Chapter 33 – Truly Beautiful New Zealand
I had never seen the Southern Lakes of New Zealand, and here I was, settled in Australia for four years. This trip in August 2011 would not centre on visiting family and friends. Our aim was to be typical Australian resident travellers to the South Island. Rosalind had not seen the famous mountains and lakes either, so we aimed our rental car straight for Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook on landing. The big question was the weather. Would the weather allow us to see any mountains? Normally, weather comes from the west, over the Southern Alps, shrouding them in clouds. It was September. Miraculously, a two-week long weather system settled over the South Island from the east: all the alps, and the lakes, and even the notoriously rainy West Coast would be clear for our trip.
Lake Tekapo was a clear, clean, icy light-blue, under those uniquely, deep blue, southern skies.
Mount Cook stood proud, in the clear dusk and the next day’s dawn sun. Magical.
As we drove south through the McKenzie Country, 2000m ranges guided us to Central Otago and Cromwell. From here we explored touristy Queenstown and Arrowtown, fell in love with Lake Hayes, and reached out to Lake Wanaka.
There we saw 3200m Mount Aspiring standing so clear in that same beautiful, blue sky.
The heights of these mountains seem insignificant to those from the continents. But our mountains rise almost from sea level. In Europe and in North America, the first great sight of their mountains is when one is already standing at 1000-2000m.
Then off to the Westland on the west coast through the Haast Pass, and still the weather held. In the pass, dense beech rain forest reached down to the road, and up to the snow-laden scree above 1000m. Here and there were perfect examples of ancient glacial valleys, some which we identified as “hanging” valleys, knowledge of which we learnt a long time ago in the now ancient junior social studies curriculum. Soon, we reached the isolated west.
A coast of highly dangerous broken surf, shingle-strewn beaches, scattered with storm-driven driftwood, braided rivers, dense rain forest, tidal lagoons, and unbelievably-green puggy paddocks, lit by a fresh sun rarely seen in this rainy land.
We had not seen rain forest like this since the uplands behind Cairns. Just as dense, but here it shared its upper levels with snow!
Away, out to sea, lay Australia.
We swept past the lonely, little, decaying coast towns. The gold, coal, and jade stone still lying under the ground now ideologically-fenced off by environmentism’s Green agenda. The poor West Coast unable even to harvest its timber. Coal banned in Christchurch, so now shipped to Japan.
Through Otira and Arthur’s Pass to the wide, straight, fertile Canterbury Plains we approached Christchurch.
Here was a disaster area. The recent two-year episodes of earthquakes had left our favourite city unrecognisable. Here was to be our “bolt-hole” – a place to return to live if things ever worsened in Australia. Here were our fondest memories as students, marriage, family, and friends. Associated with those days were places fixed in our memory: the cathedrals, the old university, the Press building where I worked as a proof-reader all those years ago, the colonial statues, High Street, the arcades, the Victorian Gothic provincial buildings … all damaged with most beyond repair. Even Shag Rock in Sumner where our little children scrambled in summer. 500 buildings in the central city condemned. All that was left for our memories was Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens. So much for returning to live in this city.
Just to underline the unfriendly nature of this city, we experienced two 5.5 earthquakes in three days, strong enough to remind us all of the real problem the city has – how and where to rebuild after two years under this continual threat, as well as in a both, local and global, declining economy. Yet, businesses relocated west away from the liquefaction. West of the city centre life went on – busy buzzing with traffic and people. But our dearest, oldest friends were hit by the quakes. Cupboards were taped together. Drinking glasses now at a premium. Each new shake brought all the memories of the last big one back. Terror remained just around the corner. One of our friends is still waiting for over two years for his home to be released from assessment. The dreaded “red zone” still circles the main city centre. No access. Each new shake brings another rain of bricks to the shopping areas below.
Leaving this time we knew that it would be hard to return. Truly beautiful New Zealand – the “shaky isles.”