From Scotland to Jurassic Park
25.03.2015 - 28.03.2015
Forgetting my worries about money for a while, I got on the bus which would take us around the most southern parts of New Zealand - called Deep South. This 3-day trip took us over Dunedin, Catlins , Invercargill, and through Milford Sound back to Queenstown. Leaving Queenstown helped to forget the monetary issues which I should be thinking of, but wasn't so I could enjoy my three days.
First, we drove back the way to Lake Wanaka, only to turn in Cromwell following the Clutha River. It's slowed down by the massive Clyde Dam. Massive at least for New Zealand. We stopped in Clyde for some food, meat pie as usual.
Our next stop before we got to our hostel was Baldwin Street. With a slope of almost 35%, it's the world's steepest street according to the Guinness Book off World Records. As we climbed up the street more than walked, a truck tried to back up backwards up into a driveway. We watched how he miserably failed multiple times before he finally gave up while almost killing the engine. So yeah, Baldwin Street is pretty steep.
In Dunedin where we spent one night, we spent the day checking out some of the famous sights in town. The name Dunedin comes from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Dunedin is also known as the most Scottish city outside Scotland. Walking around town, we saw the influence of the Scots and checked out central station, the First Church of Otago and the Dunedin Town Hall. On a weekend and if we had more time, we would also have gone out and experienced the fine pubs we heard off so much before. But we had a great night at the hostel anyways.
We had numerous stops on our way around the Deep South and to Invercargill where we wanted to be at the end of the day.
The rugged mountain ranges made place for lush native forests and spectacular coastlines. One of them we got to see near the township of Kaka Point. The Nugget Point Lighthouse sits resolutely at the end of a long stretch of coastline. Nearby, elevated enough so the waves don't do too much damage, is a small pool of water which serves as a kindergarten for seals. The view was spectacular and we enjoyed the stiff breeze around our noses. Hard to believe that Antarctica is closer than 4800 kilometers from there.
As we traveled along, we stopped at Tautuku Bay for a beach walk. At that time, a sea lion colony was relaxing on the beach. They are still wild animals and our driver ensured that we do not get to close to them. Especially the males were kind of huge and can be quite aggressive when feeling threatened. On our way back to the bus, all of the sudden two sea lions cut off a few members of our group and caused some turmoil.
Continuing our way to Invercargill, the next stop was a bush walk in the Catlins Forest Park. Situated off the beaten track, the McLean Falls Walk led along the Tautuku River. It passes through a variety of forest and shrub types and huge tree fuchsia. We arrived at the lower section of McLean Falls after a pleasant twenty minute walk through the scenic rainforest. Everything here from large boulders to tree branches was covered in moss. A little bit further into the forest, the upper falls were giving a spectacular view with its 22 meters.
For our last quick stop before Invercargill, we paused at Curio Bay. There, we could have seen a nesting site for New Zealand’s unique Yellow Eyed Penguin, unfortunately we weren't that lucky though. However, from the viewpoint on top of the cliffs, we had a spectacular view on wild waves crashing onto the cliffs. Our driver said that we also might get the chance of seeing seals and sea lions enjoying a well deserved rest. And that time, we actually had luck. Right in front of us in the middle of the Curio Bay campground there was a seal enjoying the little bit of sun that we had that day. Walking down from the cliffs a bit further, a remarkable natural phenomenon was located. A fossil forest is exposed on the tidal platform and in the sea cliffs at Curio Bay and dates back to the Jurassic Period. The fossilized trees we saw there were alive around 180 million years ago, when New Zealand was part of the Gondwanaland super continent. We were told that silica has replaced the entire woody structure of the trees and rendered them extremely resistant to erosion. Thus they withstand the action of the sea much longer than the surrounding rocks and are exposed in relief by the erosion. It was pretty cool to walk among a 180 million old forest. Beyond the safety parameter, there was even a TV crew shooting some New Zealand outdoor adventure show with an apparently famous host which I can't remember though.
Leaving the fossil forest and Curio Bay behind us, we were finally directly heading to Invercargill. The city is one of the southernmost cities in the world and with around 50,000 people it's also the capital of Murihiku (the tail end of the land). Invercargill shares Dunedin's origin as a mainly Scottish city and many streets in the city, especially in the center and main shopping district, are named after rivers from mainly Scotland. As things turned out, we hadn't had much of a chance to experience much of the city as it was raining buckets - almost like we were in Scotland. So, we stayed in the kitchen/lounge and just had a great time as a group.
We headed out of Invercargill nice and early so we could meet up with the Milford Explorer which would take us around Milford Sound later that day. The way there was truly scenic! A quick stop at Mirror Lakes, along Eglington Valley and through Homer Tunnel.
While driving through Homer Tunnel, our guide made the bus ride a bit more interesting by playing the Mission Impossible song, since the tunnel had no lights so we drove through entire darkness. Everyone was thrilled by this. Upon exiting the tunnel, the music switched to another famous theme song - Jurassic Park. And looking out of the window surely was like entering Isla Nublar. The rugged, steep mountain sides surrounding us and the forest right next to the street made us all feel like we were just put back in time. On top of that, our driver said that when it rains heaps and heaps of waterfalls come down the slopes and turns this valley into the valley of 1000 waterfalls. We even spotted the rare Kea bird on a nearby parking spot. Unfortunately, the closest we got to see any kind of animal let alone dinosaur.
Milford Sound is the most northerly of the fjords in Fiordland National Park. It occupies the trunk portion of a formerly glaciated valley system cut deeply below the surrounding mountains. The mountains rise to heights of 1800m above sea level and it offered such a spectacular fjord scenery.
The boat took us too various waterfalls and approached so close we got sprinkled by the spray. The ride was relaxing and offered heaps of amazing views. Once we got out of the sound and into the Tasmanian Sea we slowed down for a chance to spot dolphins, but we couldn't see any. The majesty and wilderness of Fiordland was definitely priceless.
We then continued back to Queenstown. All in all, the Deep South and Milford Sound trip had been an incredible adventure with heaps of scenic locations and hours of good times with the small group we were.