Matiu / Somes Island

Taking advantage of a sunny day, I finally made it out to Matui/Somes Island – which is the island that sits in the middle of Wellington Harbor. It was one of my Wellington must dos, and I had not made it out, and with my time winding down, knew this might be the last nice day for it, so I paused my writing flow, packed a picnic and set out to catch the ferry to the island.

You can learn more about the island here:

The island has a fascinating history, as it has served as a quarantine station, military outpost, interment camp and now wildlife refuge. The island gives the opportunity to discover nature by traveling along various tracks, and I ended up walking on each track on the island and extending my stay there because it was such a lovely day, and I was enjoying my tramp so much.

When you arrive on the island your first stop is the quarantine station, where you check your bag and shoes for bio-security risks. Once cleared, you are able to start exploring.

As I walked, I was immediatly greeting with stunning views of the harbor, Eastborne and Petone.

My first stop was the cemetery monument.

Between 1918 and 1920, Somes Island was used as a human quarantine station during the influenza pandemic, and many died on the island.

I trekked along from the Monument along Cable Bay to the lookout over Shag Rock. Birds, flowers, skinks and Tuataras were plentiful. I felt like I had the island to myself, as everyone else had headed to the visitors center first.

From the overlook I headed to the lighthouse, stopping to check out the Weta Hotel.

Those are some gargantuan insects!

Then I enjoyed the lighthouse, before beginning my trek to the Southern Lookout – I am pretty certain I took a million pictures – it was so pretty!

Here at the southern lookout, I realized that I was not going to have time to see everything I wanted unless I booked the later ferry back, so I called the company to secure my seat on the later boat, giving me more time to enjoy this peaceful oasis.

My next stop was the old WW2 gun emplacements, so I went up the “steep track”. Along the way I got the opportunity to observe the amazing fantail, which may be one of my favorite NZ birds.

Then, at the gate, I made an interesting observation about the weathering of the gate.

I wonder how many times those pieces of wood have been slammed together?

At the top, I explored the gun casings, and just genuinely enjoyed the views, pulling out my lunch for a stop at the picnic table.

I headed back down to the visitor area, where I explored the animal quarantine station, which felt an awful lot like animal prison – which, I guess, it was, in a way.

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After that it was down to the visitor center, where I learned about the other uses of the island, particularly its use as an internment camp during WW2 and the attempted escapes.

Next, I wandered back to the wharf, and with time to spare, checked out the old degaussing station, and listened to the stories of Meg Pilcher, (a fascinating lady!)then to the North Wharf before leaving the island and heading home.

I am so glad I had this beautiful weather to enjoy this amazing sanctuary!

The Milford Road, Milford Sound, and the Glowworm Caves

This weekend I headed to Te Anau, which is often referred to as the gateway to Milford Sound.

After landing in Invercargill, I had some time to spare, so I spent my afternoon at the Southland Museum – which was also conveniently the bus stop I would depart from on my journey to Te Anau. I didn’t take many pictures – they actually were not allowed in many places – but I loved the natural history section and the large collection of New Zealand species they had on display.

New Zealand has had quite the cold snap – so my scenery on the bus ride was quite the wintry wonderland. I arrived at the hostel around 5:30 – and was so thankful the bus driver dropped me off at my lodging location instead of the bus stop, because it was dark and cold.

I checked in, started laundry (I didn’t want to do it on Stewart Island if I could help it, since they pay 4x more for electricity down there than here on the “mainland”), and went to grab a quick dinner and some groceries.

As I was settling in at my room I saw an alert on Facebook that the Aurora was spiking – so I thought I would go at give it a look – being a little further north, with some cloud cover, I wasn’t sure I would see much, but I did spot the glow in the south.

It wasn’t much, but it was cool to see.

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Sunday morning I was up early to catch my tour to Milford Sound. I was picked up by our driver Simon at the hostel, and immediately knew this was going to be a fun day.

Simon is a live-off-the grid, NZ local who has worked in nature conservation, science and tourism most of his life. He shared amazing stories and his passion for the Fiordlands, and because this was a small tour continually tried to give us extra stops.

Our first stop was the Eglinton Valley Flats in Fiordland National Park. Here we could see the mountains all around.

You could still see (and feel) the frost on the grass!

 

We had perfect weather for our next stop – the wind was still – the sun was shining – which meant that the reflection from the Mirror Lakes was stunning!

We had a few more stops on our way up to Milford, and there were some pretty entertaining Keas and some scenery.

And then we arrived at Milford, with a few minutes to spare, so we got to take in the scenery before heading to the boat terminal.

It really was a perfect day to cruise Milford Sound (which is not a sound, but a Fjord, for what it is worth) even if it was crazy cold. Our cruise took us from the terminal all the way out to the Tasman Sea – which felt like the end of the world. It was an awe-inspiring, breathtaking and unbelievable journey. I know that the pictures cannot possibly do this justice, and the scale is so impossible to get, but I hope you enjoy them. I used my DSLR, so those pictures are in the slideshow, while the pictures from my phone are below in the grid. There are a ton of pictures, because even though it was freezing, I stayed on the top deck the entire journey – I wanted to savor every moment of this likely once in a lifetime experience.

Look closely and you will see seals and dolphins. Like I said, it was a perfect day!

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After the cruise we boarded the mini-bus and started the journey back to Te Anau – but Simon had more stops for us.

Our first stop on the way back was the historic bridge over the Tutoko River.

Our next stop was the Chasm – a nice 20 minute walk where you see some of the coolest structures in rock made by water I have ever seen!

In the parking lot this lady had this cool van that she had converted into a coffee shop, so while we waited on everyone to finish the trail, I got my favorite NZ coffee drink – a flat white – and we enjoyed the mischievous keas in the parking lot – what funny little birds!

When we reached the Homer Tunnel – we had about 5 minutes before the one way tunnel was opened up for us, so we had one last chance to get out and enjoy the scenery on this side of the Milford road.

Driving along the Milford Road is a beautiful experience.

After a few more stops (I felt like . . . but wait, there is more!), Simon dropped me back off at the hostel, where I had a few hours to relax and have dinner before heading to my next adventure, the  Te Anau Glow Worm Caves.

For dinner, Simon recommended a dairy that had fish and chips – since his tour was so wonderful, I thought I would take his recommendation. It was not a mistake. Yummy fish!

Then I walked to the glowworm caves for my underground adventure. Cameras are not allowed in the cave, but I bought the picture package to share the experience with you all.

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What you don’t see is the journey “under the glow” so to speak – guys – it was so cool – it really does look like the videos and pictures online, like this one, which is amazing:

or this one:

(these videos are from different caves, but the same experience applies).

It is DARK – which is what allows you to see the glow worms, and I will admit – getting in the boat when you cannot see anything is a little disconcerting.

WOW – today was certainly one of those epic days, that I am so fortunate to be able to have here on this New Zealand journey.