Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Milton Sound and Sounds

Taking it easy, I went to the local Kiwi and Birdlife Park. As it was raining and I was late, the ticket seller marked my ticket so that I could return on Tuesday to catch the Conservation and Maori shows I had missed. Also because it was raining, I had the park to myself.

The 'guaranteed' kiwi viewing was only partly true. Kiwis are nocturnal and very shy so they were kept in a red-lit nocturnal house behind glass. Although one stood only a foot or two in front of me, the colours and the small eyes were invisble to me. Interesting though. Next and as impressive (if not more so) were the Tautaras, a reptile only found in New Zealand and one that constitutes its own branch of the reptile family tree (the others being snakes and lizards, crocodiles etc., and turtles etc.). The tautara has been around virtually unchanged since the dinosaurs and is unique among animals in that it has a third eye, albeit one that is covered over by scales eight months after it is born. It can hold its heartbeat to a steady one beat per minute and rarely needs to breathe. On top of all that it is believe they can live from 200 to 300 years. Remarkable stuff. On to the keas, the only mountain living parrot, and very intelligent birds. I was able to walk into their cage, but they demonstrated their intelligence by ignoring me.

Later I stood by the rare and endangered Black Stilt enclosure. It shared its space with ducks and oyster catchers. Suddenly alarm cheeps went off, ducks began fluttering and all in all a ruckus began. I thought for a moment it might be me; humans tend to react to me that way after all. But no, for almost immediately a stoat ran out from a bush, stood looking up at me, then sped back to the bush. That is not good, particularly not in an endangered wildlife park. mankind has brought a lot of destruction to New Zealand, particularly to its birdlife and one of the main imports to cause damage is the stoat. Luckily the cage was good enough to keep him out, but I let the admin people know when I got back.

I think it only fair, in the interests of documenting my culinary exploits to write that I treated myself to a t-bone steak that evening, one double the size of my hand. I cooked it (or left it raw enough) to perfection and was very pleased.

That night I got roped into a killer pool tournament. Philip, Victor, Joscelyn and Danny all bowed under the pressure, but Danny, who was playing immediately before me, left me with two gift blacks allowing me to get two extra lives. For a long while I was winning. A young English shark, however, who scarcely put a ball wrong all night, ended my dreams of pool glory and first prize of a powerboat ride, and I ended up coming third. I needed a drink or two in the teapot-serving World Bar (the teapots are a refreshingly original way of serving cocktails), so we joined the girls who had gone ahead. I had the added incentive of seeing the two Irish girls from Nelson turn up and head there. I left early, however, as this morning I had a trip to Milford Sound. (Besides I didn't get anywhere with the Irish girls)

Three English kids who had been in my dorm in Wellington, were in my dorm again. I had been notified of the squeeky ladder (a top bunk again), but when I got back was bewildered to find that Jamie, who occupied the bed below me, had left all his bags at the foot of the ladder. Try clearing and getting into your top bunk, in the dark, trying not to make a sound, while tipsy; it isn't easy, dear people. I had more luck though than when pool playing.

Phillip had been out until 4.30 am (a 28 year old English girl takes up a lot of time), but was bright and bushy-tailed (or as much so as he can be) when he got on. I was the one who slept for the first two hours of the trip. Elodie and Andy were also on board. The others have rented a car and are making two days of the trip, but my trip was included in my Magic Bus ticket, so I took the bus.

Although we started in sunshine, we neared a rain-soaked mountain range as we got closer. The Eglinton Valley (the first part of our route after Te Anau) was impressive, but the Hollingford Valley, the next stage, amazed us still more, with huge peaks shrouded in writhing cloud. After we got through the Homer Tunnel though, close to Milton Sound itself, things took on a whole new aspect. It is tremendous scenery and on this occasion the rain was a bonus as it gave birth to hundreds of waterfalls. They appeared as white lines of varying width veining sheer cliffs, and they were everywhere. Every so often a mountain peak would be revealed, but the summits were just as impressive with the cloud swirling around them. The Sound (which is not technically a sound at all, but a fjord) was almost a disappointment when we finally arrived. Almost. Getting on to the Milton Monarch, we headed out on to the water.

The cliffs around the sound extend upwards, stright upwards, for up to 1200 feet. There were those waterfalls again, and some lounging seals and then wind. Lots of wind and rain buffeted us as we clicked, clicked, clicked from the upper deck. More and more I lament this culture of photography that has grabbed the tourist. It is as if nothing has been seen unless we catch it on camera, though the reality is we rarely if ever look at these pictures. Spending more time on the reality rather than creating the facsimile would benefit us all. Having said that, I snapped away at the magnificence like the rest of them.

On the ride home I discovered my cd of Beethoven symphonies hidden away in my cd case. I had wanted to play the Ninth as we passed the waterfalls etc., and returning I now had this chance. Waterfalls and classical music are something of a cliche, but given the multitude and magnitude of these waterfalls, the music just about covered it. Beethoven's music suits Alpine splendour and this was most certainly Alpine splendour.

The driver then put on 'The World's Fastest Indian', the true story of septugenarian, Burt Munro, who broke the land speed record for a bike of a particular size with his home tinkered 1929 Indian motorcycle. I'd seen it before and enjoyed it, but even then I recognised the slender nature of the tail. It's really just a simple story padded out with mildly amusing road encounters. Still it passed the time after we left Fjordland Park.


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