Saturday, 23 April 2011
You will also probably be told (ah the hilarity, yawn) that it is only the female sandfly that bites. (tour operators note just how much more amusing this story gets the more frequently it is told, in fact some people have actually, literally, died laughing at this one I kid you not look here's the newspaper story about it).
The Maori sandfly story is much more interesting and even has a soupcon of logic. It says that sandflies (or 'namu' in Maori) were sent by the goddess Hinenuitepo to get people moving around, as everyone on the island was just sitting on their backsides gawping at the beautiful scenery (see above: kayaking on the Doubtful Sound) all day long and not getting any work done.
It is certainly true that were it but for the sandflies, New Zealand would be a paradise and there would probably be a hotel complex on practically every beach, with shops selling flip flops and inappropriate seaside postcards, huge Sombreros and lots of plastic tat that no one really needs. I'm sure Fiordland's wildness would be spoilt with a cable car or two, a few hundred very loud American's all talking at once, plus a few luxury lodges. So I begrudgingly thank the sandfly for preventing that, however, I will still be dissuading them to land, and suck, about my person.
The ferocious beasts are much worse than mosquitoes in terms of the number of times that they bite and the discomfort that they cause. Although, to be fair, New Zealand sandflies don't transmit Malaria or Dengue Fever. However, an infected sandfly bite can cause blood poisoning (if you see a red line moving up your body from the bite get medical help quick). There has been a run on infected bites recently, according to a local GP here, so it does happen.
How to stop the onslaught? Some people swear by DEET but this is pretty nasty stuff and I'm not sure it's always that effective. I'd always suggest the local repellents work best on the local insects. (While in India the local branded Odomos non-DEET anti mosquito seemed to work more effectively for me, at least in repelling mosquitoes, as did dousing myself in diluted Dettol after a bucket shower.)
Practically every chemist in southland has an array of alternatives to DEET but a home made Kiwi remedy, which doubles up as a hand sanitizer with moisturiser (luxury), is a 50:50 mix of baby oil mixed with Dettol (it comes to the rescue yet again). Okay so you will reek of Dettol - and have slippery hands - but you will be grateful.
It's much better to be on the offensive before you get bitten as once those critters leave their little red calling cards, you'll be prepared to mortgage your house to buy nuclear warheads to send their way (sandflies are one of the reasons why New Zealand is nuclear free because the authorities know that if nuclear weaponry was hanging around they would be forcibly removed by the Army Against Really irritating Sandflies [AARS] and used against the blood suckers, sparking a world war. This is a bonfide fact from Wiki, which you can read here.)
But don't forget to put some sandfly repellent on your head (or wear a hat) as they like to land on you from above Mission Impossible style, crawl through your hair and have a blood fest while you sit there thinking 'oh this is wonderful, there are no sandflies here'. In the pecking order, vampires have a better reputation than sandflies among Kiwis. If they had a choice, being turned into a member of the living dead would always be preferable to the itching and 'oh I'm not itching it, I'm just itching around it' and 'no I'm not scratching it until it bleeds that's just menstrual blood' shenanigans.
The other strategy is to cover up so they can't get at your skin or walk faster. The only time I've found walking faster didn't work was on some of the beaches on Stewart Island, every other time it works unless you are one of those irritating people that walks so slowly it classifies as standing still. Also, make sure you put the sandfly repellent of your choice, on your arse if you do any activity that involves wearing a wet suit and having to pee in the great outdoors.
Don't say you haven't been warned....
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
Te Anau is missed off the main tour bus route (I'm not sure whether this is a curse or a blessing and judging by the split local opinion I think the jury is still out on this one) and is a low key and much more relaxed sort of place than the likes of nearby-ish Queenstown.
Te Anau is an ideal place to stay before embarking on the Milford Track, which is how I found myself to be staying there. And having completed the Milford Track I'm going to stick my neck out and say while it is "a fine walk" it is not "the finest walk in the world" (it's nice valley walk with a bit of a climb). And I'd go further in saying that the fact that about a million people frogmarch round it each day is rather surreal and actually spoils it a little bit.
That "finest" quote was made by the poet Blanche Baughan in 1908 and it stuck. Although to be fair she actually originally called it a "notable" walk and the editor changed it (ah the media) according to Wiki. The Milford is meant to be at its best when it's pissing it down and seeing as I was blessed by the sun god, I'm prepared to admit that I might not have seen it at its "finest". However, the quote has stuck, made the history books as well as every travel guide around, helping to make the Milford the most well-known New Zealand tramp (this is the term Kiwi's use for longish walks - I've no idea why) and helping to swell numbers on the Milford (you have to book months in advance - although you can be lucky like me and get a last minute place).
The Milford track is now so busy that never-mind-the-weather you have to move on each day. They also have a very strange two-tier hut system with "luxury" huts (which reportedly will set you back $1850 - why do people do this??) and normal "pleby" huts. Strange.
(Below: the MacKinnon Pass on the Milford Track)
Anyway enough of this rant, the point is it's easy to end up thinking that the Milford is the only kid on the block when there are lots of other walks that are just as lovely - if not more so- and the Kepler is one of them. And it's a walk that Te Anau people seem to love. Firstly, it's on their doorstep. Secondly it's much easier on the feet with the path being relatively even. In fact it's popular to run the 10km stretch between the control gates on the edge of the lake and Rainbow Reach. It takes about an hour.
Every year, lots of totally insane people gather at the start of the 60km track and run the whole thing - the record is something like four hours. A positive about not living in Te Anau is that I can't be tempted to give this a go. Instead I decided to go to Stewart Island and walk the ten day Northwest circuit...
(Top: Lake Te Anau on a sunny day, Below: a moody Lake Te Anau)