New Zealand’s Extraordinary Fiordland

It’s all about scenery: dramatic, magnificent, mystical. We awoke on board a ship in Doubtful Sound, the largest of the area’s 14 fiords, to watch the sun creep over the towering cliffs which surrounded us, casting mirror images of the mountains on the sparkling water.  The only sound was a raging waterfall plunging from high above into the deep inlet. Waterfowl flew above.

We were in awe, mesmerized by the splendor of nature, the beauty all around in this desolate paradise.  Every day during our five-day visit to the region last November was filled with more overwhelming, spectacular sights.

On New Zealand’s South Island, Fiordland National Park is a World Heritage area and the country’s largest national park. The fiords, narrow inlets with steep sides carved by glacial activity, indent Fiordland’s West Coast.  In addition to exploring the fiords by boat, you can hike legendary trails in the mountains, trek through primeval forests and enjoy thrilling views from a seaplane.

Husband Bob and I did a bit of all.  We also enjoyed an exciting boat adventure in a Glowworm Cave through eerie darkness to a grotto where thousands of tiny glowworms glimmered on the walls. It was hard to believe this was a natural phenomenon and not an amusement park attraction.

Our Fiordland base was the town of Te Anau from where we set off for our first fiord excursion to Milford Sound. Early European settlers who were not familiar with fiords called them “sounds” which are actually river valleys flooded due to land sinking below sea level.

A bus trip on the Milford Road through the National Park leads to the Sound. There’s grandiose mountain scenery en route, with stops for photos.   And, once on board the ship sailing through the fiord’s National Geographic scenery, it’s hard to put the camera down.

On the way back to Te Anau, we stopped for a hike led by a guide to a summit.  We crawled under fallen logs en route, jumped over streams, through woods to open spaces above the tree line with superb views in every direction. By the time we reached the top it was raining. Our guide pulled out a thermos from his backpack and served us tea and cookies in the drizzle.

More hiking, but at a lower elevation, was on the next day’s agenda, a nature walk along Lake Te Anu through a dense beech forest.  The guide provided fascinating commentary on the flora and fauna, including the illusive kiwi, the country’s flightless nocturnal bird and national symbol.

Moss thrives in this dark green paradise and can be a meter deep. Step off trail and onto the lush carpet which is like a sponge, squishy strange to sink into.  Along the trail all sizes and varieties of forest ferns grow in abundance.  Kiwis (the people) are passionate about the environment and especially their bird population.  Our guide pointed out many species, including ducks which nest in tree tops.

Fiordland, we learned, has 200 rain days per year, dumping between six to eight meters of water each year. During our Doubtful Sound cruise, we experienced some of that rain. But it not dampen the spirits of those on board who wanted to try sea kayaking.  After our miserable failure with this sport which plunged us into the icy sea (see previous post: Misadventures in New Zealand), we stayed safe and dry on board.

During our cruise through this remote and romantic fiord, we saw penguins, seals and dolphins.  We marveled at haunting dark skies and fantastic cloud formations.

A different but exciting boat ride ended our Fiordland visit. We boarded a speedy jet boat on the Upper Waiau River to Lake Manapouri.  From our craft we boarded a float plane – tricky to get on this plane which was bobbing in the water – for a thrilling aerial view of the stunning countryside.

Rudyard Kipling called Milford Sound “the eighth wonder of the world” I think the same could be said for all of Fiordland.

For more on Fiordland, see http://www.fiordland.org.nz

Watch the slide show below for more outstanding scenery.  For summer grilling, try my old standby: Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Mustard Cream Sauce.  See the Recipe list on the right.

If you’d like to read more of my tales and adventures, click on “Email Subscription” at top right of post.  Comments are welcome.  Click “Leave a Reply” 

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Meandering around Melbourne

This was the best part of our visit to Australia.  It’s all due to the warm and generous hospitality of our friends Meg and Brendan Downie who took great pains to show us the sights and treat us to excellent meals and superb wines, not to mention comfortable accommodations at their attractive home in Donvale outside the city.

We met Meg and Brendan years ago when we lived in Germany where we were members of the Porsche Club.   I had a Porsche 944 (considered by many not to be a real Porsche), but it was my baby, my pride and joy, which I drove for 17 happy years.  Brendan had both a Porsche 356 and 911.  He still has these, and a 1936 Ford.  Attendance at a Porsche event was a highlight of our visit.

Plus, a spectacular drive through the Mornington Peninsula, the Yarra Valley, a visit to an animal sanctuary, an aborigine art gallery and more.

