The West coast of the South Island of New Zealand is home to around 31,000 people. Not many when you think that this coast stretches for hundreds of kilometres. Drive along here and you are blessed with views of rugged landscapes (such as Pancake Rocks), rivers, mountains, beaches, the Tasman Sea…and maybe heavy rain (over 5m a year) and sandflies (there are always explanatory downsides for a small population!).
The accessible Franz Josef and Fox glaciers are along this coast and are comparatively easy to access either on foot or by helicopter (complete with snow landings). You can even do a heli-hike if you like the feel of crampons (maybe next time).
Getting out of a helicopter at the top of a glacier is truly breathtaking. Unspoilt. Pristine. Perfect. Let’s hope they don’t melt away.
I have spoken before about one of New Zealand’s most colourful native birds. As first, they appear black, but look a little more closely and you see the white ruff of feathers on their throat and beautiful brown and green-blues on their back.
They fly noisily through the air and land on the trees and plants which are in flower, such as flax (as shown above) or the pohutukawa or kowhai trees to drink their nectar.
The most distinctive thing about the Tui though is the song. From tweets to whistles to croaks it is incredibly varied. And to top it all, when travelling around the country, I have actually observed regional dialects. The Maori apparently used to keep them as pets at one time and they are known to be great mimics.
Even the people in NZ don’t seem to have regional dialects…it is like travelling from Doncaster to Barnsley in the UK and thinking you might have entered an alien land. One up to the Tui!
The area of Marlborough to the North of New Zealand’s South Island is home to many a vineyard. Indeed, there are far more vineyards scattered across the country than you may expect. It is a big business for NZ.
These vineyards range from the delightfully small and boutique where you can easily meet the owner while having a taste session up to the huge business concerns. It was at one of these, Yealands Winery, near the town of Seddon, that I did a self-drive tour (yes, you read that correctly) before going to the obligatory tasting area and shop.
The business prides itself on being carbon zero (or carboNZero to localise it!) and uses old vines as fuel (and has big piles of fertiliser which are made on-site), has free-range chickens eliminating bugs and babydoll sheep (which cannot reach the vines) mowing the grass. This is a BIG vineyard though and I couldn’t help but feel that maybe somewhere the idylls fell a little flat when you saw the rather sizeable modern factory – but fair play on what they aim for and what they are apparently achieving.
Finally, here is a fun fact…they actually play classical music to their grapes as they believe it increases the vigour of the vines and their resistance to disease. Heaven knows.
In my blog, I often wax lyrical about the beauty of my adopted home, New Zealand. However, I think it is important to have a bit of balance every now and again to tell you about the places which just don’t really cut it for me (but then of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder).
So here is a list of places which have disappointed…and the reasons why…
Wanaka has a beautiful lake (Lake Wanaka) right next to it. But taking the town on its own merits, it is a soulless, modern eyesore of a place which is there largely to serve the public desire to be close to the lake (and when did a public presence really benefit a natural place in modern times?). While I have not stayed there, passing through was enough.
Nestled on the shore of the gorgeous Lake Wakatipu, and with the equally beautiful Shotover River nearby, Queenstown is the hub for all of the extreme sports you can possibly think of. I have partaken in said sports in my past and thoroughly enjoyed them. However, I feel that given its main attractions, Queenstown has become a hub for thrill-seekers largely in their 20s and 30s and if you are not inclined to be in this group, you are possibly best to avoid it…try the nearby Arrowtown instead.
I had high hopes of visiting Nelson in the north of the South Island. I am not entirely sure why. The city itself was rather mundane (and a bit of an anti-climax after the scenery en-route from Picton) although there were some great beaches nearby. The cathedral was a tad strange. One plus is that the maker of the rings from the Lord of the Rings films is based here and they even let me take a photo…zoom in for price information.