Sun Feb 22 2009: Fiords!
I think it's me They're after.
Everywhere I've ridden this last year, it's rained non-stop: Toronto. Clear across Canada. And now New Zealand.
Good thing we can a-fiord rain gear...
Today we're riding to Milford Sound to catch a glimpse of New Zealand's famous fiords. The ride out there was wet, wet, cold and wet, but all the brochures say that the best time to see the fiords are when it is raining. Sounds like something a real estate agent would say to a client (Sorry, Addy)... Milford Sound is about 120 kms north of Te Anau, and it takes us about an hour and a half of winding roads, up through the Fiordland National Park towards the west coast. Along the way, we ride through dense forests, some flatlands and then past large, grey mountains with many waterfalls of all sizes running down their steep faces. Maybe this all rainfall isn't a bad thing for the scenery after all.
Riding through the Eglinton Flats, past low-lying clouds, on the way to Milford Sound
Our morning ride also consisted of dense forests. Camera is starting to complain about the rain
It's around here that my point-and-shoot digital camera gives up the ghost, because of all the rain water that I've exposed it to on this ride. It's put me in sort of a foul mood for the rest of the ride to Milford Sound because this is the 3rd digital camera we've destroyed in the last 18 months. 2 of them in the last 30 days, the last one on a snowboarding vacation. How did digital cameras become a wear item? Gonna have to go shopping tomorrow for another one. :(
Self-portrait of me with some of the rainfall-induced waterfalls against
the rocks behind me. I only include this photo here because it's the last
picture my camera took before it Kakapo'd. Kakapo is a Maori term for
"gone to the birds". It really is. Google it...
The scenery only got better though, despite my mood. The turning point came when we stopped for a few minutes at a traffic light at the entrance of a forbidding dark hole set against a steep mountain face. It looked like something out of a Road Runner cartoon, and the inside of the tunnel is so black, you half-wonder if you'll ride smack into a painting, Wile E. Coyote-style. While we were waiting, a large bird with a shark hooked beak came to rest a few metres away from me. We were warned about these Kea birds. Very curious and not at all shy, they love pecking away at anything soft, include motorcycle seats and boots. I tried my best to wave my arms to shoo it away, but all I did was make it more curious about this epileptic human with two wheels sitting on delicious rubbery upholstery...
This is an archive photo of a Kea. I would have taken a picture of the one
outside the Homer Tunnel myself, if my camera hadn't Kakapo'd. This thing
was eyeing my boot salaciously.
The light finally changed and we were rid of the Kea. Only to be plunged into the darkest tunnel I've ever ridden through. WTF? New Zealanders can't afford lights for their tunnels? The Homer Tunnel runs for over 1 km slightly downhill towards the west coast and the the sparse overhead lighting is insufficient to see just how slippery the tunnel's road surface is from all the rain water that leaks in from the mountain above. We had been advised to let cars go ahead of us because their tail and brake lights are stronger than the tunnel's overhead lighting!
The other side of the Homer Tunnel.
When we finally emerged on the other side, it was like entering some kind of fantasy world. There are many things that you just don't see in any other place, kind of like the otherworldly orange-colored arches of rock in Utah. This was exactly like that. Hundreds of waterfalls, from large spouts to tiny rivulets, ran down almost all the mountain faces surrounding us! It was hard to navigate the steep switchbacks into the valley below without your gaze being taken away by the breathtaking spectacle of rainwater running down rocks all around you.
Another view of the other side of the Homer Tunnel. Imagine this all around you on all sides!
About 20 kms later, we ended up in Milford Sound looking out into the Tasman Sea. If we travelled a couple of thousand kms west, we would have hit the south coast of Tasmania. Milford Sound is a fiord that is world-renowned for it's natural beauty. It is often pictured with it's peaks in the mist, due to the year-round wet weather the southwest receives. Today was no different. To really appreciate it's grandeur, you must see it from the water. Which we did. We hopped on a ship that took us on a two hour tour (not a three-hour tour) out the harbour of Milford Sound and partways into the Tasman.
View of the fiords from Milford Sound
The ship that took us out into the sea. To our right is Mitre Peak, the most photographed peak in the country.
View from the ship. Neda looks eager.
Just in case it ever comes up in a cocktail conversation: Fiords = New Zealand, Fjords = Norway, Fords = Found On Road Dead
Motorcycle raingear doubles quite handily as Fiordlands raingear
The only thing feeding these waterfalls is the sheer amount of rainfall that this part of the world receives.
Milford Sound is one of the wettest parts of the world.
There is no topsoil on these rocks. The vegetation is held together by an interlocking
system of roots that climb up the face of the mountain. Eventually, as the plants and trees
grow too large and heavy, they fall off the rockface, taking down all the other interconnected
plants in what's called a Tree Avalanche.
Then a giant Saint Bernard digs you out with a box of Neo-Citran around his neck.
"Too close for cannons, I'm switching to muskets!"
A couple of things to note today. The traffic light at the Homer Tunnel is the first one we've seen in a few days. Because of the low volume of traffic and system of roundabouts, there are actually very little stoplights outside of major city centres. You could actually ride for over a thousand kms around the perimeter of the island without ever having to put a foot down if the traffic was right! Other thing is, New Zealand sandflies suck! Literally! Every time we dismounted off our bikes to go hiking or sightseeing, these tiny, blood-sucking buggers would swarm in the hundreds around anything not covered in motorcycle raingear. So in defense, we Deet the hell out of our hands, face and neck and from then on, eveything smells like Deet including the food we eat. Now I know how Deet works. I wouldn't want to bite into anything drenched in that Kakapo either...
Bikes against the backdrop of mountains bleeding rainwater. Neda is hooded up against the sandflies.
Okay, for today, the rain made for an awesome display at Milford Sound, but seriously, enough is enough...
Found in the washroom of the Milford Sound Cafe. The guy with the sharpie from the Haast Visitor Centre sure gets around...