During a visit downtown, I had the opportunity to talk to John McGaw, senior business development manager with Destination Melbourne.  “I’ve worked in the tourism and wine industry for years,” he said.  “I’ve lived in Syndey, Adelaide and now Melbourne.  I prefer Melbourne.  It’s such a friendly city.  Everything is easy here…We’re a shopping and dining capital.”    The city has 80 different kinds of ethnic restaurants, he pointed out.

According to John, Melbourne, a city of almost four million, was just voted “the world’s most livable city.”  “It’s as safe a city as you’ll find anywhere,” he boasted.   Tourism is important to the multi-cultural city, with China considered the largest future market, followed by India.  Then there’s Greece.  John said that Melbourne has the second largest population of Greeks after Greece.  “They’ve been coming here for 40 years.”  The city’s Greek Quarter, as well as Chinatown, is fun to visit.  For Vietnamese fare, there’s Victoria Street lined with noodle shops and grocery stores.

The downtown is lively, vibrant, with street entertainers, hucksters, and plenty to admire, including 50 shopping arcades, the oldest, the Black Arcade, dating to 1892.  John recommended we visit an old world Victorian tea shop whose window was filled with luscious pastries.   The place is so popular, we had to stand in line to wait for a seat.

Federation Square is an innovative mix of glass and steel structures with shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars — and the venue for some 2,000 events every year.  Docklands on Victoria Harbor offers more shopping and dining opportunities.  The Queen Victoria Market is food paradise.  Meg and Brendan shop there every Saturday, visiting favorite stands for fruits and veggies, as well as delis and bakeries.

Within just 90 minutes of the city center, stunning scenery awaits.  We made many photo stops on our drive through the Mornington Peninsula. The Yarra Valley, a wine growing region, is also picturesque with wineries where you can stop to taste fine chardonnays, pinot noirs and more.  Our drives took us though areas devastated by the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 which ravaged southeastern Australia   —— past slope after slope of still barren trees.

Wildlife is a major attraction in Australia. Meg took time from her duties as ward councilor for a visit to friend  Neil Abbott, a jovial farmer with 100 acres where 70 – 80 kangaroos usually hang out.  As luck would have it, the beasts were missing the day we visited.  The day before there had been a major fire drill with helicopters hovering over the area.  The noise drove the kangaroos away, but we did spot one or two during a tour with Neil in his four-wheel drive vehicle  through the hilly terrain.   And, we learned about kangaroos.

“The aborigines used to eat them.  The dingoes (Australian wild dog) used to eat them.  But now they have no natural enemies,” Neil said.  So, they proliferate and become pests, destroying trees and fences.  They sharpen their claws on the tree bark.  “Their claws are longer than your finger,” he explained.   Some people shoot them, but this is an outrage.  “People are up in arms about those who shoot our national emblem,” he said.  He can no longer farm due to the kangaroo population on his land, but he won’t shoot the animals.

“The kangaroos are a wild animal.  They should be in the bush.  It’s cruel to have them in these areas where they are chased by dogs, where they ruin fences, and are a danger to cars and people… I believe there are a lot of accidents, people killed, veering to avoid hitting a kangaroo,” he said.

During our drive through his farm, Neil said he had a surprise for us.  He knew where a wombat lived and would take us there.  He got out and went ahead down a hill.  “Be quiet…he’s here,” he told us.  We crept behind, me with camera ready.  Voila, I focused on a furry brown head.  Wait, something seemed amiss. It did not move. It looked a bit suspicious.  No wonder.  It was a stuffed wombat Neil had buried under leaves – a joke he often plays on naïve visitors.

We saw more wildlife on a visit to the Healesville Sanctuary where demonstrations and lectures on the various critters are scheduled throughout the day.    The Koalas drew big crowds.

Colin McKinnon is another friend Meg took us to visit.  His Mia Mia Gallery features an amazing collection of beautiful aboriginal art.  The gallery is owned by aborigines, and the profits are returned to aborigine communities.  Colin, himself an aboriginal artist, explained the symbolism of many of the intricate and colorful works, and he generously gave me a print which now hangs in our living room, a treasured souvenir of our memorable visit to Melbourne.

More on the Mia Mia Gallery at www.miamiagallery.com

More on Melbourne at www.destinationmelbourne.com.au

More on the Healesville Sanctuary at www.zoo.org.au

For more views of Melbourne and surroundings, watch the following slideshow.  For a taste of  Greece, whose  influence is prominent in  Melbourne, try Meg’s Baklava, recipe in column at right.

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