22 November 2020
Today is the first day of the tour and our group meeting isn’t until 10.00 and it is 3C outside and still windy so I opt for a leisurely breakfast. We meet our tour leader Si and the rest of the group in the lobby. It is nice to have fellow NZers in the group – Si says that in 13 years of leading trips, he had previously only had 3 NZers in his groups. All except 1 of us are from Auckland. There are 10 people on the tour (Jo, Adolf, Andrea, Terry, Bruce, Stuart, David, Anjuka and Angela Rose) – 5 male and 5 female with only one couple.
Our briefing is also leisurely as one person has missed their flight and we need to pick them up at the airport at 11.30. We first head out to Arrowtown for a quick lunch stop before setting out on our main travels for the day. Arrowtown is a pretty little town that originated in the gold rush era and is very popular with photographers, particularly in autumn. Today it is packed with people who had come in for the marathon and/or for the Sunday markets. We literally do a quick circuit, visiting the bakery and ice cream shop, rather than sightseeing. The bakery specialises in pies including a very creative mince bolognese pie.
We head south along Lake Wakatipu, NZ’s 3rd largest lake and shaped like a long lightning bolt. Si says that usually the roads are packed with tourist buses heading towards Milford Sound but today we see only a few other vehicles. It is still grey, cold and windy with passing showers so our photo stops are very brief. Even the beautiful Lake Hayes, famous for its mirror like reflections, is dark brown and very churned up.
We pass through several small farming towns along the way, including a wee break in Mossburn – deer capital of NZ. Our itinerary said that it was a 5 hr drive but in fact it was only a couple of hours through to Te Anau (perhaps they allowed for lots of traffic).
When we arrived in Te Anau, Si had a surprise treat for us – a visit to a bird sanctuary where we saw a pair of takahe with their 2 chicks. We sat and watched for ages while they fed the chicks. Takahe were once thought to be extinct in NZ but then they found some in a remote valley (all male). Thankfully they did find some females in another remote valley and after a breeding programme that included moving them all to predator free islands, there are now around 300 takahe.
We also saw a pair of the endangered Kaka or bush/brown parrot that has beautiful burgundy plumage on its underbelly. The pair also had 4 chicks in a nest that we could view via ‘nest cam’.
We stop in the township to visit supermarket to get lunch for tomorrow before heading slightly out of town to our hotel. Many of the hotels in Te Anau have closed due to COVID and even the one we are staying in is pretty deserted. Some say that it reminds them of the movie ‘The Shining’ but I’m very impressed with the view from my window.
Some of us walk back into the township along the lakefront and then we meet at the Fjordland Cinema that features a film ‘Ata Whenua’ that was created by cameramen who had been filming remote fjordland from the air for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies and realised that there was so much amazing footage that people really should be able to see.
Then we cross the road to The Ranch for our evening meal. Many have the roast lamb but I have a calamari salad as I’m still feeling full from lunch.
Several of us had hoped to visit the Glow Worm Caves but unfortunately they are only running limited trips due to COVID and we couldn’t make the last time they ran.
Join me over the next few days to find out more about my adventures:
Day 2 Queenstown to Te Anau
Day 3 Milford Sound
Day 4 Te Anau to the Catlins
Day 6 Stewart Island
Day 7 Southern Coast
Day 8 Invercargill