New Zealand Offers Sights, Respite from Colorado Winter
by David Erickson
In Auckland, the “City of Sails” and New Zealand’s largest, our hotel was near the waterfront by the Viaduct Harbor. At the harbor there is a wonderful maritime museum, displaying an infinite variety of old and new boats, including those historically used by the native Maori. Here, an America’s Cup yacht is berthed and where we arranged to sail with its crew. Although it rained heavily throughout our morning voyage, as deckhands we worked the “cranks” to raise and lower sails.
The scenery is spectacular on the South Island, so we arranged in advance to spend most of our time there. Our first stop was Christchurch. Most of the downtown area, known as the “red zone,” is cordoned off by a high chain link fence. Nearly all of the buildings in the area have been damaged, most beyond repair, in the devastating earthquake that struck a year ago.
We were told that 1,200 commercial buildings and 10,000 dwellings are listed as “uninhabitable”; entry is prohibited even to retrieve personal items. We were able to see in the windows of some restaurants, where there was still food and personal items on the tables—left behind when people fled.
One downtown area, about four square blocks, has been leveled, cleared, and asphalted over, with some shops having reopened in shipping containers—those large metal ones used to transport goods across the ocean. There are areas of “liquefaction” where sand and water had been pushed to the surface, making it like quicksand. The devastation is terrible and it will take a long time to rebuild. Many of the older historic buildings, such as the stone churches, were destroyed.
There were three earthquakes, at least that we could feel, while we were in Christchurch. One was strong—5.3-magnitude and directly under the city, and certainly enough to knock you over. Although we were asleep at the time, the noise and shaking woke us immediately. The Worcester, a two-story frame house with a lightweight roof, has sustained little damage from the earthquakes.
From Christchurch we took the Tranz Alpine Train, which travels south across the Canterbury Plain then west over Arthur’s Pass, the highest and most spectacular route in the Southern Alps. The rail route crossed numerous trestles over gorges cut by cascading mountain streams. An open car on the train was packed with tourists looking at the views and taking photographs. We departed the train in Greymouth, on the coast of the Tasman Sea, and rented a car. From there we drove south along the coast to Fox Glacier, one of New Zealand’s three largest glaciers. Above it looms Mount Cook, New Zealand’s largest mountain, named after Capt. James Cook, the British explorer who mapped the entire New Zealand coastline in 1769 and 1770.
A helicopter took us to a high and inaccessible part of the upper glacier. We donned heavy mountain boots and strapped on crampons. Using walking sticks and led by an energetic young guide who chopped foot holds with his ice axe, we made our way around numerous glacial crevasses, small streams that suddenly disappeared into bottomless ice holes, ice caves that were blue on the inside, and crawled through a large ice tunnel.
From the Fox Glacier we drove farther south to Queenstown, along a narrow road with many one-lane bridges. Although the scenery was lovely, we found that the drive on the “wrong side of the road” was tiring, and we constantly mixed up the windshield wipers and the turn signals, which are reversed from what we know.
In Queenstown, we boated on the lake, walked about its harbor, ate in its outdoor cafés, and enjoyed the performances of some amazing street buskers. The area has a rich gold mining history, which was displayed throughout the city in photographs and articles. “Lord of the Rings” was filmed to the east, and the area is still under the control of the Maori. We arranged to kayak there, in “Middle Earth,” taking in high jagged peaks and broad valleys.
From Queenstown we traveled west to an area called “Fiordland” (“Rainland” would be more appropriate) on the coast and adjoining the Tasman Sea, requiring travel via air and bus to reach it. On large catamarans, we toured both Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound, deep fiords abutted by sheer cliffs extending many hundreds of feet above and below the waterline. We endured heavy rains as we traveled the length of the fiords to their exit at the Tasman Sea but saw pods of dolphin and fur seals en route.
Next, heading to Nelson, in the northern part of the South Island, we arranged for a charter bus to the Abel Tasman National Park, named after the Dutch explorer who first sighted the northwest coast of the South Island in 1642. A charter boat took us to an area called Bark Bay and dropped us off at a well-known trailhead. We went tramping, as it’s called there, on a narrow trail, cut into the side of the steep coastal bluffs, winding up, down, and around for about 15 kilometers to a small bay, the Anchorage, where the boat picked us up again later that day.
Being in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, was a welcome respite from the Colorado winter, and New Zealand offered breathtaking views and experiences. D