the rain seemed to have eased a little by the time we were on the bus back into Te Anau. We quickly dumped our stuff when we got there and headed to our “local” bar, The Moose to watch France v Japan and England v Argentina on the TV while enjoying some hot food and a couple of well-earned beers! The France v Japan match was really good fun and Japan gave the French a big scare before the French scored a couple of easy late tries. The England match in comparison was really scrappy and England were lucky to score a try near the end to win 13-9, the lowest scoring match so far by a long way! I was just glad we won!

September 11, 2011

We got up this morning with a plan to do very little. The heavy rain yesterday had closed Milford Road so we didn’t think we’d be able to get out to Milford Sound and the early morning was quite dull so we couldn’t decide whether to go for a walk around the lake or not. After a sausage sandwich we decided to have a lazy day and catch up on our travel journals and watch the rugby. We felt a bit bad as the day went on though as the weather seemed to really brighten up. However, I did catch up on my travel journal and get it uploaded and we did manage to watch all three rugby matches. The first match we watched on the laptop using the internet but the picture wasn’t very good. It was good enough to see the Aussies beat Italy quite comfortably though. After a short while watching the second match, Ireland v USA, we got bored up of the picture being bad so we decided to head to The Moose to watch the match. Despite seeing plenty of commercials advertising the rugby, we weren’t finding any TV channels showing the games so we had to go to the bar! The US fought valiantly and were able to score a try right at the end even though it was a consolation in a 22-10 defeat. It was still better than they were expected to do and the match was a lot more exciting than the England game last night. I did manage to persuade Elizabeth that we should go to the England v Georgia match next Sunday and we bought two tickets during the day today. This means coming back to Dunedin which will be about a 7-8 hour drive from where we will be in Kaikoura and a near 10 hour drive to where we need to get to the next day, in Nelson. Back at the hostel we had the rest of our chilli for dinner and settled in with a large group at the hostel to watch the South Africa v Wales match. I was in the minority wanting SA to win and was glad when they scraped it. Even though SA are more of a challenge to England, we won’t meet them until at least the semi-finals so for now I am safe wishing defeats for the other “home” nations.

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