We decided to head to Te Anau (pronounced either tay-AH-now or tay-AH-nee-ow – no pause, run it all together) – this is way out toward the southwest corner of the South Island, over by Fjordland. As much as we liked Dunedin, we needed to move along and explore other parts of the South Island. And everyone says Milford Sound and Doubtful Bay, some of the fjords, are amazing.
So we headed south and west and then vaguely west-northwest – our route (for our friends who are following on maps) was Dunedin to Balclutha to Gore (actually, first through Clinton – really, there are two towns on State Highway 1, Clinton and Gore) to Lumsden and on to Te Anau.
The diversity of topography in this country is amazing. We started in the fairly dry plains along the Pacific Coast, which continued inland for a while. This turned into rolling green hills and farms, fields filled with crops or just grass and the ubiquitous sheep and cows – New Zealand at its bucolic best. And then mountains in the distance, with snow in the crevasses and peaks hidden in clouds.But this picture-perfect bucolic paradise has swollen rivers ready to overflow their banks, and lakes flooding their perimeters, because it’s been an extremely rainy summer. In some areas, campers have been evacuated, and owners of permanently-situated caravans and tents have been moving their caravans to save them from the floods. Roads have washed out, bridges flooded, highways closed due to landslides. Fortunately, we found none of that on our route – we managed to avoid any of the roads with problems. We also somehow managed to avoid driving over any mountains, which is a good thing since our little rental Daihatsu has zero power on uphills – our route took us between mountain ranges, we only had a few rolling foothills to conquer.
So we drove past beautiful scenery, stopping every hour or so for a stretch and just to walk around a town garden, find a drink, check out a restroom. Some of the towns are the blink-and-its-gone kind; some are so small they don’t even show up on the maps. But there were interesting little places: one with a collection of vintage cars, including a Ford Model A; another with a mural painted on a building off the main road; and my favorite, a small church named the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church. Just rural New Zealand.
We arrived in Te Anau about 6 PM, and found our hotel – we’re about one block up from Lake Te Anau, which is so far beyond its usual boundaries that trees and picnic tables and the entire boardwalk around town are all knee-deep in the lake. This is the largest lake in the South Island, some sixty kilometers (48-50 miles) long and I’m guessing 2 or 3 miles wide – can you imagine how much water it takes to overfill a lake so that it is maybe six to ten feet beyond its banks? That is a LOT of water!
The town of Te Anau is on the south-eastern side of the lake; the other side of the lake is the Fjordland National Park, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. We look across to the mountains which tower over this little town set on the plains – they are huge, because we see the entire mountain, from ground level to peak. And somehow they look even bigger because they’re also reflected in the crystal clear lake.
We have a few days here, to explore the town and area, to book a trip to one of the fjords, and we hope to not encounter any of the torrential rain the area has been experiencing. Today was sunny and beautiful, and we’re hoping the weather stays decent for our few days here. The forecast is for rain on Wednesday, so we should be okay.
Jan. 13, 2013
I am thrilled – we just booked an overnight cruise through Doubtful Bay, one of the largest fjords – so large, it has various sub-fjords (baby fjords?) all along its length, all the way out to the sea. Plus seals, dolphins, crested penguins, sea otters – so exciting!!!! YAY!!! This is a splurge that we didn’t really plan to spend, but we may never be here again and this is what traveling is all about – seeing new places, experiencing new things, trying new foods, seeing new animals and geographies and all that. So that’s the plan – leave our stuff in the luggage room of our hotel, go on the overnight cruise and have fun, then come back to the hotel for Tuesday night and head out on Wednesday.
Last night apparently we had a big thunderstorm, which I slept through. Today dawned warm and sunny, we’re enjoying the weather. There was some kind of swim meet in the lake, with swimmers in wetsuits because it’s so cold in the water – the lake is deep, as deep as the low mountains (4200 feet at the deepest point) and fed by glaciers and snowmelt from the mountains. COLD!
Te Anau is a cute little town, nothing special about the architecture, but they do seem to specialize in giant statues of animals. I can’t decide if I prefer the takahe (related to a pukeko), or the rainbow trout. Both just make me laugh, because these are animals that are barely a foot long and the statues are over six feet tall – just funny.
Anyway, we’re both excited about the cruise. We’ll have lots of stories and photos, I’m sure – stay posted!