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Best. Week. Ever. (Except those bloody sand flies)

The title of this blog entry gives the game away right at the beginning, but any other title would diminish what we feel about the past week. We came to New Zealand with high expectations, and last week, NZ not only delivered, but exceeded. The weather can be described with one word: summer. Describing the landscapes, the ocean, the forests and the mountains, however, require an entire arsenal of superlative adjectives, but quite often defy description. In terms of what natural beauty has to offer, this is as good as it can get, the top - pure poetry.

Let's start in chronological order, as always. After the encounter with the sea lion, we went back to the Otago peninsula the following day. This time it was sunny, and we decided to check out some of the sights, do some walking, and then move on to the south.

Our primary goal was Milford Sound, a fjord in the southwestern Fiordland national park. Instead of going cross-country from Dunedin on the east coast, we decided to drive along the southern coast, an area that is not frequented by many visitors. One of the many highlights was a place called nugget point, essentially a cliff with a lighthouse on top, with a fantastic view that gave it its name.

We stayed the night at a campsite which was right at the edge of not only a fossilized forest (apparently one of the few in the world), but also another penguin colony - this time, we could observe them coming back ashore in the evening without any sea lion hassle. We got up the next morning at 5:30 am to observe them go back to the sea, and indeed saw some more. A penguin's life seems so easy: go fishing in the morning, bring back fish in the evening. Repeat forever.

Although we're both not big fans of neither sunset nor sunrise pictures, this one sums up the feeling of the area quite neatly:

We should mention at this point that the south coast experiences some pretty strong winds which can be quite nasty at times, but in exchange creates some amazing scenery:

Not too far way, we passed Slope Point, the southernmost point of the south island, and for me personally the farthest south I've ever been in my life (Rahel has been further south, in Chile).

We then headed to Milford Sound, our main destination. Milford Sound is the most famous fjord in the New Zealand Fjordland, the southwestern part of the south island and a national park more than half the size of Switzerland. There is only one road in the park, and it goes straight to Milford Sound. The guidebook suggested it was one of the most beautiful roads in the world, and it's hard to disagree. If white-tipped mountains crash into oceans, and a green forest carpet lays itself over valleys created by glaciers, how can a road that winds itself through this scenery not be beautiful? It's about 120 km from Te Anau, the last village outside the park, to Milford Sound, but if you stop at only the most amazing sights it'll still take you almost a day.

We arrived in Milford Sound in the evening and were glad to find a site at the campground right at the fjord. And while we were preparing dinner (why is no one else cooking outside?), in the middle of this breathtaking natural beauty, there it came, not alone, but in dozens, in hundreds, and made it perfectly clear that there are always two sides of a coin, good and evil, beauty and ugliness: the sand fly. When the first Milford Sound sand fly bites off a piece of your flesh, you are simply surprised (what the hell was that?); when the second bites off another piece, surprise becomes annoyance; and when the third one digs its mouth into your skin, panic sets in, because all three bites occurred within a timeframe of maximally 15 seconds which makes you appreciate the scope of the problem. The question of why no one else is cooking outside gets a trivial answer, because you may cook outside, but you are also eaten outside.

The Milford Sound sand fly also makes you appreciate the subtle elegance of a mosquito. I used to hate mosquitos, but now at least I know how much worse it can get. Comparing a Milford Sound sand fly (I keep saying "Milford Sound sand fly" because no other sand fly would want to be associated with the Milford Sound sand fly) to a mosquito is like comparing fine french dining with a burger eating contest. The mosquito flies around, looking for good places to eat, lands at a few spots, mostly unhappy with what it finds ("too hairy! too skinny!"), and once it finds a place for dinner, it introduces its thin, elongated sucking organ gently into your skin, just like you would put a fork and a sharp knife into your perfectly cooked filet mignon. The Milford Sound sand fly, however, lands wherever gravity seems to pull it down, rips off a piece of your flesh wherever it happened to land ("cheesburger? hamburger? who caaaaares?" chump chump chump). If you think we're exaggerating, consider this: according to the Maori creation legend, the great god Tu-to-Rakiwhanoa created the fjordland by slashing his ax into the landscape, working his way up from south to north (as he got further north, his technique improved, and that's why the most beautiful of them, Milford Sound, is found up north). When he finished, the goddess of death, Te-Hine-nui-to-po, came for a visit, and looking at the masterpiece Tu had created, she feared that Milford Sound was so beautiful that humans would want to stay there forever and enjoy themselves, so she created the Milford Sound sand fly to remind humans that they are mortal. How many other creation legends do you know of that feature an insect so prominently?

Anyways, back to the good things. So, we stayed two nights in Milford Sound - the first day we went exploring the forests, rivers and mountains, and the second day, we cruised around the Sound on a boat and enjoyed the scenery. All in all, the Milford Sound is a clear nominee for the most beautiful place on earth ever visited.

After the Sound, we drove back into the mainland of the south island to a place called Queenstown, the self-procclaimed adventure city of NZ, but after what we just had experienced, it seemed like a rather boring version of Disneyland. Arguably, the area has some fine lakes, but still amazed by what we had seen the days before, nothing could compare.


After a small hike around Isengard, we headed north to the west coast to visit some of the famous glaciers. (A classical post-Milford-Sound-conversation between Rahel an me: "I think there's the Fox Glacier." Silence. "Cool." Silence.)

We're now back in Christchurch where we started two weeks ago. We're scheduled for Dolphin swimming in two days, will have another dinner with Jukka & co. and then cross the Cook Strait to the north island.

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Comments (2)

Excellent! I am really glad that you are enjoying it that much. It looks, however, as if you are going to skip Abel Tasman National Park... that would be a big mistake...

simone:

ich kann die faszination sehr gut nachvollziehen. nur nicht die sand flies. fuer die war es zu kalt als ich da war. dafuer hatte ich schnee auf dem sound und nebel. war aber auch sehr charmant.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 21, 2008 10:26 PM.

The previous post in this blog was New Zealand - of biologists, sea lions and penguins.

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