Up at 6 am to catch bus for Milford Sound. Another "brilliant day" in NZ-cold, but clear, cloudless, blue skies again! Our bus driver was Russell, a kiwi, whose daughter lives in Fort Nelson, Canada and is married to a mountie, a small world indeed! On the drive from Queenstown to Te Anau we learned about the sheep industry in NZ. Low country sheep are romney and their wool is mainy used for carpets. High country sheep are merino and the fleece is used for clothing, very warm. There used to be 70 million sheep in NZ but has decreased to 32 million as the market demand dwindled. The plains of the northern southland have been converting from sheep to dairy but this is contraversial because of the impact on the waterways from leaching of the effluent. Same issues as at home! Another major farm industry is deer farming. Initially introduced into Fiordland National Park, they started farming them as the deer were destroying the natural habitat of the flightless birds. Today, 1.7 million deer are farmed in NZ for the meat which goes to overseas markets (Germany and UK) and the antlers of the male deer are removed when the deer velvet is at it's prime. This is done by a vet under anesthetic for herd safety and to harvest the deer velvet. It is frozen immediately after harvest and sent to Korea, China and Japan for medicinal uses. We stopped in Te Anau at the Olive Tree Cafe for coffee before heading out to Milford Sound. The road twists and turns its way through amazing alpine countryside with valleys, waterfalls, rivers and Mirror Lakes. Driving thru the mountain in the one-way Homer Tunnel, which took 90 years to build, was amazing. The tunnel was chisled through solid granite and was begun in the late 1800's with shovels, pickaxes and wheelbarrows. Construction was interrupted by the 2 World wars but tunnel was finally completed. Milford Sound is part of Fiordland National Park home to the rarest and largest parrot in the world, the kakapo. There are only 131 known surviving birds. Ferns are abundant in the park- the rarahu (bracken) fern was a staple in the Maori diet. The mamaku is NZ tallest tree fern and can grow up to 20 meters high. The silver fern or ponga is the national symbol of NZ. The underside is silver and the Maori would lay it on the ground and the moonlight would shine on it and it would light their way. The cruise took us thru the Milford Souind out to the Tasmen Sea. Dominating the skyline is Mitre Peak, 1692 meters above sea level and is the world's highest sea cliff. Spectacular cliffs, waterfalls, clear water and a calm, sunny day made for a perfect afternoon. We even saw bottlenose dolphins frolicking alongside the boat. On a whim, we took a scenic helicopter flight, another once in a lifetime experience! Can't even begin to describe the sensation of soaring over the mountain peaks and valleys before landing on Tutoko Glacier, 6000 feet above sea level! Breathtaking takes on a new meaning. The photos show it better than words but can never capture the magesticness and grandeur. We landed at the end of the tunnel and joined the bus for our trip home. Had takeaway chicken for supper as it was a late night. What a day!
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