In my previous installment describing the South Island of New Zealand, I vigorously tried to defend my use of sweeping adjectives and grandiose superlatives. Once again I found myself facing the same dilemma of not sounding too impressed in relating the second half of my whirlwind tour, yet even if I were living in George Orwell’s 1984, I would have no choice but to give this place a rating of “double plus good.”
Queenstown to Fox Glacier
Leaving the adventure capital of Queenstown, our drive took us through scenic Mt. Aspiring National Park and its collection of raging waterfalls on the way through the Haast Pass to reach the rugged and untamed west coast. Sandwiched between the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea, once again the visitor is inundated with natural and soft adventure opportunities. My first stop was the tiny hamlet of Fox Glacier, nestled at the base of its namesake. After taking the nature trail and obligatory photographs from the shore of nearby Lake Matheson, I took in the small but unique experience of observing clusters of glow-worms—tiny larvae of indigenous gnats that emit a small pinprick of greenish light while suspended on sticky threads. Put together they form a miniature universe speckled against the darkened backdrop of the cave ceiling or earthen banks where they reside. I know it may sound, well, disgusting to some, but the uniform reaction that I noted reflected more wonder than revulsion.
The next morning my group and I reported bright and early for our organized glacier walk excursion, since unaccompanied trekking on the glacier is not permitted. We were outfitted with boots, ponchos, and crampons then herded onto a bus for the short ride to the glacier’s base, which was situated in a valley that had it not been occupied by a thousand-foot deep block of ice, would have been an attraction in and of itself. However, it’s all about the glacier here, and after a challenging yet beautiful half hour hike to an entry point, we were ready to strap on our crampons and get out on the ice.
Once again I have to insist that I am not exaggerating when I say that it was impossible not to feel insignificant when scampering across the undulating ridges of blue and white that stretched all the way to the mountaintops. Longer excursions require a helicopter trip to the glacier’s upper reaches and boast trails that take would-be trekkers through ever-changing caverns of incredibly blue ice. Alas, my itinerary required that we were back on the road after only half a day. Out of our group, I can truly say that only our calves weren’t disappointed.
Punakaiki National Park
A few hours north along the western coastline is tiny Punakaiki National Park, and its main attraction, the Pancake Rocks. As the name would suggest, the bizarre rock formations here appeared layered—like stacks of pancakes if you will—bitten and eroded by the constant surf and spray. This worthy destination isn’t visible from the road, so it is important to know about it ahead of time. Fortunately I did, and my photo album is all the richer because of it.
Abel Tasman National Park
Situated along the aquamarine coast of Tasman Bay on the northern tip of the South Island, is Abel Tasman National Park—a coastal sanctuary that draws kayak enthusiasts the world over. Paddling the azure tranquil waters was yet another way I got revel in this country’s overwhelming natural splendor. Yes, I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating again, but ask anyone who has been here and trust me, you’ll get the same response.
Rounding the corner of the northern tip and passing through the quaint town of Blenheim, we caught the highway south along the eastern shoreline, passing hill after hill covered in grazing sheep all the way down to Kaikoura—a favorite port for whale and other marine mammal watchers. Lining the rocky coastline were packs of playful seals basking in the sun or splashing in the waves—all close enough to the road to consider this an authentic animal encounter. Once back on the road it was two hours to Christchurch and the end of our visit here.
While I endeavored to provide the trip’s highlights here, this is by no means an exhaustive recounting off all there is to see and do on the South Island of New Zealand. It would take a small novel to recount all that, and in the end it really isn’t necessary. Words can hardly do this land justice, and until it is experienced firsthand, no description can accurately portray the wonders that await. As for me, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this will be the measuring stick by which I will gauge all future destinations, and I won’t be at all surprised if I seem a bit jaded. This doesn’t bother me though. There’s always the North Island, and I still have plenty of adjectives left.