Sunday, April 3, 2016

From Wanaka to Te Anau

Lake Hawea, New Zealand (Jun 2, 2008)

The huge Lake Wanaka is separated from the slightly smaller Lake Hawea by less than 1 km of land. Both lakes fill glacial valleys left behind by glaciers that retired 10,000 years ago, and are now renowned touristic destinations. The photo above is of Lake Hawea.

Geomagnetic cows
I mentioned in the previous post the abundance of farm animals we encountered during our detour in the Treble Cone sky valley. Sheep, yes, but also cows resting leisurely in the early winter sun. If you look closely at the photo on the left, you will see that all cows appear to be aligned. The alignment seems to be the same of the shadow of the trees that, given that the photo was taken at about midday, was oriented roughly North-South. This seems to confirm a research, made by Dr. Sabine Begall and colleagues from the University of Duisburg-Essen, that resting cows (and deer) appear to be preferentially aligned with the magnetic compass. The research was made using Google Earth images of cows in Britain, Ireland, India and the USA, but apparently the same phenomenon is true for the upside-down New Zealand cows. I wonder if it works for sheep too.

Mayli freezing
From Wanaka we went back on our way to Queenstown. Rather than taking the main road (the fast Route 6 following the Clutha River), we cut trough the scenic Cardrona Valley road, set in the Crown Range mountains. While Cardrona is now just a dot in the map, during the Central Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s was a booming town with a population of several thousand prospectors, with the fascinating history of frontier towns, including the now almost-forgotten contribution of thousands of Chinese workers. The road climbs the Crown Range up to a pass overlooking the valley of Queenstown. We stopped at the pass, and attempted to take some shots at the city in the distance, with little success given that it was freezing cold (see photo on the right), windy and briefly snowing. While we were at the pass, however, we saw a large airplane (a jet) flying very low in the valley. It was a pretty scary view, as we could see the airplane from above, and it was not very clear if there were any places suitable for it to land. Well, it turned out that the plane was directed to the airport of Queenstown, eerily hidden between the mountains on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. I am sure that landing in Queenstown must be quite an interesting experience (maybe like landing in Merida, Venezuela).

We didn’t stop in Queenstown, as it was getting late and the city looked too much a tourist trap for our tastes. We drove directly to Te Anau, where we arrived just in time to find a suitable Motel, and to get a tour of the glowworm cavesGlowworms [beautiful 4K time lapse here] are the larval stage of flies that lure their prey in the total darkness of their cave using bioluminescence. Their tail emits a bright blue light that is an irresistible attraction to other insets that end up imprisoned into the sticky filaments deployed by the larvae, and then devoured alive. The whole process, if seen in full light, is probably disgusting, but the caves are explored in darkness and what the visitors see is a firmament of luminous spots covering the cave walls, as if the stars had been imprisoned under the mountains.

Central Otago, New Zealand (Jun 2, 2008)

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