Thursday 26 January 2012

Eels, Kayaks, Rain and Fish

I have been nestled at the bottom of the world for a few days now and only because of a study start date looming am I inclined to leave. I made it to Queenstown after a fantastic flight showcasing the beautiful mountain ranges the South Island has on offer.

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound
Not so common although not shocking was the large amount of fresh snow lying on the mountain tops as a result of the cool southerly recently whipping the country. I could hear the murmuring of the Aussie tourists on the plane taking in the view and wondering out loud if the summer weight jumper they brought with them was going to suffice.

I would find it particularly difficult to explain how I feel when I set foot back in Aotearoa so I shall not try as I am sure any returning person has the same butterflies in their stomach when arriving home. Through all of the 28 countries I have traveled some have been flat and some have been mountainous, some have great ocean views and others have large warm lakes. Despite this I could not help but be a giddy school boy when I set out towards Te Anau even throwing an old school fist pump as I mounted Doris (who for some reason did not go back together nearly as well as she came apart in Melbourne). Making it as far as Athol, camp was no more than a farmers field just off the road and it is fair to say it was one of the coldest nights I have had in a long while.

Enjoying Doubful Sound on a cruise boat
There was snow again on the surrounding hills and the valley were Athol resides is a bucket for cold air where even my intense shivering would not warm up the sleeping bag. A quick glance at the temperature gauge just after 8am suggested it was no more than 4 deg so it was no wonder my toes were painfully red in my open toed sandals. Stopping for breaky in Mossburn did not help the cause as my breath was more visible in the cafĂ© than it had been outside, I can hear a big cheer for Europe’s double glazed windows and central heating as I write this.

It became apparent very quickly there has been a lack of rain in the south. With the fire rating at extreme, the grass looked more like what I had come to expect in Australia than the lush green I know here. I was later told of the 4-5 week stretch of amazing sunshine the farmers had been enduring in this neck of the woods, and saw it for myself as I crossed Lake Manapouri en route to Doubtful Sound as the trees on the lakes edge had turned a rusty brown for lack of water.

Paddling in the rain
As luck would have it the second wettest place in the whole world did not disappoint with 2 inches of precipitation falling over a couple of hours and a wicked wind racing down the Fiord clocked at just over 70 knots, which we enjoyed over a hot chocolate with chocolate fish aboard the Patea Explorer. KT (the kayaking guide) deciding it was a bit sporty to get amongst. Fortunately the wind abated and the rain eased for a paddle in this land of shadows the following morning before we returned to Te Anau for fish and chips on the lake front bathed in beautiful sunshine, another wonder of this spectacular area.

Long finned eels out of lake Te Anau
A friend of mine who once took me up Mitre Peak in Milford Sound suggested we use the strong wind to have a sail on the lake. Although it was sunny there had been another shift in the wind and it was now racing from the North West down the mountains and across the lake. Sounding like a good idea I was given a crash course in sailing as our boat listed to a point where we lost the wind over the top of the sail. When some sizeable waves began to crash over the bow we decided we had endured enough and set a course for home and a bbq on the hill overlooking the lake.

Never one to miss out on the chance for an adventure KT had the truck packed and ready to go one evening, telling me we were off for an eel. Taking our sleeping bags down to where the Upakaroa river meets Lake Te Anau we caught two large slimy eels (one speared and one on a hand line) under a million stars slowly becoming engulfed by another front coming from the south.
KT Awesome with a Jock Stewart
We never made it through the night however, the imminent rain had us racing to get to the house back in town before everything went pear shaped. Still, it was a successful eel adventure. More successful than the following days fishing in Doubtful Sound with Billy, the Deep Cove hostel manager. A few hours on a line and we had a barracuda on board with a small shark and a number of Jock Stewarts thrown back to the sea gods for someone else to deal with. Than night billy cooked us a feed of crayfish and chicken. I could not believe it, not crayfish again!! And we all slept soundly to the sounds of weka picking through the undergrowth for grubs and the shrill squark of keas in the Beach Trees nearby.
Doubtful sound

Unfortunately another front will be coming through this afternoon on this my intended day of departure and as I sit here in bed looking at the rain hit the window and the wind raking branches across the tin roof I may well remain here and hope for a better day tomorrow for which to continue my adventure north. I will be heading to Queenstown then over the Crown range to Wanaka and towards the Gates of Haast and head north along the West coast road. As yet I do not know the final few days route into Nelson but I have plenty of thinking time before I need to make that decision.

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