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A Few Days In The South Island

April 22, 2010

I hope you aren’t thinking that I never do any work, but we just got back from another trip, this time to the South Island of NZ. 

The South Island is considerably different than the North Island.  The main difference is that the North Island is subtropical while the South is temperate and that means you get a change of seasons. 

We have toured the South Island several times in the past but always in late spring or summer and we’ve been talking about taking a trip down to check out the fall foliage for a long time. We’ve also been wanting to visit our friends, René and Marianne, who have a bed and breakfast by Lake Tekapo, population 350.

That’s another thing that makes the South Island different–the absence of people.  The population of NZ is about 4.4 million and about 3.3 million of them live in the slightly smaller North Island.  Of the 1.1 million in the South Island, about half live in the cities of Christchurch, Dunedin and Nelson.  The rest live on farms or in small, quaint towns. 

We flew into Christchurch and left from Dunedin—here was our route:

We arrived in Christchurch early in the morning and picked up our rental car.  We did a leisurely drive, enjoying the quiet roads and sights along the way:

By lunchtime we were at Lake Tekapo.

That’s not the B&B!  It is called The Church of the Good Shepherd and it is the church in Lake Tekapo and a very popular wedding venue.

Lake Tekapo is on the edge of the Southern Alps, a mountain range that dominates a lot of the central South Island and René is a mountain guide.  Aoraki Mt. Cook, which is the highest mountain in NZ, is where Sir Edmund Hillary trained before he climbed Mt. Everest.  The lake itself is the result of glacial runoff and the silt and minerals in the water give it an amazing green/blue color.

René and Marianne treated us to a scenic flight over the mountains.  I sat right behind the pilot and it was like the opening scene of Where Eagles Dare.  We would be flying straight at a mountain and the pilot would be pointing out the window explaining some interesting feature and I wanted to say, “Excuse me, you wanna have a look at what’s looming in the windshield?”

This is one of the glaciers:

This picture shows the glacial water flowing into the lake so you can see the unusual colouring:

And if you still don’t believe me, here is Lake Tekapo next to two neighboring spring-fed lakes:

I love this airport:

Another interesting thing about Lake Tekapo is that there is an observatory there operated by Canterbury University in Christchurch.  They are applying for World Heritage status as part of the Dark Sky project because there is so little light pollution and it is a great place to observe the stars.  It is amazing.  There are so many stars that you have trouble picking out the constellations that we are used to seeing.  René also does volunteer guide work for the observatory and gave us a night time lecture in the comfort of his back yard.  We also visited the observatory by day.


We got a tour of the telescope and an explanation of the projects they are working on.  I’d love to tell you all about it, but I didn’t understand much!  It has to do with dark matter and searching for other solar systems.

Back on Earth, we learned that euphemisms are alive and well everywhere:

You guessed it.  The Resource Recovery Park is the local landfill.

After a couple of relaxing days enjoying René and Marianne’s hospitality, we headed south towards Lake Wanaka.  We took the back roads:

The road wasn’t bad, but when I saw this vehicle I really wanted to have one just like it!

As we went further south we saw more and more evidence of autumn.  It wasn’t exactly New England but it was more than enough to set the mood:

Lake Wanaka is famous for the lake, great views and Puzzling World which is a fun museum with all sorts of interesting scientific phenomena and a huge maze that can take hours to get through. 

Don’t you hate it when people do things like this?

From Wanaka we headed to Arrowtown, population 4,000.  It used to be a gold mining town and they have tried to maintain some of the old time look and feel.  Their Autumn Festival was in full swing and it seemed as if everyone was out celebrating:

Here I am enjoying the standard fare at any NZ outing—a sausage!

We then went on to Queenstown, which is NZ’s vacation headquarters with skiing in winter and Xtreme sports in summer.  Bungy jumping was invented there.  I did not partake. 

The best thing to do in Queenstown is to drive along the lake up to Glenorchy which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.  Peter Jackson thought so too and several scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed in the area.  In case you are a fan and wondering which ones, they include Lothlorien, Amon Hen, Nen Hithoel, Amon Lhaw, Parth Galen, the Ford of Bruinen, The Pillars of the King on the River Anduin, and the site of Gandalf’s ride to Isengard.

