In this journal:
- the most beautiful sceneries on earth;
- blue, purest blue you can see;
- my heart is captured.
Here We Go Again!
You are reading this sentence, and that means you are at the right place. After experiencing North Island of New Zealand, both Chacha and I realized we had to come back for another round in South Island. If you want to know more about this kiwi adventure, please refer to the introduction of this trip. Are you ready? Let’s go!
We began with a quick drive around the tall peaks right outside Christchurch. The sun was setting already after we finished buying all the necessary items, so the city was coated in a layer of glittering golden rays on this windy afternoon. Here in South Island, mere minutes away from the city center, nature takes over.
After a hop to the small vintage village of Geraldine, and a snoozy night in the holiday park, we began our real drive towards the mountains. This area is famous for its sweeping views, large lakes, iris-blue waters, and aggressive cops. We slowly climbed, and climbed, up the small country highway, towards the snowy peaks in the distance. Hundreds of little lakes dotted the way, making it impossible to resist the urge to stop and admire what Mother Nature had bequeathed the lucky kiwis.
We could do nothing but stop every 10 minutes, gawking at the intimidating yet amicable Southern Alps, as we got closer, and closer to the limits of the sky. However, here is also where the police of Canterbury region hang out, as tourists are easy cash fines deductible from their yearly quota, so anyone who parks at the side of the precarious curbs would likely stare down a happy policeman with his bill ready. We witnessed just that while stopping at a small road while taking photos, as a speeding tourist in SUV were pulled aside by a highway patrol.
Eventually, we reached the heart of South Island: Lake Tekapo. This is the first of a series of gorgeous glacial-melt lakes fed from large rivers coming from the top of the world. Tekapo is especially blue because the glaciers grind slowly along the mountain valleys, and thousands of slow shave made the melt water full of something the geologists call “rock dust” or “glacial flour”, which perfectly filters the entire visible light spectrum except blue when disolved, so the water will look especially pretty.
Right at the bank of Tekapo, sat one of the most breathtaking church I have ever seen. Yes, I have seen the majestic Dom in Cologne, or the cultural-exchange Sevilla Cathedral, or maybe the sleek volcanic Reykjavik Hallgrimskirkja, but this tiny chapel used by a small village may have just topped the list. Introducing: Church of the Good Shepherd, undoubtedly an inspiration of all ancient deities.
This 1930s church is envisioned by a local pastor, designed by a local artist, and eventually constructed by the local men. It is hard to imagine that this used to be a simple little chapel sitting by the edge of a village, quietly biding its time, not the posterchild of the entirety of New Zealand nowadays. The large window in the back allows the light to carry the most gorgeous view into the seats, making me wish I could get married here. Oh wait, I need to be realistic. I wish I could be forever alone right here.
And some genius came up with the idea to install a sheepdog statue right next to the brick building, as herding sheep is one of the biggest economic activity in the region. In New Zealand, there are more sheep than human beings, largely thanks to South Island, as population is far sparser than its northern counterpart. From there, we walked to the middle of the small village sharing the same name as the lake, mostly serving as the tourist town accommodating their every needs. A few vacation houses, a hostel, a handful of luxury hotels, a supermarket with the best view of its peers, a playground, and some restaurants lodged inside souvenir shops, that is about it.
After a hearty lunch in the Japanese restaurant that served fresh salmon farmed right here at the alpine lake, we continued down the highway. Just a few minutes down the road, sits the largest of the three lakes here in the region, Lake Pukaki. At a viewpoint, a small shop sells fresh salmon farmed with the fresh mountain water, and a little lookout directly faces today’s destination: Mt. Cook/Aoraki, the tallest mountain in the entire country.
From this point out, we turned onto the tiny Highway 80, which goes along the entire west coast of the lake, all the way towards the source of these waters. We passed large forests used for logging, gigantic fields full of lupine flowers, and rocky beaches surrounding the lake as tranquil as a reflective mirror. The long white clouds flowing down the peaks were being carved by the sharp ridges, duplicated exactly the same in the waters.
