Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Great Outdoors Part II

(Belated happy holidays friends and family! We hope this finds everyone happy, healthy and warm back home! We are a bit behind on our blog entries but we promise to catch everyone up on our most recent adventures very soon!)

In our final days off in Te Anau, we decided (last minute) to take a two-day kayak trip through Doubtful Sound. We’d heard that kayaking through the fiords (instead of taking a cruise) was something we shouldn’t miss. The catch? The trip departed at six in the morning. Have I ever mentioned that we’re not a morning people?

The morning of the trip, we woke up excited, anxious and earlier than we have in months. Doubtful Sound is tucked deep into the Fiordland National Park, so kayaking didn’t start until a ½ hour van ride, an hour long boat ride, and about another 45-minute van ride. During this time we got to know the small group we’d be spending the next two days with. We were glad to find out that we weren’t the only ones with zero kayaking experience. Our guide was very experienced and loved the outdoors, but unfortunately didn’t have a whole lot of patience for the six amateurs that made up our group. Once at the kayak site, our guide gave us basic instructions and helped us pack our two-person kayaks with camping gear while we were eaten alive by sandflies. A mere four and a half hours after we had left Te Anau, we were taking our first kayak strokes into Doubtful Sound.

After getting adjusted to the kayak and working on synchronous strokes for nearly an hour, team Palmer was smoothly kayaking deeper and deeper into Doubtful Sound. We continued to kayak and make occasional stops to listen to our guide lecture about Doubtful Sound, its history and legends. Fact of the day: Just like Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is actually a fiord, not a sound.

We continued to kayak through the sound/fiord’s calm waters when the rain started. We were initially irritated, but as our guide pointed out, we should embrace the rain because we had to keep in mind that Doubtful Sound is blanketed in a rain forest (oh, and we’ll also be kayaking for hours in it).

After a few hours we arrived at a small beach, which our guide announced is our campsite. As a group, we beached the kayaks and began to unload our lunch. Unfortunately, we were plagued by sandflies. We walked into the forest for about twenty yards to our campsite while attempting to swat away the sandflies. It was futile.

We all huddled in a tent made of bug netting where we cooked ourselves some soup and tore through our premade PB and J sandwiches. Still shivering, we made small talk with our co-kayakers while we sipped on some hot chocolate.

Although we were already cold and sore, our guide rallied us up for an afternoon kayak. We kayaked into a smaller arm of the sound where we were able to explore on our own. It is hard to explain how large Doubtful Sound is, especially from the perspective of a kayak at sea level. We would kayak towards an area we were curious about and after five minutes of paddling, we felt like we haven’t moved at all. We continued to explore the perimeter of the arm passing waterfalls and fallen trees and trying to absorb everything around us. We continue to express how beautiful everything in New Zealand is, but our pictures and weak descriptions hardly do Doubtful Sound justice. After about fifteen minutes of exploration we were instructed to group up and head back to camp.

Back at the beach, we had to carry our kayaks out of sight and pitch our tents before we could get anything to eat. With a slight drizzle and the usual swarm of sand flies, Jen and I tried our best to put our tent up as fast as we could so that we could enjoy the feeling of dry clothes again. Tent finished, Jen jumped inside to change. Freezing to death, I decided I could change at least my pants. Mistake. Sandflies peppered my legs and when my big hand would swat seven dead, fourteen would replace the void. Jen soon was successfully in dry clothes but stated her legs were also attacked even inside the tent. Great.

Back in the community bug tent, we cooked ourselves some dinner and drank a complimentary bag-o-wine out of small plastic Dixie cups. We spent a few hours talking to our group and having a few more servings of wine before we had to bag up our food and head to our luxurious accommodation.

We woke up to our guide announcing that water was boiling for breakfast (for coffee, oatmeal, etc.) While dragging our feet to the bug tent, we were informed that during the night a native bird (the weka) had torn through someone’s food bag. My heart sank as I realized that it was ours. I cleaned up the mess and assessed the damage; we lost the rest of our PB and J’s leaving us with trail mix and granola bars for the rest of the day. After breakfast, we paddled back into Doubtful Sound.

The only thing that stopped us from complaining about our coldness, sore backs, tight shoulders, weak arms and a small wine hangover was the breathtaking view of the fiord on the calm morning waters. We continued paddling for nearly six hours stopping only for a few lectures and at another beach where we had snacks and some more hot chocolate. Once we were back to the beach where we started, we were able to exchange some contact information with our newly made friends and head back to Te Anau.

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