"That's the life!" said a stranger passing in his truck as he observed us sunbathing outside our motorhome. "Enjoying the Fiordland sunshine. Where are you from?" As usual we struck up a conversation with a friendly New Zealander. Henry and I had just completed a lovely walk on the Kepler Track: one of the Great Walks where it is possible to enjoy a few hours tramping in stunning countryside.
From Rainbow Reach Car Park, cross the swing bridge and then the path starts to climb up through forest until there is a choice of destinations. Shallow Bay was our aim, providing a good variety of scenery.
The track follows the river, but from a height so you only get the chance to see it from viewpoints. Tomtits fly in front of you, huge ferns grace the path and mossy tendrils hang down from the trees.
It only took us just over an hour to reach Shallow Bay. Leaving at 9.30 am, we met three people near the start then no one for nearly an hour. Overall, we counted about fifty people there and back, nicely spread out and cheerfully greeting us, as you do when walking in such a beautiful place. Shallow Bay exceeded my expectations. It was awesome. No amount of time would be enough on such a beach. Lake Manapouri set off by several mountain ranges including the Kepler Mountains of course. At this time of year they were snow-capped and took your breath away. I stood and looked, and absorbed as much as I could. Just Henry and I here alone in peace.
Meanwhile, Joe and Freya were off on a Doubtful Sound cruise with Real Journeys. We had all done this trip when we last visited New Zealand but it is pretty expensive when you multiply it by four so this was our solution. Great to pack them off now they are adults!
Starting from Pearl Harbour, Manapouri at 8 am, it returns at around 2.30 pm. The trip takes you over Lake Manapouri, then by coach across Wilmott Pass, then another cruise through Doubtful Sound. The day began with mists lingering over the lake - it had been a frosty start - and became sunny, though still cold. You could not wear a hat though unless you wanted to lose it as someone did. Joe said the guides were excellent and entertaining.
Sometimes you can see dolphins on this trip but sadly none were seen this time. There was, however, a brief view of some little blue penguins.
I lost my heart to this magnificent part of the country, as we all did when we came here before. This is the image of New Zealand, where to go if you are a photographer, the area you just cannot miss. It is as 'New Zealand' as it gets. To me, this is the heart of New Zealand.