With this great of a view on the right side of the road, the left had to be equally exhilirating. As we proceeded further and further upstream, the lake ended and the sweeping moraine flat of Tasman River began. This is where the tiny village of Mount Cook is located, but besides a tiny tourist information center, a camp and the airport, there is not much worth stopping for, unlike the sceneries along the highway.
Another hour north from the village, we finally reached the end of the highway, at the tiny settlement of Aoraki/Mt.Cook Village. It is more of a tourist establishment than settlement, I think, as the only permanent structure is a luxury hotel complete with SPA, shops, and a large restaurant. The rest are some houses for the park administration and a gigantic RV park. Just another kilometer down a small one-lane road, sat my home for the day: a camp at the foothills of the mountain, facing straight at the pale white slopes.
After a very cold night below freezing point, it was time to truly enter the heart of the mountain. From the camp, a hike along the Hooker Valley trail will take you to the Hooker Lake, which sits right underneath the peak of the tallest mountain in New Zealand. This 5-km jaunt begins with a crossing of a large swing bridge, which was damaged during the Canterbury earthquake in 2011. It was not until 2018 that the bridge had been fully repaired, and the trails accessible to the general public again.
After passing by the large glacial Mueller Lake, we reached the second swing bridge, where we gained a lot of height above the roaring Hooker River. This is the part where trees started giving out to lower bush vegetation. After turning around a corner of the foothills, it was all Mt.Cook from then on.
The trail continues flat on the tundra swamplands, before reaching the moraine freshly carved by the majestic Hooker Glacier. Local Maori always referred to this peak as Aoraki, which means Cloud Piercer, and in 1850s, a British explorer mapped this region, giving it its English name Mt.Cook as a commemoration for Captain James Cook, who was the first European in New Zealand. Finally, in 1998, the Maori tribe and the Crown of England reached a compromise, to name this region as well as the mountain as Aoraki/Mt.Cook, a typical solution here to combine both names.
Finally, after an hour’s walk, the terminus of the trail was the shore of Hooker Lake. At the end of the other side, the surface of the glacier could be seen, albeit heavily covered with debris and rocks. This image is perfectly complemented by Aoraki/Mt.Cook at the back, standing at 3724m/12218ft. The surface of the lake was slightly frozen, and a few icebergs were finally freed of the large sheet of ice, tumbling around and flipping as if they are dumplings boiling in a pot, disturbing the reflectivity of the mirror-like ice layer.
Sadly, the lake is not supposed to be here. Back in the days, the glacier used to reach right at the banks of the now-lake. However, due to global warming, the ice river began retreating. And when I say back in the days, it does not mean in the times of industrial revolution or the early 1900s. The lake only started appearing in 1970s, slowly growing throughout the decade, and entered a rapid retreat in the recent 2 decades. Nowadays, Hooker Lake is more than 2km long, and the glacier is barely visible from the lake bank. It is estimated that in just a handful of years, the glacier will completely disappear from our view, and perhaps disappear from our world.
Yet, even the giant needs rest. We left the lofty Southern Alps be for the moment, and continued down south after leaving the deep ravines of glacial melt. A few hours later, we arrived at a local salmon farm that utilizes the fresh melt water as nutrients of the fish, and it indeed has some of the best sashimi I can ever hoped for.
Besides filling up my tummy, I also found out you can feed those hungry fish for free at this floating farm. Even though the lake enclosure itself looks calm on the surface, with an ungodly number of seagulls frolicking about, but once you drop one of those special feeding pillets into the water, the water would suddenly turn into a chaotic commotion that few can expect. The salmon are fierce when it comes to snagging food, and with a huge splash of water, it will quickly return to tranquility, as if nothing had happened. Another hour south from the farm, we came across a tiny village of less than 100 people called Omarama. It is one of those places where you either stop for a refill of gasoline or you just speed past, but I deliberatedly went inside the cafe by the petrol station. Remember Daniela? Yes, the German I met on Rottnest Island a solid 4 years ago, she is still hanging around in Oceania! Except this time, she moved all the way across the continent, now working in a cafe in this tiny village a world over from home, with her boyfriend. This is probably the last place where I expected to reunite with an old friend, and yet, here we were. Time has changed both of us, but those days in Australia were still fresh as if they happened yesterday. I wish you all the best, Daniela, and good luck in the lands down under!
