Wild about New Zealand - Fiordland

New Zealand documentary maker Gus Roxburgh's series on New Zealand's national parks - visiting Fiordland national park today.

It’s not every nature documentary that gets us as excited about our homeland but this one - Wild about New Zealand by Wanaka / Los Angeles based producer Gus Roxburgh - certainly has and we love the fact it features a lot of the places we visit on our small group tours. This is a six part documentary on TVNZ and the first episode screened last night, New Zealand time.  

With backdrops of the fiords and mountains of Southwest New Zealand, I was expecting lots of scenic grandeur and of course I wasn’t disappointed but as the show started and we saw the helicopter shots and heard the inspiring background music I was wondering what Gus was going to do to make this documentary different.  My question was answered as I watched Gus’ really informative but easy going dialogue with various locals he spent time with getting an insight into Fiordland tourism, conservation and infrastructure.  The sight of Gus walking the Milford Track in his shorts made me laugh, this can only be authentic Kiwi!  I don’t know why but it’s a real New Zealand thing, when we go hiking (tramping as we call it) most Kiwis wear shorts!

Part one was all about Fiordland, New Zealand’s largest national park and without a doubt the one of the greatest wilderness areas anywhere in the world.  Locations highlighted ranged from the higher profile and well visited areas of Milford Sound, Milford Road and Milford Track to the much more isolated Dusky Sound, which I have to admit I haven’t been to even after around 15 years guiding walking tours in Fiordland!  There was a perfect balance of subject matter between interesting facts, things to do, history, conservation and people.  Starting with the more accessible activities such as hiking the Milford Track, to scuba diving in Milford Sound to a pretty extreme abseil down the Bowen Falls, there was something for everyone.

Of obvious interest to me was the piece on hiking the Milford Track, as this is included in our New Zealand hiking tours and a track I have had the pleasure of guiding many guests through over the years.  The western side of the Milford Track gets a lot of rain and walking the Milford track is one of the best places to see the unique ecosystem at your own pace.  The New Zealand landmass separated from the Gondwanaland continent around 85 million years ago and since that time there were no external influences at all until the first people arrived only 1000 years ago.  This is the ecological equivalent of an arc and the species that evolved here cannot be found anywhere else on earth.  This ranges from the flora we see on the Milford Track such as the giant tree fuchsia, to the tiny insects living in the leaf matter on the forest floor.  I didn’t know much about these till watching the documentary so will make sure to get down on my hands and knees next time I’m on the Milford to have a closer look!  We also loved the aerial shots from the helicopter as they reminded us of the heli trip from Milford Sound to Martins Bay on day nine of our tour.  I am sure Gus would have loved to include Martins Bay and the Hollyford Track in his documentary so maybe next time!

There were excellent insights into the wildlife and this is a big part of what makes New Zealand so unique - if you enjoy natural history then New Zealand is for you.  The footage of New Zealand’s rarest birds (Kakapo, Takahe and Saddleback) was both insightful and entertaining - we all cringed a little at the sight of a clumsy Kakapo falling out of a tree and making a big thump as it hit the ground, thankfully to get up and waddle away unhurt.  When there are only 120 or so of the species left alive then falls from trees take on a larger significance than they do in the neighbourhood cat population.  Something else I learned was that numbers of Saddleback had decreased to such a level that they were possibly only months from extinction before an intervention essentially saved the species.

This lead nicely onto into the Dusky Sound piece, where local tourism operator Greg Hay took Gus on a cruise around the sound to introduce the area and in particular, the phenomenon of island wildlife sanctuaries.  The devastating impact on New Zealand native birdlife by introduced predators was recognized as early as the 1890s and this led to the establishment of a protected wildlife reserve on Resolution Island in Dusky Sound - now home to a wild (but carefully watched) population of Kakapo.  Through Peregine winery in Queenstown, Greg is an active supporter of Fiordland conservation projects and it’s partners like this we work with on our New Zealand small group tours - Peregrine Winery is one of our stops on our Queenstown winery walk on day eight of our tour.

The role of the New Zealand Department of Conservation was outlined and no doubt will feature more in future episodes, with around 30% of New Zealand’s total area now part of the conservation estate DOC (as the locals call them) is the biggest landlord in the country and custodians of our natural heritage.  There’s so much important work that goes on in the background, for instance we all take the bridges on the Milford Track for granted but of course there in a place like Fiordland they didn’t get there by themselves - this work is all done by ‘the Department’ (as they call themelves) so thanks DOC!

On a final note, I really liked Gus’ comments at the end of the doco about the ‘intrinsic value’ of wilderness areas like Fiordland - these are our natural resources and it’s up to all of us to ensure these areas stay just the way they are now.   Great job Gus and we are looking forward to next week.

New Zealand Trails operates small group guided walking tours into the heart of Fiordland National Park and Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area.  Our 11 or 13 day tours include hikes on the best Fiordland tracks - the Hollyford and Milford tracks as well as the Routeburn Track, Arthurs Pass and Mount Cook national parks.  For more information on our New Zealand walking tours here.

Andrew Wells - New Zealand Trails

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