Day 2: Te Anau
Need a good reason to get out of bed in the morning? Turns out, a helicopter ride over fiords is good motivation! After breakfast, we drove a couple of miles down the rode to Fiordland Helicopters where Kim Hollows, the owner/pilot, and his MD Hughes 500 (HJO) was waiting to take us for a ride.
Taking off was very exciting; we were on the ground and all of a sudden we were floating through the air. Within seconds, we were zipping over Lake Te Anau and I couldn’t help myself from going through the survival skills I learned from Hatchet.
We flew over Te Anau to Fiordland National Park, breaking through the low clouds, and eventually landing on a fiord overlooking New Zealand’s largest fiord, Dusky Sound. The flight continued over ridges, along waterfalls, and over to Doubtful Sound before returning to Te Anau. The pictures can tell the rest of the story.
Following a Dramamine-induced nap, we headed out for our next adventure: glowworms. The glowworms are located in a cave across the lake, once again in Fiordland National Park, which required a ride in the Real Journeys Luminosa catamaran.
At 12,000 years old, the caves are actually quite young – too young even to have stalactites and stalagmites. There is, however, rushing water, which erodes the limestone and continuously changes the structure of the cave. The Maori name Te Anau means “swirling cave of water.”
Ducking through some parts of the cave, we walked a couple hundred feet to a boat landing. We sailed in complete darkness to the Glowworm Grotto, where the walls and ceilings were scattered with the tiny lights from the glowworms.
Back outside in daylight, we took a short nature walk and learned a bit more about glowworms, the area, and the native bird species.
Once upon a time, the fightless takahe bird didn’t have much to worry about. Their best defense mechanism was to stand still and be “vewy, vewy, quiet.” European explorers came and accidentally left a whole bunch of rabbits. In the 1880s, New Zealand introduced stoats (aka. weasels) in order to control the rabbit population. The stoats said, “Why the heck should I chase the rabbits, when I can eat this delicious bird standing still right over here?” As of today, stoats are public enemy number one, and the takahe is critically endangered, but hanging in there.
Our third main event of the day was the Te Anau Illumination Festival. Everybody gathers in the town center (ya know, that one main road) where the stores and businesses turn off their lights, and turn on twinkling/Christmas lights. Then the crowd is led down the road by Glowy the Glowworm (three people in a makeshift Glowworm costume) to the lawn of the Distinction Hotel where there is a fire show.
We continued onto the shore where everyone released Chinese wish lanterns into the air. Well, most people released them into the air. Some people released them into the trees.
The day concluded with dinner at the hotel, a quick review of tomorrow’s plans, and, of course, more local wine. See ya then!