After a lengthy chat and a free cup of coffee on Daniela’s paycheck, Chacha and I continued down the lonely highway. We snaked past the highest point of the roads here at Lindis Pass, and continued west towards our destination of the day: the bustling town of Wanaka. In New Zealand, Queenstown may be known as the tourist hotspot, but Wanaka has the real treasure. It has a tranquil lake with snowy backdrop as well, but it does not have the crowds and oversaturated tourist agencies plaguing the center. And did I mention it is ridiculously pretty?
Wanaka has had a long history. Originally an important waypoint for the local Maori tribes as the gateway to the west coast, it was quickly taken over by the Europeans as a nice area to settle down. However, it only officially became a place on the map thanks to the gold rush in late 19th century. More recently, the area is growing rapidly thanks to its strategic location for both summer and winter sports. Its proximity to some of the best ski slopes made it the easiest place to set off for the powder, especially in Mount Aspiring National Park. In summer, well, it has a calm lakefront and a nice vegetation coverage, what do you think?
However, the most famous sight of the city is that Wanaka tree. Yes, that is the name of a tree situated right in the middle of the Wanaka Lake. It is simply said, the most picturisque tree I have ever seen in this world, with its low-hanging branches, the slightly tilted posture, and seasonal variation in foliage. The sight of its reflection accompanying the mountainous backdrop was simply unbeatable. There are many sights in the world full of mountains covered in snow and lakes, such as Canada, Switzerland, and Norway, but this tree is truly unique and unbelievably beautiful. Sadly, just as this journal is being written, it is reported that some asshole decided to chop down the low-hanging branch of this tree that gave balance to the entire image, and now the tree will look very awkward for the next 50 years. I hope that guy rots in hell.
After organizing our food, clothing, and logistics for a day, we continued our trip by circling back north. The van embarked on the long journey across the mountain range, first by passing the shores of gorgeous Lake Hawea. It was a perfectly windless day, and the water surface was less of a reflection but more of a portal to another realm. We enjoyed a quick lunch by the shore, and continued up, deep into the steep cliffs and gushing rivers. From here on out, there will not be supermarkets for hundreds of kilometers. The first stop as we climbed upstream was the surreal Blue Pools. A series of deep waters of Makaroa River somehow managed to be bluer than pure blue, and its remote location means you can get as close as you want.
And yes, when I say getting close, I mean REAL close. You can swim in the cold glacial water if you wish, and, if you are truly brave, maybe attempt a dive like some crazy Australian girls that we met on the way. Do not worry, the water is deep enough to fit an entire semi-truck, so the chance of hitting the bottom is zero, just like the water temperature.
Finally, after hours of mountain turns, we passed by the above Thunder Creek falls, Fantail Falls, and the narrow gorge called Gates of Haast, and eventually reached the other side of the Southern Alps. This opens up the wetter part of South Island, where the predominantly westerly winds meet the impassable mountains, causing a lot of precipitation. Sparsely populated, and criminally underrated, this is the west coast.
After a night in a secluded holiday park in the district of Haast, we began our west coast life. This starts with a walk in Monro Beach trails at dawn. The reason this ungodly hour was picked is due to the fact that Monro Beach is one of the only places accessible by humans to see tawaki, Fjordland Crested Penguins. Since I have vowed to see every kind of penguin in the world ever since my Antarctica days, how can I possibly miss this opportunity? The walk began at the parking lot, and winds down typical west coast rainforests, wet but with the cleanest air one’s lungs can be thankful for. The hour-long walk eventually opened up all of a sudden to the tiny beach sitting far from any civilization, where some penguins hang out during the night. They go out at dawn to hunt, and come back at dusk for snoozes.
However, because I simply have the worst luck of any living being, we were unable to find any penguin still take naps. Additionally, it was the first time for us to experience the most notorious thing here on west coast, and the reason why most tourists avoid this area: sandflies. Small gnats the size of sesame incessantly circle around you whenever you are even close to a beach or any open area, looking for that one single second that you are not moving to suck a small amount of blood from your flesh. Moreover, the true agony begins when your bite starts getting swollen, becoming a little bump of unbearable itchiness, that coerces you to scratch that patch of skin, repeating it so vehemently and frequently that you cannot physically stop until you sandpaper down your own epidermis. We struggled to escape their pestering, and walked back for a quick lunch in the enclosed van. Then, we took a binocular and looked at the seals as well as penguins chilling at Knights Point, far from those hellspawn bloodsuckers.
