Hopefully the average reader of features about New Zealand will not be disappointed: I am not going to say anything at all about Queenstown. In the last feature, we left the narration in the surroundings of Wanaka. If you expected me to keep on telling the story of my journey with some inspiring experience in the major tourist center of the South Island, you couldn’t be wronger. I spent three hours in the above mentioned town, and I just found it despicable, with its massive flow of tourists of the worst kind, noisy traffic, plus expensive and silly activities such as, just to mention one, jet-boating on a lake surely meant to be more peaceful than it turned out being.
After we left this babel, we were about to go straight to the Fiordland and its unmissable Milford Sound, but after a bit of browsing online, it turned out that there were really few accommodations available in the area in that very same night. Tired and disappointed, with the sun already on its way down the horizon, we decided to rearrange our plan once again, and head down towards the South Coast, that seemed to be like a little more out of the beaten tracks.
We couldn’t guess any better. We found a late accommodation on Air Bnb, and that proved to be by far the right choice. Our cosy hut in Winton was just idyllic, totally plunged in the Southland’s countryside, and even though we booked only for a night, we ended up staying four, as the hosts Calvin and Jan turned out to be truly genuine and lovely people. They introduced us to their family, and taken us to their son’s property and deer farm. In the dim light of a breathtaking sunset, the father and his boy revived a motorbike which had been left too long in the garage, and we all drove it down the unpaved surrounding paths.
Winton revealed to be a perfect spot to explore the surrounding gems scattered along the South Coast. At Nuggets Point the cliffs and rocks recall sharks’ fins, ready to feed on the seals colonies hiding among them. The Purakaunui Falls slowly cry their pristine water down stony steps. The Cathedral Caves will just take your breath away, with their majestic double entrance that reminded me of the childhood stories about giants’ caves and sea monsters. This feeling was also enhanced by the stunning presence of the giant bull kelp, a massive seaweed widespread around the South Island, which, with its blades reaching up to 4 meters, seems a sinister creature itself. Last but not least, we explored the natural sanctuary of Curio Bay, popular for offering the chance of swimming with dolphins! We arrived too late though, and the water was too cold, but we still managed to catch the sight of a rare yellow-eyed penguin.
Along the road connecting all these natural beauties, we had also the chance of admiring a true masterpiece of machinery. Rolling down the hills at about 20 km/h, we found the “Burrell” Traction Engine, a 8HP steam vehicle produced in England in 1924 and taken all the way down to New Zealand. We shared a chat with the owner and the driver, while they were refilling their tanks.. sucking up water from a creek!
The Southern Coast of the South Island of New Zealand holds that unique fascination of the places at the edge of the Earth, where the silence is broken only by the wind and the chattering seagulls. Our amusement was not over yet, though. Keeping on driving west, we eventually reached the Fiordland National Park, the flagship of New Zealand’s tourism. The price to pay for admiring this beauty is coping with loads of tourist buses, at least in the key spots. Therefore, we decided to approach the park with a “back-country” walk, meaning one of the ones secluded enough to discourage the most. The Roger Inlet trek, running along the banks of the Lake Monowai, proved to be lush and wild indeed, crossing forests, rivers and an ocean of fern!
Thereafter, passing through Lake Manapouri, we headed towards the renowned, stunning Milford Sound. We were obsessed with the idea of getting stuck in traffic jams, so we made our move at dawn, spending some spare time just to play with some Kaka parrots, which were mysteriously attracted by our car. As the good Calvin mentioned, the drive to the sound is almost as much breathtaking than the destination itself. Our boat set out at 9 am, when thick clouds where still hanging among the cliffs, giving to the whole scene a mystic, almost sacred, mood.
Around the sound, many valleys seemed to be pointing towards pristine sceneries, where one could find no trace of human life whatsoever. This threw my imagination back to the days when the first humans had bumped into this stunning corner of the planet, and how their life had to be Eden-like at that stage. I always dreamt to be an explorer, my imagination running wild when reading of the travels of Hemingway, Chatwin, Conrad and fellow novelists. Even though, unfortunately, there’s not that much left to be discovered, and the whole world can be admired in satellite pictures, I still put all my effort to live with the attitude of a pioneer.
Luckily, there’s still plenty of wilderness out there that gives me the thrill.
Photography: Matteo Fabi