We were sad to leave the Catlins, but grateful that some of our city dwelling programming had been successfully rewired early in the trip. We were now relaxed being away from civilization. The problem was that we didn’t know how to go back the other way! Our next intended stop was supposed to be in Bluff, which is one of the oldest European settlements that sits on the very southern tip of the South Island. It is renowned for its oysters and we were just in time to sample the last of the oysters of the winter season, so it seemed worth a stop. We drove there from the Catlins, but just didn’t feel like stopping. I’m sure it’s a nice enough town, but it felt…peopley. We decided to skip it and keep moving to get closer to Te Anau, where we were planning to be the next night.
The aurora had eluded us in Dunedin and the Catlins, and we knew that once we started heading away from the southern tip up the west coast, we were going to lose our chance, so we looked for somewhere where we could have a clear view south on the coast to stay for the night. We picked Riverton, which turned out to be a cute, quiet little town.
We took Xander for a walk along the river to look at the ducks and the boats, and caught a nice sunset in the process.
Kris was trying to get a picture of the ducks, but X-Man photobombed.
There didn’t end up being an aurora that night, but we did get a nice soft glowing moon reflected on the water. It was a short stay in Riverton before we got back on the road again. The campsite we stayed in had a huge family game room filled with board games, musical instruments, and a ping-pong table. We naturally had to play some ping pong, but I’m so bad at it that I made Kris hold the baby and play left-handed. He was still better than me. We started the drive to Te Anau the next morning, but stopped at a rest stop for some lunch and a walk along the stream. Nanny, we are having a disagreement on the correct way to wear this hat. I think it’s supposed to go this way (like bunny ears), but Kris insists it goes sideways (like a mohawk–you’ll see it in later posts). Please confirm that I’m right!
The rest stop had weird canister bathrooms out in the woods. Just in case anyone is thinking about getting up to any funny business, this is the ladies room. No boys allowed.My proper men obey the rules. We made it to Te Anau in time for a walk along the lake to grab some dinner. We were using Te Anau as a staging point to get to Milford Sound, so we stayed there for a night on either end of our stay in Milford. The sunset was gorgeous, and was followed by an equally lovely moonrise. It’s difficult to capture properly in an image. With a longer shutter speed you catch the glow, but lose the spectacular detail of the moon that we could see. With a shorter shutter, you miss the eerie glow but can see the craters of the moon. I couldn’t pick, so here they both are!I will write about Milford separately (because it was amazing!), so the next pictures are after our return to Te Anau. Do we look altered by the mind-blowing beauty we had just seen in Milford?There’s a fantastic bird sanctuary in Te Anau, and X-Man loves few things as much as birds, so we took him to see it. They do a feeding tour with one of the rangers at 9:30 am every day, which I can’t recommend highly enough. It’s free, but they run on donations and suggest donating a few dollars per person. You get to walk through the enclosures with a guide and see the birds up close while they are eating. Our ranger, Catherine, was one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever met. She was the real life Snow White. The animals flocked to her and she radiated warmth.This marks the first time that Xander has stood on his own out in the wild where he doesn’t have anything to hold on to. He was so focused on Wilsie, the paradise shell duck, that he didn’t even seem to realize he was doing it! Wilsie was raised in captivity, so she imprinted on a human, and seems to be genuinely unaware of the fact that she is a duck and not a person. She lords over the duck enclosure, and was indignant that Xander wasn’t feeding her. We caught a quick picture of the Canada geese before Wilsie charged them at ramming speed from across the pond, sending them fleeing in the other direction.The really exciting feature of the bird sanctuary is their takahes. The takahe was thought to have been extinct, but they found some in an isolated part of Fiordland, and have managed to bring the population up to 300 with careful breeding. We got to see four of them!I think they look like a weird cross between a peacock and a chicken. Kris thinks they look plump and tasty. This pair has mated for life, but for some reason haven’t been able to fertilize an egg. Interestingly, when pairs are infertile, rangers take a fertilized egg from another pair and have them foster it. They raise the chick exactly as if it was their own, and the other pair lays another egg that season.
The genetics of trying to increase a population with only 300 birds are quite complicated since they have to avoid inbreeding. Air New Zealand flies the birds anywhere they need to take them for free. Apparently the last bird that this pair adopted had absolutely prime genes, so they tried to match her with an equally prime male. Air NZ flew her to meet him, but she wanted nothing to do with him. They flew her to meet another male of slightly less perfect genes, but she wasn’t interested in him either. Evidently, the third time was the charm and she bonded with a less than perfect male who was perfect for her. So basically, Air New Zealand runs a takahe dating service. This long tussock grass is their primary food source in the wild. They pull it out and hold it in one claw, while they strip the good stuff out of it. Here is Catherine (Snow White) allowing us to sample the tussock root, which tastes like cucumber. If you’re going to Milford Sound, stop by the bird sanctuary for the feeding tour even if you aren’t staying in Te Anau. I promise you’ll love it even if you think birds are lame!
For the full list of New Zealand Adventure posts I’ve put up so far, look here.