Many people plan their Great Walks trips 6+ months in advance, or whenever the booking opens up for the huts. Us? We checked in with the Department of Conservation booking website a few times until we found openings in the huts on the Kepler Track and booked our trip five days out when we found some.
Sure, we could have booked campsites to better fit our schedule, but then we’d have to carry both a tent and a sleeping pad on the hike, and what’s the fun in that? Purists we are not.
So we had 5 days to get to Te Anau from Queenstown for the walk and with the beautiful roads and lack of headwind, even our dawdling pace got us there a day and a half early.
Lucky for us, Te Anau wasn’t lacking in things to do, so we made the most of a full day in town.
We started by pedaling out to the bird sanctuary for the morning feeding of the Takahe. These birds were thought to be extinct for 50 years, but then a small colony was found deep in the Merchison Mountains across the lake in 1948. Intensive breeding and preservation has gotten their numbers up to 300, with 100+ birds in the wild.
Since they can’t fly and are evolved to hide from hawks by hiding and not moving, they’re no match for introduced ground predators that use smell for hunting. The Battle for the Birds project here is pretty interesting – a combination of traps for stoats (weasel-like critters) and rats line all of the trails, and 1080, a toxic and theoretically biodegradable poison is put out, either by hand or by plane to try to kill even more mammals that are killing the birds.
One could argue that putting poison into the foodchain, even at the expense of saving birds, is a bad idea. One could also argue that this is the only chance that the birds have for survival. People are pretty polarized here about the use.
Anyhow, we got to meet Uncle the Takahe. A poor breeder who was born with a crick in his step, he’s used as a display bird at the sanctuary. He was neat. A rainbow chicken.
We also said Hi to the Kakas, cute and highly talkative jungle parrots who flirt with visitors by whistling at them.
The Antipode Island Parakeets also wanted to talk.
Then we got on a boat to go across the lake to see glow worms in a cave. A total tourist attraction, we’d promised Alexis that we wouldn’t leave NZ without seeing glow worms, and this was our chance.
And how cool it was! They walked us up a little cave at the base of the Merchison Mountains and put us on boats, turned the lights off, and little glow worms lit up the roof like stars in the sky. It made me happy, plus we got to learn a lot about the worms themselves, something we wouldn’t have done left to our own devices.
After shopping for our tramping expedition the next day, we went back to our hostel and I spent the afternoon watching V for Vendetta. I love the movie, and this was the first unlimited internet that was good enough to actually watch a movie. Of course, I could have spent the time doing something useful…but MOVIE NIGHT!
Anyhow. Moral of the story: Sometimes it’s really cool to play tourist. Sometimes it’s really nice to spend a perfectly sunny afternoon watching a movie instead of trying to maximize a vacation.
I like Te Anau.