The next stop is a tiny beach called ship creek. A large sand dune area is known as ship creek due to an old shipwreck that is now buried under meters of windswept sand. From the top of the hill, you can overlook the entire swampland that is straddled by the sandy dunes and the rainforest. The unique climate here allowed nature to create quick transitions between completely different habitats, offering incredible wildlife diversity. Just one glimpse, and you can obtain a view ranging from the sand bar to the trapped river lake, to muddy swampland, to the dense rainforest, then to normal woodlands, and all the way up to the frozen peaks.
After hours of walk in the wild, wild west, devoid of any other visitor, we continued down the highway, aimlessly looking out of the window, looking for the only thing that is not on the map, yet is easily reachable here in New Zealand: freedom. It was just us, a long, lonely road, and tiny villages small enough to be overwhelmed by just our presence. Chacha saw a sign as we were speeding through the vast woodlands, and commanded me to stop. It turned out that someone was putting their self-produced honey on sale, and they simply left them there on the road for the honor system to take over. You simply go and deposit some cash, while carrying a jar of the most local honey ever. Folks in these remote regions are so pure, so hardworking and honest, it is almost impossible for us to not leave a thank-you note before driving off.
I started the car after another quick stop at a salmon farm, where we fed fish as big as a lamb and as iridescent as a disco ball. Hours of quiet, windy road quickly put Chacha to sleep, while I turned up the music, and lowered my window, letting the wind caress my forehead, like an unruly child at a family gathering. This is the road I walk, hugged by lush forest, roaring creeks, big rivers spanning hundreds of meters, and a coastline constantly changed by the fierce waves. No traffic jam, no commercial stops, no souvenir shops, no annoying phone calls, just a nice view, and a free spirit. My wheels may be touching the ground, but my heart was airbourne, soaring high above the limits of civilization and societal shackles. I love this feeling, the sense of being with mother nature, whether it is a part of her or one with her, does it matter?
As we approached the village of Fox Glacier, a light shower kicked in. Rain is a daily occurance in these lands, as the majestic Southern Alps blocks all the incoming clouds and a sunny day here is a good day to buy lottery. Interestingly, here, we were a mere 30 kilometers from Hooker Valley, where we admired Mt.Cook just a few days ago, yet we had to traverse 500km to reach Fox Glacier. The town is named after a large glacier right at the other side of the road, but years of global warming and heavy rain caused the road to the glacier to be washed out numerous times in the past decade. In fact, the New Zealand heritage trust has given up on fixing the access to the glacial surface that they have shut down the entrance indefinitely. In order to access ice, the only way is a helicopter tour. However, we were not worried, and continued out of town for a lake called Lake Matheson. In the cafe by the pasture, we enjoyed a whitebait patty, a classic west coast dish, endemic to only this region.
Whitebait is a special kind of delicacy, made of the tiny juveniles of 5 kinds of fish from Galaxiidae family. They are hard to catch, as they had to be caught by hand, using nets, in the shallows where small streams meet the sea, right up and down this coastline. They are not particularly cheap, but cooked with some battered eggs, a lot of butter, and topped with some lemon, it is as kiwi as it gets. The season is limited to September to November, as all 5 kinds of these fish are endangered, so we were lucky to have caught the first fresh wave of these tasty spears. After finishing up the plate by licking it repeatedly, we entered the wet forest looking for Lake Matheson. This is where another two thousand postcard templates are taken, as the lake surface reflects the mountain range in the back, and if you come at night, the milky way.
The day’s stop is Okarito, a village of 26 inhabitants 20 kilometers towards the coast from the next settlement, Franz Josef Glacier. The moment our van came to a halt in this seaside paradise, I realized I have found where I belong. Due to its distance from the inland Alps, the weather here is significantly better, as everything is always dry, and the sun is always out. The community runs a small campground that had charging, internet, and hot water, right by the large beach that is piled sky-high with drift wood. And thanks to its remote location, it is the only place I have been in the world that allows you to pick up your favorite wood from the beach, and start a fire. No permits, no designated spots, no administrative bullshit. Pure. Life.
