Monday, 15 February 2010

New Zealand Day 3 – Lake Te Anau & Milford Track

Today we'd booked seats on the daily ferry from Te Anau to the starting point of the Milford Track, a 3 day / 4 night walk that runs 54km from the head of Lake Te Anau into Milford Sound. It's one of NZ's most popular walks and if I'd had my way, we'd have been doing it! But as K is still hampered by a bad back, the concept of carrying gear and food all that way wasn't popular with him, and as I hate walking in groups, the concept of paying thousands of dollars for the guided tour option where they carry all your gear, wasn't popular with me! So we settled for simply doing a day walk along the first part of the track and back, before getting the ferry back at the end of the day.

The ferry trip takes around an hour and it was a real highlight of our time in NZ. In the morning, the clouds were still sitting around the surrounding mountains like fluffy shawls on their shoulders, the air was crisp and fresh and the lake was incredibly still and calm. On the return trip, the weather had picked up slightly but it was still a beautiful trip.

The walk itself was mostly shaded and meandered along the side of the river that feeds into Lake Te Anau, with only a slight ascent and stunning views up to the mountains on either side of the valley. This whole area was formed during the last ice age with the onset and then retreat of huge glaciers chundering down from the mountains that have been formed over millions of years by volcanic activity. The speed of the glaciers here was apparently faster than most, which is why the sides of the valleys are so steep, and where they retreated, there left behind channels which became huge and fast rivers which flow into the lakes and, on the other side of the mountains, into the sea. This part of the world gets a lot of rain and apparently Lake Te Anau can rise by up to a metre in just 24 hours thanks to all the rain flowing down from the mountains along the riverbeds of glacial debris (you can tell I paid attention to the commentary on the ferry!)

We walked in for about 5.5 miles and then turned back, with a brief stop by the river for lunch. Only later did we realise that sandflys are a major hazard in these parts! Well, when I say 'we'....for some reason K's blood is far more attractive to any form of bloodsucking and biting creature than mine is (haven't tested this theory with vampires mind you) which means that he tends to get savaged by mosquitoes, midges and, now we realise, sandflys, while I barely get nibbled. He ended up with 30 bites – and I got none! Oops...

Anyway, it was a good long walk and although fairly flat, my feet were aching by the end of the 11 miles. We'd been told that the lake was great for swimming in and although we hadn't brought our stuff, we plunged in in our walking gear anyway. A perfect way to end the walk!

After the boat trip back, a quick shower and a quick bite to eat (pizza and salad, yum), we then headed off on the evening's activity – a trip round Te Anau Glowworm Caves. Although the 'guided tour' element of this was a bit tortuous (I just hate being prodded from place to place like a sheep), the glowworms themselves were very impressive. The tour involves wandering through the caves and then finally getting into a little boat and being guided into the pitch black of the caves where you see thousands of glowworms doing their thing – glowing, that is.

Interesting glowworm fact learned – after feeding for several months (the glow attracts insects which then get caught in stringy mucus and eaten), the glowworm then does the butterfly/moth thing and morphs into a fly. But the fly they become has no mouth, so can't feed, so only lives long enough to mate as much as possible (well if you can't eat, you might as well have sex) before dropping dead. Seems like a bit of a design flaw to me, but hey, they're very pretty while they're glowworms!

So, fully informed about glowworms, we headed home with an amazing sky full of stars overhead to keep us company. I even saw a shooting star!

Link to photos in top right corner of blog home page.

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