We left Queenstown and drove on toward Dunedin.  We tried to find interesting sights and towns on the way.  Here are black swans at Lake Hayes outside of Cromwell:

We stopped in St. Bathans, an old gold mining town, current permanent population 6.  They used a brute force method of mining which basically consisted of washing the dirt off the ore with giant hoses.  It has left permanent scars on the landscape but also created a nice lake:

And Naseby, population 120:

Oh, and I almost forgot!   They’re everywhere!

It was a wonderful trip filled with beautiful scenery and great people.  I can’t say I’m ready to move to a town with the population in four figures or less.  But at least it’s nice to know they are out there and that they always have the welcome mat out.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary permalink
    April 23, 2010 1:26 am

    You’ve captured so many great images of your trip with your camera. And I learned something of the geography of South Island. You made me laugh at the pilot’s scary flight into the mountains. Talk about a back seat driver.

    I’m enjoying your site.

  2. April 23, 2010 3:14 am

    I really enjoyed this post! My husband and I spent a week on the South Island. We loved it. Now this makes me want to return even more.

    After we returned home, I discovered Kiwi Bloke’s blog.

  3. April 23, 2010 3:55 am

    What glorious scenery in New Zealand. The photos are marvelous, especially of the glacier from the sky looking down.

    The small libraries interest me. How many books?

    I imagine the fishing is amazing in New Zealand.

    I love staring my day with this tour of your scenic country.

    • April 23, 2010 10:00 am

      I’m not sure how many books they have but the variety is amazing considering the library’s size.

  4. Kris permalink
    April 23, 2010 4:42 am

    What a wonderful place to visit! Seems quite remote. The pics are lovely… esp. loved the one with the sheep. The church interior picture is beautiful!

  5. April 23, 2010 4:54 am

    Interesting Blog, Thanks for sharing 🙂

  6. April 23, 2010 5:17 am

    I had a friend who went on vacation once back in the eighty’s to New Zealand and he decided to move there and never returned to the US…All I ever got was the beautiful postcards he sent every year… Incredible!

  7. April 23, 2010 5:48 am

    the lakes are Beautiful!! looks like you had a great time.

  8. April 23, 2010 6:39 am

    possessing the northern hemisphere mind that i have, i’m continually fascinated by the shiftings i have to keep in mind when exploring the southern hemisphere. things you touch on… things a northern hemisphere mind simple thinks, “this is the way it has always been” when it’s not – even on our own planet. i’ve spent a little time in the southern hemisphere and there are still every day encounters that continually amuse me when i simply forget. …like “going south” means moving toward temperate zones and going north means moving into the tropics. …or the fact that Christmas is in the summer in the southern hemisphere. . .

    i grew up in a (small) town with a population of less than 12,000, altho that town was near a town (across the river in another state connected by a bridge that made it seem as if it was all one place – sometimes – even though there were different – state – laws and so on) of about 40,000. the town i grew up in was also near a town (may be 40 miles away) with a population of about 27 depending on how many people were driving through it at the time and if no one was on vacation. i liked that small town environment and some of your photos remind me of some of the areas around where i grew up in south eastern Washington State.

    your article is a fun read and makes travel to NZ very appealing. cool on that – and fun too. thanks

    • April 23, 2010 10:08 am

      Glad you enjoyed the read.

      You are right about the adjustment to the north/south orientation. It’s almost as tough as learning to use the metric system! It’s little things like a northerly wind meaning warm temperatures (and 25 degrees being warm).

  9. Robert permalink
    April 23, 2010 6:41 am

    Wow! Really great pictures, beautiful. I can only hope to travel as you do and wonder what it would be like to meet people from other countries.

  10. April 23, 2010 6:47 am

    After reading your front page I see you handle matters regarding fraud. I was a victim of such once and have gained an inside view. Is your work simular to this?

    • April 23, 2010 10:14 am

      I was more involved in financial fraud rather than a situation like yours, but I dealt with attorneys and appreciate some of what you are going through. I’ll be reading your blog with interest.

  11. Rathi permalink
    April 23, 2010 8:12 am

    Thank you for the virtual tour of the South Island. I am yet to go there. Have you been to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. My inlaws tell me Milford Sound is known for their spectacular Mirror Lakes.

  12. Robin permalink
    April 23, 2010 8:30 am

    Lol, I slipped and slid down one of those white cliffs 6 pics up while on a school trip. Managed to stop just short of the water though – whew.