We quickly whipped up a bunch of skewered meats and vegetables, and this little fire would be our light source, entertainment, and power source for the rest of the night. Chacha used the pebbles on the beach and constructed a large grill rack, while I picked up all the dry wood I could find in a close radius. The beach is massive, and a simple walk to the sea from the campsite involves at least 300 meters of beach, but I walked back and forth nearly 50 times to carry everything. It is all worth it. We failed some barbequed skewers, of course, and we succeeded in many. A tiny bit of cumin, and some salt, as well as pepper, voila, fresh and gourmet!
After we finished grilling the 40 skewers we had, we continued collecting wood and chatting by the fire. The milky way slowly turned around the axis of the Southern Cross, and some seabirds could be heard from afar. If you listen carefully, you can hear the cawing of Okarito Kiwi, or Rowi, the rarest kind of kiwi endemic only to this specific piece of forest. The grown birds are as big as turkeys and can live up to 100 years old! This little settlement just cannot stop pumping out surprises! As a result, I was fully mesmerized by this true, wild, freedom. I spontaneously decided, in the first time in my life, to stay one more night in order to fully soak up the kiwi spirit, the New Zealand lifestyle, and so we did. I had never postponed any of my itineraries in order to stay in a place longer, until now. If this kind of magic can influence a seasoned traveler like me, then it is hard not to imagine what kind of impression New Zealand will leave on vacationrs.
For the next day, we decided to run some errands in the nearby village of Franz Josef, a mere 20 kilometer drive away. After purchasing groceries and getting some souvenir shopping done, we finally advanced towards the surface of the namesake glacier. We are in glacier country after all! Unlike Fox Glacier, this one is relatively stable, and is an easy hike away from the parking lot. The place was originally named by Maori as Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere, meaning tears of Hine Hukatere. The legend goes by like this: mountaineer Hine was an avid climber, and persuaded her lover Wawe to climb with her, until one day an avalanche swept Wawe away to his death. She was so distraught that her numerous tears eventually froze up as the glacier. Its English name comes from the German explorer Julius Haast, who virtually mapped the entire west coast, as a tribute to the Emperor of Austria at the time. And yes, the region where we passed by is named after him.
Franz Josef is one of the three large glaciers coming down from the Alps here in glacier country, all of them used to reach the sea. There is no other place in the world that has such large glaciers at latitude and altitude this low, as these giants get extraordinarily large amount of snowfall thanks to the mountains behind them. However, nowadays, the retreat of these guys are so severe that the observation platform at the end of the trail is made temporarily, as next year it will definitely have to be shifted. The walk is relatively simple, as we just had to walk along the valley riverbed where the glacier had carved over for the past millenium. It is especially scenic thanks to numerous waterfalls on both sides. However, vigilance should be exercised, as very rarely, a large jökulhlaup can happen. It is a kind of sudden flood created by lakes hidden inside or underneath the glacier, and of course it is coined by Icelandic folks.
We just relaxed on the beach for the rest of the day, after hiking around the local areas to the famous Okarito Lagoon. This is what I was looking for when I set out to travel all those years ago. I wasn’t looking for glamour or follower count on Instagram (I still only have only friends following my account), and I was not looking for anything or anyone particularly, but because I felt like I was trapped in a cultural demand of obedience, coupled with a societal pressure to conform. I was tired of being told what to do today and plan for tomorrow. I had never, ever, had a clean schedule in a few days, and there is always something to do, someone to see, some shit that needs to be cleaned up with. Here in New Zealand, I found what I was looking for. My mind was bothered more by the surreal colors of the sunset and the fun experience skewering mushrooms than projects and sorrows. My body was fully relaxed, not anticipating any stress in the incoming days, but shuddering for carrying way too much wood for the largest fire I had ever raised. Those were the days, when I woke up to large mountains right as I stepped off my bed, and greeted with numerous birds on my table, frantically skipping around stealing my bread. Those were the days, when I woke up, look outside the windows, involuntarily gasping:”O.M.G.”
