South Island of New Zealand
Published: September 30, 2001
Carl and Vi Swanson
Carl and Vi SwansonWe left Sydney, Australia on April 1, 2001 for a three-hour flight to Christchurch, New Zealand to begin our four week visit to this really neat country. We approached New Zealand with very limited knowledge of its geography, topology or history, so every day brought us new knowledge and new surprises. New Zealand is about the size of Great Britain and it is very loyal to the Crown. Its total population is less than 4,000,000. It consists of two major islands called South Island and North Island, respectively, which span some one thousand miles from the most northern to the most southern point. Our travels were to exceed 2500 miles of exciting driving over these two islands over our four-week visit.

This installment will concentrate on South Island which has a population of less that 800,000. Our flight path from Sydney to Christchurch, NZ took us directly over the spectacular Southern Alps of New Zealand and that was our first surprise. These mountains dwarf anything that we have in the east of our country and we’ll talk more about that later. Let’s take a look at our South Island travel route. Start with us at Christchurch which is located on the east coast and we’ll be traveling in a generally clockwise direction around the island and we’ll end at Picton on the northern tip of the island where we will ferry to the North Island.

Christchurch is the third largest city in New Zealand and it contains about one third of the population of the South Island. It is known as the “garden city” as it has an acre of park for every ten members of its population. After a four-hour bus tour of the city, we headed back to the airport to pick up our motor homes. We got to really appreciate these four-cylinder diesel Mercedes Benz wagons with their auto/manual transmissions as we traversed the excellent, but challenging NZ mountain roads. After a briefing on New Zealand driving regulations, off we went to our first “holiday park” experiencing, for the first time, driving on the left hand side of the road and navigating the ever-present New Zealand “round-a-bouts”. Everything went amazingly well and we were soon experienced New Zealand drivers. On our way to the “holiday park” we learned about shopping in New Zealand as we provided ourselves with all the household necessities and some goodies to eat. We found prices very reasonable by U.S. standards. Fuel ended up costing us an average of $1.12 per gallon and these motor homes gave us in excess of twenty miles per gallon.

The scenery of New Zealand is spectacular, so we will try to highlight this fact as we go along. From Christchurch, we headed for Lake Takapo as a stepping-stone to Dunedin. Along the excellent two-lane highways, we saw thousands of sheep, as we would continue to do as we traversed NZ. There are nearly 50,000,000 sheep in NZ; more than ten for every human inhabitant. On the way to Dunedin, we detoured to get a close-up of Mt. Cook at Mt. Cook National Park. Mt. Cook rises to 3670 meters and is the highest peak in New Zealand. (It is twice the height of our Mt. Washington) The national park that contains Mt. Cook contains most of the great mountains of NZ and all but two of them are over 3000 meters. Its a spectacular area.

After touring Dunedin, we visited Otago Peninsula and visited seal colonies and a nesting beach for the rare yellow-eyed pelican. We visited an albatross colony and saw albatross chicks and flying albatross in the wild. (Albatross can have wing spans in excess of ten feet.) From Dunedin we continued to Cape Bluff, the most southern point in NZ. Next we camped at Te Anau as our launching point for Milford Sound. We had to traverse the Earl Mountains and then descend to sea level at the Sound. Milford Sound is a fjord and it extends out to the Tasman Sea. Our boat ride through the sound was spectacular in fine weather and with fantastic scenery.

Next we headed for Queenstown and dined at the Skyline Gondola Restaurant which overlooks Queenstown and beautiful Lake Wakatipu. We visited Kawarau Bridge where bungy jumping originated; we toured Lake Wakatipu on the T.S.S. Earnshaw “The Lady of the Lake”, a 1912 steamer; we visited Glenorchy which specializes in Australian possum fur products; and other memorable local sites. The Queenstown area is a highly popular tourist and sportsman Mecca and is highly patronized by the world-wide backpackers.

Continuing on, we visited Fox Glacier. We hiked to the face of the glacier and took a helicopter ride to the top of the glacier. The South Island has some 140 glaciers among its countless peaks and is a winter sports Mecca and a year-round tourist attraction.

The roads in New Zealand are generally excellent and on the South Island, there is very little traffic. Where else can you drive a herd of sheep down the highway? What do we do now, Ma? We still have a long way to go today. Just move right into the herd and they will quickly get out of the way. It’s amazing! Everyone does it.

It’s Sunday, April 15, 2001 and our tour of South Island has come to an end. It is with mixed emotions that we board our ferry as the South Island is such a spectacular place. But we’ll put that behind us as get in line for the ferry and look to the excitement that lies ahead; and believe us, there was plenty awaiting us. Bon Voyage!

– Carl and Vi Swanson