Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Deep South

On Sunday I got picked up by the Stray bus again at 6:45, after waiting in the rain for 1/2 an hour (apparently the bus was broken) and did the long drive back to Milford Sound again (the logistics of doing the overnight cruise with the stray bus just didn't work, I would have had to spend 3 days in Milford where there is the visitors centre, cafe and staff housing). My driver this time is Captain Planet, so far I've had Tia, Tutu, Salty and Gollum. They all have crazy nicknames, most acquired on their training trips where the only night they are allowed to drink is Queenstown. Milford is actually only about 20km from Queenstown as the crow flies but a 300km drive as there are mountains in the way. They are debating putting in a gondola to connect the two but I don't know, I think it would become to touristy and lose a bit of magic, part of it is the seclusion. I sat in the cafe while everyone did the short scenic cruise. All the water in Milford comes from a pipe at the top off a small waterfall near the harbour (including the water used on the overnight cruise) and is passed through a small hydroelectric generator first. There are no power lines and no pipes at all. I think there may be phone lines but I'm not sure, and they have Internet but again I don't know how they have it.

Then we went to Gunn's Camp for the night. It was a farm run by the Gunn family in the middle of nowhere about 1/3 of the way along the Milford Road. There is the reception/museum about the area, it is the start of a few walks and that is about it. Electricity comes from a small generator which is switched off at 10pm so if you need light after that, too bad! Our cabins were small and heated by an old fashioned wood burning stove. The Kitchen/dining room/ common room is actually quite nice but there is no fridge!!! No internet either, no phone even at reception, no credit or debit card machine, cash only, and no cell phone signal. We all chipped in and our driver did a food shop back in Te Aneu, the nearest town. It sits at the other end of the Milford road, 93 km away. We made sausages and mash. But the sausages were 'pork flavour' and 'beef flavour.' They were both a mix of lamb, pork and beef with a load of other crap that I would rather not know about. I should have said I was a vegetarian!

We then drove back to Te Anau this morning and on to Invercagill. It is the southernmost city in New Zealand and the only city in the county of Southland. The southern most point is Bluff, one of the most important ports in NZ as it is easy to get to from South America but the main city is here, about 20km up the road. Let me paint you a picture of Invercagill. It has a population of 52,000. University is free here, and costs money everywhere else. The mayor is a pothead. Today (Monday, a school day) I saw teenagers with mullets throwing darts at a wooden bench on the sidewalk. My driver's sister actually went to Invercagill uni because it was free so she wouldn't need a student loan, and transferred after a year because there is just nothing to do here. She decided to pay money, rather than stay here for another three years. Free University is the only way to get people to move here, and as much as people hate students they do stimulate the economy. There are also lots of bogans here, can't remember if I've mentioned bogans before but they are like the equivalent of trailer trash in the US or chavs in the UK. The NZ version have mullets and are fairly harmless if you leave them alone. I also learned some new slang. In England and Australia a tinnie is a can of beer, over here its a joint, so must remember not to ask for one of them!

Ferry to Stewart Island tomorrow, NZ's smallest island. Hopefully I'll spot a Kiwi bird in the wild!

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