Yet reality has to kick in from time to time, and it is not like I am not coming back to Okarito, now my favorite place on Earth. I am dead set on going back, and just wait and see. We packed up our extensive barbeque setup after chatting way beyond midnight, and departed in the morning breezes next day. We headed north and eventually arrived at the cultural center of West Coast, Hokitika.
Once the largest city in the entire New Zealand thanks to the New Zealand gold rush in 1860s, Hokitika is now a 3000-people town of minimal industries. Besides the occasionary gold still exported, the city is famous for pounamu, a Maori cultural stone ornament made from nephrite jade found in the area. Maori used to travel across the land to the gorges and beaches around Hokitika looking for these greenstones in order to carve them into decorative spears, animals or spirits, and hang them around the neck. In the pictures above, you can see the entire town is now filled with stores that sell these jewelries as well as providing carving studios where one can be educated about the significance of pounamu, then design and carve the stones themselves.
One place of great interest to me is the National Kiwi Center located in downtown, which is the only place where you can get in close contact with a live kiwi without spending hours and thousands of dollars attending a tour. The conservation center usually takes care of some lost of orphaned birds, and we were lucky to witness a young male being taken care of by the keepers. Sadly, kiwis live in nocturnal environments, and the enclosure strictly prohibits the usage of cameras, so I have no photo to show you. One thing I can tell you, however, is the fact that kiwis are way fiercer than you may have thought. They are larger than a chicken, with robust feet and strong legs, and their screech is louder than any domesticated bird. So imagine a turkey with gigantic claws running around the pitch-black enclosure with the speed of a roadrunner, yep, that is what we saw.
Besides a newfound fear of kiwis, I also encountered a giant aquarium housing New Zealand longfin eels. These are the native species of eels found here, especially on the west coast. They are extremely mysterious as most of their lifecycle is unknown. The only thing we know is that males are smaller than females, and they mature at the age of 15-35 years, earlier than females’ 20-60 years. An unknown mechanism triggers the eel to realize it is ready to mate, and then it will go downstream from the freshwater habitats further inland, where these giants dwelled for decades as a scavanger. Then they will venture into the ocean, and swim all the way to Tonga. Yes, Tonga, or somewhere near there, because we are not sure how or why. They mate in the deep waters and then die, and the fertilized eggs hatch into tiny glass larvae, which will float with the ocean current back to New Zealand, taking about a year and a half, and then these tiny glass eels swim upstream back to a place where they will spend decades, repeating the cycle.
If a female does not go on to mate in the ocean, she can live as long as 100 years, and grow to 2 meters long. One of those females, named Grandma, in the aquarium is over 80 years old, and I had the honor to feed some of her friends some beef as dinner. They are extremely gentle, and allow you to touch them while writhing about. The keeper of these old ladies is an old lady as well, but she is so full of passion and demonstrated how we can massage and care for these vulnerable national treasures that do not get all the spotlights like kiwi. What a cool experience! Afterwards, we went to the seaside to cook some dinner, while waiting for the sun to set. Little did we know this sunset was about to blow our camera saturation scale out of the water.
Yes, the sunset is real. I cannot believe it either. Every day here on west coast is like a dream, one that is directed by Steven Speilberg, painted by Van Gogh, expressed by Bob Ross, journeyed with Steve Irwin, and narrated by David Attenborough. And yet, it is not even over. Right after darkness descended upon the epic shores, we continued on to a small grove just outside town, where thousands of glowworms have set up shop to showcase their lighting technology of 500000 B.C. This New Zealand special had already dazed us once before in Waitomo, but this time it is so close that it is incredible how easily accessible these marvelous sceneries are. Sadly, due to our camera technology, there is no way to capture the entirety of the view in whole, as millions of lights were glowing a dim blue in the forest, like a magical tribe of tiny fairies in a mythical setting. Truly unbelievable.
We spent the night in a holiday park in Jackson on the rural Highway 73, a historical road that served as the only land crossing of South Island’s railway system. This little place for the night features a large waterfall, a great view over the valley, and a few rocky cliffs full of these glowworms as well! This just gives you a perspective of how magical South Island is, as even a small place to park our van had a lot of tricks up its sleeves!
