There’s something extraordinary about New Zealand — not just its beauty, culture, diversity and adventure — no, to me New Zealand is “serenity” on steroids. This island nation in the South Pacific offers something for everyone, but in a quiet, unpretentious manner.
The 2005 movie The World’s Fastest Indian was set in the little town of Invercargill at the southernmost tip of South Island, largest of the two main New Zealand islands. It was the hometown of Burt Munro, the motorcycle enthusiast portrayed in the film. The film shows the lonely, barren, desolate highways where he rode. It didn’t look inviting to me.
When I arrived at Queenstown airport, the first thing I noticed was the chill in the air, but then I saw the majestic snowcapped mountains and a new appreciation overwhelmed me. From my hotel on Lake Wakatipu, quaint little shops and a lush green park surrounding the waterfront begged me to get out and walk.
Just out of town, I took an aerial gondola to the Skyline Restaurant for a breathtaking panoramic view of Queenstown and the lake area below. The restaurant sits atop “Bob’s Peak,” almost a half mile above the town. For the view alone, I highly recommend it.
Secluded fjords of Milford Sound are a popular nearby attraction, best viewed by boat. My narrated cruise ventured close to the open waters of the Pacific Ocean and then went deep into the sound where waterfalls came spewing from the cliffs into the frigid waters. The captain, a bit of a showoff, went so close to a waterfall that we almost got right under it. Some brave, or perhaps foolish, passengers tried to venture out onto the bow to see if they could get soaked.
New Zealand is well known for its wool and wool products are sold everywhere. I doubt that you can visit New Zealand without witnessing a sheep shearing demonstration at some point. I took a boat from Queenstown to the Walter Peak Sheep Station for an unforgettable evening. I witnessed a Border Collie at work, a sheep shearing demonstration and finished off the evening with a scrumptious family style meal in their dining room.
South Island is known as a skier’s paradise and skiers come from all over the world to enjoy the snow covered mountain slopes. The biggest mountain attraction is Aoraki Mount Cook and, even though I wasn’t skiing, I had to take pictures of this iconic 12,218 foot peak. New Zealand scenery is so magnificent, almost any picture could be a postcard.
Movie aficionados are offered a glimpse of the spectacular landscape from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Kiwis do not shy away from showcasing the land from the “Journey to the Middle of the Earth” with tours to many of the 150 movie locations on South Island.
Speaking of Kiwis, the description is the universal moniker for people from New Zealand. It’s not considered derogatory and the peoples of New Zealand proudly refer to themselves as Kiwis. Images of the flightless kiwi bird are seen as a national symbol all over the country.
The biggest city on South Island is Christchurch. Major earthquakes did severe damage to this bustling city from 2010 to 2012 and remnants of the damage are still apparent. A huge effort is underway to restore this city to its original charm.
My opinion of New Zealand changed dramatically on my journey through South Island, and I was eager to see more. I’ll write about North Island in a future column.