Fiordland in springtime conjures up images of spring lambs and flowering Manuka honey bush. We arrived in Queenstown on Monday to sunny skies and temperatures of 16 degrees. Indeed it did feel positively springlike for New Zealand. As we drove south to Te Anau, we passed paddocks of sheep with their tiny white lambs and the occasional flowering peach and apple tree. Little did we know that a bitterly cold front was approaching over the Tasman Sea. We settled into our Birchwood Cottages accommodation and explored Lake Te Anau and the glow worm caves near the top of the lake. On Tuesday night, as we admired the almost full moon rising over the mountains, we watched the temperature gauge drop to 5 degrees.
And so there it stayed as we joined Jonathan, our tour guide for our 12 km day walk along the Kepler Track. The Kepler Track winds for 63 km over the Kepler Mountains but we opted for a gentler version. The New Zealand Alps are formed by the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates clashing along the backbone of New Zealand, with the older Australian rock of granite and schist pushing up the younger sedimentary rocks of the Pacific plate at a rate of about 1cm/year. Jonathan introduced us to the New Zealand beech forests.
These ancient plants, the Nothofagus species or ‘not really’ beech (fagus) trees, as the Europeans who first saw them claimed, are ancient remnants of Gondwanaland and also occur in Australia and Chile. The New Zealand varieties we saw on our walk were the giant red beech, 24-30 metres high with huge buttress roots and the more slender mountain and silver beech. Also we were acquainted with the Lancewood, with a spear like leaf in its juvenile form, the spine of which can be used for twine or shoelaces, useful when bushwalking. The mature leaves on top lose all their strength and serrated qualities.
We came across huge moss and lichen mounds which eat away the wood and provide new saplings with moisture and nutrients. Crossing the swing bridge at Rainbow Reach over the Waiau River, we wandered through the spongy moss forest, listening to the birdsong and startling a mopoke owl, the rain gently misting down.
The forest eventually opened out to reveal a wetland area and peat bog with Canada geese and Paradise ducks, both introduced species. Morning tea, carried by Jonathan, of date scones and tea or coffee was enjoyed at Shallow Bay with three backpackers. We reached Moturau Hut for a rest and lunch before returning to sunny skies – the temperature still 5 degrees. Jonathan informed us the weather would get worse!
This day being a special anniversary, we felt particularly indulgent after our walk and booked the Redcliff Cafe for a celebratory dinner of venison, lamb, smoked pears and chocolate brownie, washed down with a Central Otago Peregrine Pinot Gris.
The Cafe’s reputation lived up to all expectations for food, atmosphere and service, even turning on a full moon.