The next day, we continued climbing on the snaking highway, some parts of it protected by a cement shield against falling rocks. Eventually, the highest point, Arthur’s Pass, was reached via a long bridge called Otira Viaduct, named after the roaring river beneath. At the small village of Arthur’s Pass, a short hike took me to the foot of the thundering Devil’s Punchbowl, a waterfall higher than my aspirations and dreams, but just as loud. Eventually, after steep descents, we reached the scattered boulders in Castle Hill. This is a large field filled with building-size limestones everywhere, and is used as the final battle location in the Narnia movies. Some of the shots of Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed here as well.
Another hour down the highway, we entered the small village of Springfield. Besides a large donut set up for mandatory references, there is also a memorial dedicated to a special resident: Rewi Alley. He is a prominent member of Chinese Communist Party, and dedicated his life to helping the Chinese poor. With a brother being All Black, and all other siblings being exceptionally outstandng, Rewi started his years working as a factory inspector in Shanghai. He quickly realized the racism and suffering in China, and vowed to help her distraught people, after becoming an avid member of the underground communism initiative. After Japan invaded China in 1937, he began directing hundreds of people in the home front to produce wartime-needed materials, eventually engaging in guerilla production strategies in Gansu province. He founded many useful techniques in numerous schools during war time, some still operational today. He was urged to remain in China after the communists won the civil war in 1949, and continued on directing work and translating propaganda pieces for China. He was jailed during Cultural Revolution, but later came out without a grudge, continuing carrying on his work of helping the poor until his death in Beijing at the age of 90. He was one of the few who could travel freely in and out of China at the time, and secured a large sum of quality Chinese artifacts, on display in Canterbury Museum, which you can see in the Cities journal. In Springfield, where he is born, China dedicated a special memorial to him.
We blasted straight through Christchurch, and continued east, entering a strange piece of land jutting out of the coastline: Banks Peninsula. Originally 2 supervolcanos that erupted in late Miocene, the thousand-meter tall shield volcano slowly eroded, and the crater now caved in, forming a perfect harbor in the town of Akaroa. As a result, the road to the end of the highway is extremely difficult, involving hairpin turns and extremely steep inclines. Along the ridge of the crater, runs the 30km-long Summit Road, which offers view of both the inside bay as well as the sweeping ocean.
Akaroa, the main settlement of the area, commands a strategic location in its perpetually-calm harbor. Due to the fact that a wave of French colonists arrived here first, this place still has many places and roads named in French, and the citizens pride themselves in their French heritage, as French restaurants plague the tiny one-way lanes. The 600-or-so people here really live in a bliss, as the tranquil water in the front is complemented by the imposing mountain ridge at the back, rising as high as 600 meters in some places. It is a mere 50-mile drive from Christchurch, and has thus turned into a popular vacation town.
Besides the numerous Hector’s Dolphins found playing in the bay, seals, orcas, whales, and other marine mammals love to hang out in the shores of these well-preserved seas, as most of the peninsula is dedicated as various marine reserves. This became especially important as the land’s 98% forest cover was cleared to 2% by the Maori and colonists. Now, only an invasive yellow flower grows on the steep slopes of the volcano. However, many farmers here have been striving to restore the forests, and making good progress.
And on the other side of the ridge, sat the Pohatu Marine Reserve, centered around a small bay called Flea Bay. It is owned by a local family, and the only way to get there is via their organized tour. We were picked up at the small information center in town, and a super steep climb on a 4-wheel-drive only route took us over the top, and descended upon the small blue piece of safe haven for penguins. Yes, penguins.
We first stopped by the seaside homestead. It looks like something out of my fever dream. A small mountainside house full of everything: a garden, a garage, a big animal enclosure, a nice view obscured by a few trees, and a ton of animals roaming around. I would gladly trade my kidneys for a house like this, and live here as a hermit with internet connection, just looking out of the window into the calm waves when I am tired of reading books… Ahh what a life! The owner, a male of his 30s, whistled a tone, and suddenly a few cute fluffy sheep strutted into our sight, straight towards him, holding two large bowls of food. It is dinner time!
