Sunday, 24 July 2016

New Zealand: Earth's Mythical Islands

This was a stunning documentary about New Zealand's wildlife - batty penguins in a quagmire, prehistoric forests, nocturnal birds, giant snails, even more giant whales, cryogenic wasps (very Fortitude) and a heck of a lot of sheep. Crill vomit, abandoned eggs containing miniature dinosaurs, and farming by helicopter: things are very different on the other side of the world. New Zealand has been separated from any other land for so long that it has evolved in a different way, but without large predators, which is why it has so many flightless birds.

More dangerous is the geothermal activity bubbling under the surface, and often exploding through it. There are geysers that erupt 20 times a day. Patches of land can vanish. The Alps are still growing taller, there are slurping, sulphurous mud pools, and the city of Christchurch is still recovering from the devastating earthquake of 2009. There is also a lot of weather in New Zealand - cyclones, typhoons, seemingly endless torrential rain. It isn't called the Land of the Long White Cloud for nothing.
Christchurch Cathedral in 2006
There was also footage of the camera crew that went to film the penguins - sailing through terrifying seas (the Roaring Forties) to a remote offshore island; a lot of people with a lot of camera equipment crammed into a boat way too small for them and lacking much in the way of facilities. There was a toilet shack built on the land, but it had been commandeered by a smelly, angry sealion who was up for a fight.

A reminder of our wonderful three weeks in New Zealand ten years ago. The never-ending bush, the tropical plans, the steaming hot pools, the towering snow-covered mountains, the glaciers and reflecting lakes.
Southern Alps from the air

Lake Matheson

As for the wildlife, a lot of the animals we saw were farmed (deer being readied for venison, cheeky lambs nibbling on sauvignon grapes) or contained (kiwis in a nocturnal hut on a bird reserve). There were a lot of dead possums on the road, and a bird bone punctured one of our tyres. A cat wandered into our motel room in Franz Josef one night. Ducks begged for food at Lake Taupo, but they just seemed so terribly English. We tried to go and see the thieving keas on the road to Mount Aspiring, but the track turned to dirt and was banned for our hire car (especially a hire car lacking a spare tyre). Judging by the film footage, it looks like the keas would have wrecked the car anyway. The wildest creatures we saw - apart from a school of dolphins swimming alongside our Wellington to Picton ferry - were the cloud of sandflies at Milford Sound, who seemed determined to eat me alive. There was no time for whalewatching at Kaikoura or to stop at the glow-worm caves south of Auckland; our schedule was too pressing. For this and for so many other reasons, we would love to go back.

Too English
Seagull at Lake Taupo, also too English

Motel visitor. The English girl had drunk too much wine.

En route between Wanaka and Mount Aspiring. Too rough.

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