  13. April 23, 2010 8:36 am

    Interesting post. Sparse, brief and succinct and informative.
    Nice photographs.

  14. April 23, 2010 10:03 am

    Lake Tekapo is on the edge of the Southern Alpshe Southern Alps? I always thought it was Lake Maggiore. Now I’m completely confused, geographically speaking.

    When did they rename Old Zealand into South Island?

    And the observatory sign is wrong. Objects in telescopes are actually very close but tiny.

    • April 23, 2010 10:12 am

      I haven’t even started to confuse you with interesting naming conventions down here!

      LOL good point about the telescope.

  15. izziedarling permalink
    April 23, 2010 10:17 am

    Wow. Everyone I know who has been to NZ says it is the most beautiful place on Earth. I’m going to pack my bags! Thanks for the great post!

  16. April 23, 2010 10:22 am

    Weird-looking glacial water, space aliens, sausages, quaint churches, and a truck worthy of Mad Max—how am I supposed to put this all together? I’m confused……!! : )

    • April 23, 2010 10:58 am

      Ha! When you put it that way, it sounds pretty scary. I have to give some thought to the way I process and filter experiences!!

  17. April 23, 2010 10:41 am

    Great trip, lovely Church, beautiful mountains, cute sheep, an airplane joyride. You had it all.

    Thanks for sharing the pics and your journey with us.

  18. April 23, 2010 1:39 pm

    Hahaha loved this post. Myself and 3 friends did a roadtrip around the south island a few years ago, it was just amazing.
    I have the same photo with the leaning tower of Wanaka – so corny… But there were many other tourists doing wayyy cornier poses, so I wasn’t too embarassed.

    Cheers, Alis

  19. April 23, 2010 5:56 pm

    Some pictures are Soothing
    Some are Calming
    Some are funny
    Some mesmerizing !!!

  20. April 23, 2010 6:21 pm

    Speaking as a local, I’m glad you enjoyed the place.

    The great thing about NZ is that everything’s within just a few hours drive – you can travel the length of the South Island in one day (if you’re in a hurry), yet in that space there’s a wide variety of sights to see.

    Really, two weeks should be a compulsory minimum!

  21. Burzis permalink
    April 23, 2010 11:19 pm

    Hi Tom,

    Great pictures…. Too good…Amazing photography….very interesting post….

  22. April 24, 2010 12:01 am

    I absolutely love your blog!!! what fabulous photos. makes me want to pack up and go right NOW!!!! wonderful story telling, got me right in there with you, especially the pilot part…I had that experience once flying into Cape Town and I was like….dude!!! look in front of you forget the scenery 🙂
    Love the road vehicle….imagine 🙂
    Thanks for a fab blog, I will keep the B&B in mind for when I visit NZ and I loved the aerial photos of the lakes. wow!!!
    Thanks for a most entertaining story from someone who is passionate about travel
    @notjustagranny on twitter

    p.s. i have signed up to receive more of your posts.

  23. April 24, 2010 10:58 am

    Beautiful scenery! I have a few close friends who’ve gone to NZ for varying lengths of time–heard nothing but good things from them all as well!

  24. Gail permalink
    April 24, 2010 11:25 am

    Tom, I wondered why no blog for a while. Wanaka is one place in N.Z. where i think I would enjoy living. From the responses to your tour blogs, keep travelling as we all love to armchair travel. cheers Gail.

  25. April 24, 2010 12:44 pm

    1) The humor!!!!

    2) The views!

    Give me citizenship.

    You are a connoisseur, Thomas.

    On a separate note, your latest recommenation, Hamilton by Chernow, has just arrived from Amazon and is now on my pile.

    You still have a perfect batting average (I’m talking about recommendations), topped by “Troy”.

    Clearly, New Zealand is where I am meant to settle.

    • April 24, 2010 9:57 pm

      Come on down!

      I hope you enjoy the book. Because you are looking at leaders and thinkers I’m pretty sure you will find it interesting.

  26. Andrea permalink
    April 25, 2010 8:28 pm

    I love your pictues, and would love to visit there some day. What an amazing trip you had. Thank you for sharing!

  27. Len Skuta permalink
    November 11, 2011 10:50 am

    Thanks for another pleasant trip to the other side of our world. These are the great pleasure trips.
    Len Skuta

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