New Zealand 2011 - Mick & Vik's "Barbie-Bus" tour of the South Island - Day 2 to Te Anau

Saturday, Apr 02, 2011 at 20:00


2nd April 2011
Te Anau

A late change in plans today saw us zip down and around the south end of the island to reach Te Anau on the shores of the magnificent Lake of the same name.

After a cold evening and night ,it was a late start to the morning getting out of bed around 8:00 a.m. The athletics mob steying at the Big 4 and overrun the kitchen at the Big 4 so we confined ourselves to the mobile Taj Mahal, or "Barbie-Bus" as we're affectionately calling it, for breakfast.

Hitting the road early we pushed south down highway 1 towards Oamaru and Dunedin. Highway 1 follows the narrow strip of alluvial plains wedged between the sea and nearby mountains for most of the journey to Oamaru. 20 kilometres to our west, jagged hills rear skywards while only a kilometre to the east, the blue waters and white caps of the Pacific Ocean stretch away to the horizen. Again the fertile soil supports a booming agricultural industry.The settlement of these areas exploded during the 1850’s and 60’s leading to the development of much infrastructure and clearing of native forests.

We took a good walk around Oamaru, a significant and picturesque town with a broad main street lined with Victorian and Georgian period buildings. One of the main attractions is a colony of fairy penguins that wade ashore each day. Unlike Phillip Island, the show is only a 5 minute drive from the city centre. After a breif stay, we continued south paralleling the rugged coastline towards Palmerston.

The Moeraki Boulders were next on the agenda for us. These stones are unusually large, spherical boulders lying along a stretch of Koekohe Beach on the wave cut Otago coast between Moeraki and Hampden. They occur both as isolated boiulders or in clusters of boulders along a stretch of beach. To prtoect them, ther area has been declared a scientific reserve. The beach is easily accessed from the car park and makes for a very short, pleasant walk along the expanse of white sand. Local Maori legends explained the boulders as the remains of eel baskets, calabashes, and kumara washed ashore from the wreck of an Arai-te-uru, a large sailing canoe. The reality is more about geology. The boulders were formed over millions of years on the sea floor by a layering process similar to the formation of oyster pearls. The seabed was then uplifted and now forms coastal cliffs that have eroded over time allowing the boulders tumbled down onto the beach. In more recent times they have become a popular tourist attraction and a bed & breakfast/cafe now overlooks the site.

At Palmerston, we continued on our coastal route rather than head inland to Ranfurley. As you crest the hills above the town, Dunedin is an impressive sight spread across the low hills below. As the south Islands second largest city, Dunedin was the main landing and transit point for diggers rushing to the gold fields during the 1850’s and the mined wealth heading outwards. As a result, the town grew rapidly to be the principal city of the new country. It remained that way until the end of the century surviving a huge depression in the 1880’s when the gold ran out and the population decreased dramatically. The town encouraged emigration during this period and grew as a result, now supporting the principal universities for the south island.

We had a lunch beside the Clutha River at Balclutha in a picnic area on the northern side of the heritage listed “bow” type bridge. The Clutha River (Mata-Au) is the second longest river in New Zealand flowing 338 kilometres through Central and South Otago from Lake Wanaka in the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean 11 kilometres east of Balclutha. The river featured prominently in the New Zealand gold rushes of the 1870's. It is also the New Zealand’s highest volume and swiftest flowing river. You certainly wouldn’t have to paddle too hard if travelling downstream that’s for sure. What we noticed the most though was the distinct turquoise colour of the waters.

Not too far south at Balclutha, “Highway 1” splits with a scenic route south taking in Invercargill and the southern coast. We headed east to the towns of Clinton and Gore. Now who would have thought that 150 years after they were founded and named, two towns only 35 km apart would end up with their namesakes becoming the elected heads (President and Vice President)of the most powerful nation on earth. That incredible coincidence has led to the stretch of road between the two towns being named “The Presidential Highway”. You can’t possibly deny the kiwis a sense of humour (if not irony).

The town of Te Anau nestles serenely against the shore of the lake. It’s a tourist destination serving the hordes that come to visit Milford Sound and Fjordlands. The Top 10 Tourist park is only a short walk from town (2 minutes) and very well set up. The amenities block is brand new and the camp kitchen, one out of the box. We visited the tourist centre on the way in and booked a couple of cruises. The first was to the glow worm caves leaving at 7.00 p.m. tonight and the second was a 2 hour scenic cruise on Milford commencing at 11.00 a.m., tomorrow. This was bound to be complicated by the return to local standard times from daylight saving as I always manage to do.

Dinner was snags and salad. It had been relatively warm when we arrived but the temperature dipped quickly forcing us inside pretty quickly. We rugged up for our boat trip and were glad we did. The largish catamaran took on only 24 passengers for the trip so we were lucky that there were plenty of seats to go around. The big cat made light work of the dark waters of the Lake cruising the the western shore line and through East Cove and the Dome Islands into the southern fjord before cruising north for 30 minutes to the glow worm cave. On arrival there, it was dusk and we were divided into two groups and ushered into the caves.

In Kiwi, Te Anau Caves means “caves of rushing waters”. It is a place of subterranean waterfalls, rapids and whirlpools. This cave has been formed by the underground stream aptly named Tunnel Burn Stream. The trail winds through the caves crossing the rushing waters and is suitably impressive. To the Moari, the 14 km long cave system is culturally and ecologically important. It was discovered in 1948 by Lawson Burrows, who found the upper entry after three years of searching, following clues in old Maori legends.

By geological standards the caves are very young (12,000 years) and are still being carved out by the force of the river that flows through them. The result is a twisting network of limestone passages filled with sculpted rock, whirlpools and a roaring underground waterfall. The only section open to the public is the lowest. A series of walkways protects the environment but you are often forced to double over or duck in the more cloistered sections.

Deep inside the caves, beyond the roar of the water, we boarded a small punt that is manually pulled along by the guide in total darkness. Because the caves are so conductive to any noise, the boat ride is conducted in silence. Now maintaining silence is always going to be hard for Vik and I give her due credit for lasting a lot longer than even I expected....exactly 1.15 seconds before she had to speak. Crammed into a tiny punt we were suffering somewhat as one of our Asian neighbours had consumed far too much garlic. We were lucky the little blighters didn’t die from the fumes! In total darkness we were led through the cavern with the numbers of glow worms increasing until you could almost imagine you were looking at a starry nighttime sky.

After the cave experience, we were shown an explanatory video back at the visitors centre and then it was on to the boat for the ride home through the inky blackness of a cloudy New Zealand night. It was very chilly by the time we got back to the van so the heater was cranked up immediately.

With no cameras allowed in the Te Anau caves, I found this Youtube video which gives a good look at the area on a nice day (Just ignore the advertising at the end lol)

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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