After feeding sheep who have a better living condition that every human being living in China, we noticed the numerous boxes scattered around the fields here. These are made by the family to accommodate the thousands of penguins that nest here every day. If you have already checked out my Antarctica journals, you would have known that penguins love to climb up some hills to nest, so here, their nests are everywhere. Normally they dig up a hole in the ground, but with human settlements, they will be more than happy to take over your garage, cellar, underground parking, shoebox, car trunk, and anything that has a hole big enough to fit in, so it is important for them to provide these wooden boxes for the benefit of both species. The family also made thousands of rat traps as well as stout traps, because they pose serious threat to the stability of the population. After letting us put on camo-gears so the penguins would not be startled, the owner led us through the small forest, where we found areas completely trampled by the commuting penguins, and he showed us the inside of one of the boxes, and luckily, a mother penguin was hatching babies.
These are little penguin, the smallest species of penguin in the world today. The Maori call them korora, and their habitat here is under threat. It is awesome that the family managed to preserve the area by applying for a conservation area status, and established a tour company to financially support their endeavors. This kind of community initiative is what I support, instead of the IPO-approved cruise industry. We walked along the steep hills, looking for a good spot to watch the evening rush of penguins coming in from the sea. Most of these flippered friends are at sea hunting during the day in this season, and at dusk, they would all come back in groups of dozens, and sometimes even up to hundred. However, they have free time before coming ashore and becoming vulnerable, so most of them congregate near the surface and socialize. It is rather difficult to see them in the dim light, so the guide brought us some binoculars.
After realizing that we were surrounded by hundreds of penguins in the water, we quickly made our retreat so we could make way for the advance of this massive army. The rest of our time is spent wandering around Akaroa aimlessly, as this small village of seemingly ownerless fishing vessels bobbing up and down is the perfect place to be lost. While Chacha checked out all the clothing stores and antique shops, I befriended some locals living the quaintest life one can possible enjoy.
This marks the end of New Zealand 2019’s South Island adventure. I am not a religious person, honestly. I have been to the grand mosque of Kasakhstan, the main cathedral of Edinburgh, and the supreme temple of Myanmar, yet I never felt like a particular deity was calling to me. For this wary traveller, god might as well be a concept such as a good night’s sleep: they can technically exist but I have never seen solid proof of it. But in South Island, I found my god, and I have been gasping OH MY GOD uncontrollably.
The crystal clear lakes of Tekapo, Pukaki, and Wanaka, they are my god. I worship them for the pure blue, their paranormal essense that rivals the sky’s claim to the color. I revel them for their incomprehensible chanting of splashes, soothing and overwhelming my ears at the same time. I venerate them for the exquisite aftertaste their profucts left in my mouth. I apotheosize the cold touch of their pristine waters. Thanks to them, I am purified.
The mighty peaks of Southern Alps, they are my god. I kneel in front of them for their resilience and might, unparalleled in the mortal world. I pray to Mt.Cook/Aoraki for strength and fortitude, for bravery and presistence, for endurance and dauntlessness. I chanted the magic words he bequeathed me, channeling me with the paramount spirits of beyond. Because of these giants of another plane of existence, I fear never.
The shores, caves, forests, marshlands, swamps, and dunes of west coast, they are my god. I sing hymns of clear streams full of eels, psalms of wet mossy rainforests, and odes of sandy beaches with lone fires; I flagellate myself for the past sins I commited against them, of pollution, of ignorance, of exploitation; I busk under the divine light of their gifts and tribulations. For them, I shall err no more.
I have been looking for answers of spiritual succession and otherworldly continuity my whole life, yet cannot believe I have actually found answers. In the face of such omnipotent celestial existence, I was exalted, anointed, and consecrated. New Zealand is the faithful shephard, and it is this place that enlightened me: Mother Nature, she is my god.
All hail Mother Nature! All hail her unearthly creations on Earth!
Oh, My God! All hail your magnum opus!
All hail New Zealand!
A special thanks to Chacha for being an awesome travel buddy. Thank you for saving my butts again and again, and especially for those delicious meals that you claim is not even 10% of your power!
-=ForeverYoung|New Zealand 2019=-