Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fiordland: Mirror Lakes, Cascade Creek Nature Walk, Homer Tunnel

After our night at DOC's Henry Creek campsite, we kept heading up Route 94/Milford Road with the ultimate destination of Milford Sound, where we planned to take a boat ride to check out the fiord.

We made a couple stops along the way, though.

First we just pulled to the side of the road for this pretty valley view:

And to take photos of this crazy fog/low lying cloud blanketing the valley floor:

The we popped over to the Mirror Lakes viewpoint (DOC calls it a walk, but it barely constitutes a walk in my mind), which has a cool reflective views of the Earl Mountains:

After that, we popped by the Lake Gunn nature walk, because we hadn't had enough moss and ferns the day before...  Tim did some bird watching:

It was extra mossy here... sometimes the moss-covered downed trees started to look like a menagerie of weird green animals:

Macro moss shot:

Lake Gunn:

Sunny selfie:

As we continued driving up towards Milford Sound, there were countless viewpoints for looking around... here's one:

At some points we were just surrounded by clouds:

After these stops, it was time to tackle the Homer Tunnel, which is quite a creepy one-way tunnel through the mountain on the only road to the Milford Sound.  It was dark, wet, and claustrophia-inducing, for sure:

After the tunnel, we were pretty much at Milford Sound... more on that coming soon!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fiordland: Kepler Track

After our Queenstown adventures, we drove further south and west toward Fiordland.  Fiordland is, as its name suggests, rife with fiords (or fjords, if you're Scandanavian), long, steep-sided, U-shaped valleys carved out by glaciers.  Many of the fiords in Fiordland are either very deep lakes or seawater-filled "sounds."  Fiordland is also know for its temperate rainforest, snow-capped mountains and more waterfalls than you can imagine in one place.  It's some pretty dramatic scenery, as you'll see from my next few posts.


Our first stop in Fiordland is right outside of the gateway town, Te Anau.  The title of this post is a bit deceptive: we didn't do the entire Kepler Track... that would take several days. The Kepler Track is one of NZ's Great Walks, a series of beautiful hiking/trekking paths throughout the country.  We just did the first portion of the Kepler Track, from the trail head/car park out to Brod Bay, a pretty forest hike skirting around the shores of Lake Te Anau.

Lots and lots and lots of ferns (there's a reason why the fern is New Zealand's icon!):

Also: literally everything was covered in a layer of thick, spongy, bright green moss:

Lake Te Anau:

Don't eat the berries:

Creepy but cool-looking mushroom/fungus:

More ferns:

Light through yonder trees breaks:

After our hike was up, we kept driving further into Fiordlands National Park to find a campsite for the night.  The camping in the park is pretty much limited to basic DOC campsites, and we found a lovely one, Henry Creek.  So pretty!  It's right on Lake Te Anau:

We parked our chairs right on the beach (using the trees as a bit of a wind break- it was quite windy that night!), drank some wine, and when it got dark enough, lay on the beach to check out the stars.  The stars were absolutely amazing... it helps that while in Fiordland, you are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, near absolutely minimal artificial light.

The wind was calmer in the morning, so the lake was much glassier:

Also, for those curious, here's a view of the inside of our camper van, with the bed folded up (you lay boards between the two bench seats and spread the cushions out to make the bed) and the dining table out and set for dinner.  We had salmon that night (we bought pre-marinated/pre-grilled local salmon steaks at the grocery store so all we had to do was warm them up on the gas stove... worked out perfectly and tasted great!):