Te Anau, New Zealand (Fiordland)

Weather: high of about 70ºF, low of about 40ºF and fair.

The drive to Te Anau was long, but fairly easy.  There were a few passes that could have been closed by snow, but they were only sprinkling rain when we went through.  When we arrived we stayed at a delightful B&B called the Kozy Kiwi.  Like just about everyone else in NZ, the owners were extremely helpful and social.  (It begins to make me think that Americans must be real ogres by comparison.)  From the Kozy Kiwi, we did day trips to the fiords.  By the way, a fiord is a body of water formed by a glacier, whereas a sound is formed by a river.  And even though Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound aren't named properly, they really are fiords.

The trip to Doubtful Sound involved a short drive to a boat that took us across a lake to a bus that took us over a pass to a boat.  This fiord was only accessible by ocean or by a long hike until the 1950's or so.  Now it is the less popular of the two large fiords, which means smaller crowds.  It is still amazingly beautiful.
On this fine day through the sound we saw no wildlife, although we were looking for dolphin, seal, and penguin.
An odd part of the tour was a stop in a hydro power station buried deep under the lake that feeds into Doubtful sound.  Rather than build a dam to raise the water level, they put the turbines in a cave a couple hundred meters below the lake.  The tour busses drive a 2km spiral tunnel down into the power plant.  Very much like the data haven in Cryptonomicon.
The next day, we took a tour to Milford Sound.  Rain was predicted, which we had heard makes for good views of the fiord with lots of water pouring off the cliff walls.  It is only lightly sprinkling at this point before we crossed the mountains.  Can you make out the rainbow just over the lake?
Up near the pass, the snow is fresh from the night before.
Here, a cheeky kea (mountain parrot) is perched on our bus.  A group of them hang out at a rest stop and alternately hop around looking for scraps or pull the tasty weatherstripping or other loose bits off of cars.
Here loads of tourists gawk at the keas and the landscape before braving the tunnel through to the fiords.
Did I mention how pretty all the snow was?
Our cruise through Milford Sound gave us much better wildlife encounters:  dolphin, seal, and penguin.  Maybe it was the rainier weather.  Definitely the rain made the waterfalls more spectacular.  Overall, the experience was a little dampened by the bigger cruise boat and hordes of Asian tourists, even in the off-season.
After Milford Sound, we hopped in the car and hiked another section of the Kepler track (which we had started a day or two before).  We'd really like to come back and hike some of the great trails here.  Are you reading this, Bill?

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