The weather is straight out of Antarctica today. The rain has pelted down all night and the wind whistles every now and then, just to let you know it is there too! We are in Haast on the southwestern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. If we were at home on a day like this I would make soup and we would hunker down in the warm house. But we need to get some breakfast at the nearby restaurant and be on our way in a while. We had hoped to visit several waterfalls along the road to Queenstown today but that is looking less likely in the pouring rain. Apparently this is normal weather for here. You don’t get all this beautiful temperate rain forest without a lot of rain. In fact this area’s annual rainfall ranges between 1500mm (5 feet) and 8000mm (26 feet). We are supposedly here during the more ‘stable’ time of the year, too!
I’m not much of a travel blogger, so I thought I’d just share with you a few of the highlights during the first third of our trip. Sadly, New Zealand is another good example of how humans have screwed up a perfectly wonderful environment and ecosystem. New Zealand was the last major land mass to be settled by humans, the Maori people, about a thousand years ago. The Maoris brought with them cats and dogs. As white inhabitants settled, thanks to Captain Cook’s multiple visits in the mid to late 1700’s, further devastation happened to the old growth forest covering the islands. The sea animals, especially eels, were fished to near completion and many birds are now extinct. The national bird, the Kiwi is almost extinct but there are a number of programs including reestablishing the habitats, that are ongoing.
We took a cruise up north in the Marlborough Sound that was named ‘the mail run’ in Queen Charlotte Sound. It was so named because it is the run that delivers the mail to the inhabitants living in remote parts of the bay, only accessible by boat. At each stop the resident came to meet the boat, usually with a dog in tow and often a few children who waved at us. The Captain had special dog biscuits with him and don’t you think the dogs didn’t know it! They waited, tails wagging, for their treats. Fun for the dogs and good entertainment for the punters!
An important stop on the 4.5 hour cruise, was a place called Ship Cove. This was the exact place where Captain Cook stopped a documented five times on his explorations of this part of the world. Whatever else he was, Cook was a great navigator. To have found this idyllic, protected cove once would have been a good thing, but to be able to find it again, four more times, is nothing more than genius. This area is blessed with ‘old growth’ vegetation and is so dense you can hardly imagine it being much different in Cook’s time. The sound of birds was quite pronounced, and a few Weka came to see if anyone would feed them, and a very cute, wren-like Fantail flitted around me at one stage until I thought it might even land on me! Both birds are natives. But it was on our return trip back to the port of Picton, when we encountered a large pod of bottle nose Dolphins. In this part of New Zealand the dolphins commonly reach a size of four metres, about 13 feet. They were not at all perturbed by our presence and the captain hovered in the area for probably 10 minutes until the pod had passed and swam into the distance. It was truly a memorable experience…all of it.
Much of the original native vegetation has been encouraged to regenerate and one can now drive along for kilometres on roads lined with gorgeous ferns and native trees. One stretch of road on the drive between our overnight destination of Haast, and Jackson Bay, the southernmost settlement on the Southwest Coast of the South Island, was certainly one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop at the section of the drive that was the best, but just near it we stopped and I took a photo so you can have an idea.
At Jackson Bay, there looked to be about six houses. Some enterprising person had brought in a little diner style demountable, painted bright pink and named it the Cray Pot. The rain was teaming down and no place to pull over so I couldn’t get a photo, but imagine the most crisply new and brightly coloured little rectangle overlooking the turbulent sea, and surrounded by the accoutrement of a tiny fishing village, and several very modest homes. The lights were on and it looked quite cheerful and I’m sure it is a favourite place for the locals and also a welcome sight to those who have ventured all the way to that remote point and want a place to stop. Here are a couple of photos taken from the car, looking at the tiny village an its jetty, and also looking out to sea from about where the ‘main street’ of the village would be.
This blog writing from an iPad is less than satisfying and more into cumbersome, possibly due to user ignorance, so I will not try your patience further on this post. I’ll see if I can refine some technique for future mobile postings. The bottom line is, New Zealand is amazing!