Mount Cook ~ New Zealand South Island

New Zealand – South Island

New Zealand is broken up into two islands, the North and South. The native people of New Zealand are Māori. Since 1987 Māori has been one of New Zealand’s official languages.  New Zealand’s Māori people define themselves as tribes.  Over the centuries the tribes have combined, while others have divided, and they have moved from place to place in New Zealand known to Māori as Aotearoa. The Māori people are beautiful and have Polynesian and European features. The names of the cities, lakes, trails, streets, parks and small towns are native to the Māori language. The names are similar to ones I’ve seen in  Hawaii and Polynesia.  I’m looking forward to learning more about their history and culture as the trip progresses.

Early Māori native home
Early Māori native home

We started the trip on the south island and landed in Christchurch to begin the journey.


Landing in Christchurch was like landing in winter. The weather is much cooler than Australia even though it’s summertime during the month of January. After living in Las Vegas for the past twenty years, it’s hard to get adjusted to cold weather outside. Especially gloomy weather. Something about seeing a cloudy sky and wet ground puts me in a depressive mood. My rule of travel is to wait and let the place sink in at least one day before making any rash opinions. Christchurch was one of those places.

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve was the first place I wanted to see on our first full day in Christchurch. This animal sanctuary is a holistic New Zealand wildlife experience. There is a wildlife area, heritage area and nature area woven together to create an experience as you walk through the park. The animals are free to roam in their large areas and guest are allowed to feed them and interact with them freely. I loved it. I fed eels, lamb, cows, alpacas and all kinds of birds.

Restart container park is in the middle of city center.  Each container is a store front and in the middle area outside are food trucks. The idea is everything is in it’s own little container. Some of the stores are name brand and some are local. I went into a store where all of the items made were from New Zealand, and another store called Trade that sold things made from people in countries that were poverty-stricken and the proceeds go to an organization to the artist themselves.

Restart container park
Restart container park

One of the worlds strongest earthquakes hit Christchurch in 2011.  The quake started days before with small tremors ending in a 7.6 earthquake. We were told that New Zealand has over 1000 earthquakes a month but most of them aren’t felt by humans.

Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand
Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand

We experienced a swaying sensation the second night we were here. It only lasted seconds. There are still many condemned buildings left from the tragedy. Seeing them in person really put perspective on the massive scale of damage and earthquake can do.

Building from earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand
Building from earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand

Mount Cook

Lake Tekapo was the first beautiful body of water we passed. After stopping in awe I realized there would be many more places here like this. It was breathtaking. Lots of Chinese tour buses were parked at the historical Tepaka church. It was so crowded with tourists we couldn’t get inside to see but I did peep in the back window and it was small inside.

Tepako Lake
Tepako Lake

Gas is at least 30% more than it was in Australia. At some places the gas was as high as $7.00 (USD) per gallon.  Driving a camper van is a very popular thing to do in New Zealand. We see them parked and pass them on the roads all day. We looked into getting one but the prices are higher than renting a car and staying at a hotel. When you add the prices of gas it’s even higher. A company named Jucy New Zealand is popular and just for a van with an upper sleeping are and small stove out of the trunk starts at $2,000/week (USD) , not including gas. Most of them require diesel gas too.

Lake Pukaki is a beautiful place. I’ve watched several shows about people dying and seeing beautiful landscapes and colors after the tunnel of light. This is how I would describe Lake Pukaki. The water is blue from the sediment of the glacier mountains. Besides the Asian girls taking selfies it was an incredible sight.

Fresh salmon lives in this lake and the salmon is known around New Zealand.  At the base of the lake before the damn is a tiny little store called Alpine Salmon. It’s very busy and sells the best fresh salmon Doug has ever had. He went back for doubles two days in a row. This area is heavily populated with Chinese tourist and they were buying it up when we were there. This tells me its great because Chinese know good fish.

Fresh salmon
Fresh salmon

Hooker Valley track was my first New Zealand hike and one of the most memorable things I’ve ever seen and done in the outdoors. The hike is 3-4 hours round trip – we made it in 2 1/2 hours. The trail was mostly flat with a few hills to climb and three suspension bridges to cross over creeks of fast-moving fresh water coming off the mountains. The clear alpine water has a greyish tent from the stone and glacier on top of the mountain. Even though it’s summer the mountains are topped with thick snow and the glacier is still frozen in tact at the end of the trail. Before the global warming crisis started, these same mountains were once covered completely in snow. Over decades the snow has melted and formed a lake with huge glaciers at the bottom. This lake will  grow in size as the years go on. After hiking through extreme wind gust, drizzle and water being blown into the air from the mountains we made it to the end. The glacier is stunning.

The Mount Cook visitors center had an area with taxidermy native animals living in New Zealand.  There are no predatory animals in New Zealand. The small mammals that do live on the island were brought here from Australia and have multiplied over centuries and have become a threat to the native birds. The stoat is the most unwanted. Stoats are tiny and only live two or three years and are responsible for wiping out native bird species. Traps are set up around national parks to catch and kill them. Another pest to New Zealanders is the Australian brush tailed possum. They are so cute but are responsible for killing native birds and their eggs.  New Zealanders wish they were never here.

Sheep are all over New Zealand. New Zealand has more sheep than people (really).  A lot of farmers over the past ten years have changed from sheep to dairy cow farming. Now the hills of New Zealand are covered with beautiful dairy cows running free. There are still over 30 million sheep.  Every time we pulled over close to them they would run away. Sometimes they stare, shit and then run away.  Whenever we see a large group of them on a hill we honk the horn and they all take off running. It’s fun to watch but I feel bad later about scaring them.  While driving we encountered a farmer and his dogs herding sheep into a field.

Wildlife isn’t as interesting in New Zealand as it is in Australia. Birds and a few furry critters are native to Australia. The kunekune pig is one of them. Almost extinct until the 90s, this pig got its name from the native Maori people. Kunekune means fat and round.  I spotted a paradise shelduck during the hike through Hooker Valley. This breed is native to only to New Zealand.  In this case the female has a white head instead of brown making her prettier than the male.

Even though it wasn’t a beach day we stopped by St. Clair’s beach just to see what a New Zealand beach looked like. St. Clair’s is sprawling with shoreline and sand and not a person in sight. The waves are constant and the air was cold but it was amazing. We ended up sitting in an open grassy area just off the shoreline because it was so windy by the water.

Looking for a good fish and chips shop led us to New Brighton. This town is by the sea and known for the New Brighton pier. It was so windy, we just took a few pictures of the pier and I fed the birds then we left. If the weather was ever warm enough to swim, this beach would be perfect. It was sprawling. Even though it’s summer, the weather has been very volatile and cool.

New Brighton Pier
New Brighton Pier

I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than the scenery in Mount Cook and its surrounding areas. From what I’ve seen so far, this is the most beautiful place I’ve been since we started our journey around the world. There is a power that impermeates through nature and landscape here than cannot be explained. I’ve felt it before in beautifully landscaped places but here it is on a much larger scale.

4 responses to Mount Cook ~ New Zealand South Island

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