Sunday 22nd November
The weather forecast fooled us again! Expecting to wake up to steady rain and high winds we were planning a dreary day driving south, windscreen wipers on full.
Te-dah! Cur bright blue skies, white fluffy clouds and a light mild breeze.
Our 'Great Views Fiordland Holiday Park' lived up to its name, and was excellent in all ways. Fully replenished with clean clothes, fresh water, charged batteries etc we were ready to set off into the wilderness again.
We could see that the lake and surrounding woods were in sunshine but all the surrounding mountain peaks were snow covered and/or covered by cloud.
The weather warnings we had read last night sounded quite genuine and do we decided to err on the side of caution and stay low.
To start with we dropped into the Te Anau Wildlife Centre. Run by the DOC, it rescues and rehabilitates rare and protected birds who have been injured so it was a great opportunity to see the birds that we were unlikely to see in the wild, eg the Takahe, Kaka and Morepork owl.
On our way back to the yuan we walked along the lake shore and saw a pair of Paradise Shelducks with their brood of about ten little ducklings waddling fearlessly up the beach. They posed obligingly for photographs.
We then returned to Coffee Cat for another cup of her excellent latte.
The Kepler track is another New Zealand Great Walk. It is a circular route of 70km usually walked anti-clockwise, starting and finishing in Te Anau. It follows the shore of the southern end of Lake Te Anau, climbs up to 1471 metres at the Luxmore Hut and then continues down to the Moturau Hut, and along the shores of Lake Manapouri. It then winds through the beechwoods of 'Lord of the Rings' country back along the Waiau River to the Rainbow Reach Swingbridge, and finally back to the start.
We decided to walk a shorter there-and-back clockwise route from Rainbow Reach to Moturau.
The initial swing bridge was a very substantial structure over a wide and fast flowing river, the main outflow from the enormous Lake Te Anau.
It was a beautiful walk through the forest - full of beech trees, ferns and carpeted everywhere with luxuriant moss. It was easy to see why some scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed here. There was a detour to a wetland view point - the sign described it as 'an amoebic mire' (so we took particular care not to fall in!) - where we saw several New Zealand Scaup but failed to see any Fernbirds.
Onwards, we took another side route to the lovely white pebbly beach at Shallow Bay where we sat on a wind-weathered fallen tree to eat out gourmet lunch rolls (we had so far generally been unimpressed with supermarket bread in NZ so these rather excellent 'seeded slugs' from Fresh Choice were worthy of acknowledgement!)
We were facing due west, from where we could see the snow capped mountain ranges with their steep sides dropping down into the distant fiords.
After a while the sand flies discovered us, so it was time to move on along the side of the lake to the sandy but just as beautiful beach at the Moturau Hut. We met Phil, the very friendly and jolly ranger who was just walking up from the beach with an armful of driftwood to add to his open fire which smelt very welcoming - reminding us of bonfire night, seaway beach fires and winter nights at home - all at once! We chatted for a while to Phil and still have absolutely no idea what he actually said!
We also met Tim and Jordan, a honeymoon couple from Mississippi. They were on their third day of the Kepler Track and looked exhausted. Their return route to Te Anau was another 15.5 km, so we offered them a lift from the car park at Rainbow Reach, just 6km away.
They told us that they had chosen South Island as their honeymoon destination as they were Lord of the Rings fans and had actually had a LOTR themed wedding.... Yes, that's right... She dressed as an elf, complete with leaf necklace, elven sword and pointy ears; and Tim and his entourage arrived barefoot, carrying staved dressed as Hobbits! The whole event was held in a woodland dell complete with LOTR music and food. It actually all sounded rather lovely in a quirky way. Sadly they had no photos to show us but I do have details their Facebook page.
We took our tired little real life Hobbits back to Madge and gave them a mug of tea, looked up some back packer hotels in Te Anau and delivered them to a little hobbit hole (aka the Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers Lodge) overlooking the lake, to continue their honeymoon.
Meanwhile, we were starving and without any onward plans.
We found burgers to compete with 'Fergburger' on the Milford road at 'Sound'. Venison burger with field mushrooms and beetroot, and a Blue cheese beefburger with crispy onions.
We are these rather messily from the privacy of our own van on the lake front, consulted some maps and weather forecasts and headed south on State Highway 99 - the Southern Scenic Route, passing the sunlit Takitimu mountain range, the Clifden suspension bridge, and arriving at the stormy Waewae Bay.
We drive along the coast watching the spectacular surf and found a few camping area tucked in dunes overlooking the beach at Orepuki.
Supper eaten and blog written, it was time to open the Merlot and sit and watch the sea as the sun goes down.