Flying through the dense clouds Mandy and I made our final descent into New Zealand. Looking out the window, the clouds gave way to thin fog and I made out dramatic mountain peaks laid bare from the perpetual presence of ice and snow which still sparsely dotted the ridgeline. As the view cleared, down the mountain slope the bare stone transitioned to intense green that was laid out before me over the whole of the landscape. The terrain below looked untouched, not of this world. A natural wonderland full of dramatic landscapes and untainted beauty, New Zealand from first sight lived up to its reputation.
We began our short New Zealand adventure in Queenstown and the surrounding areas and the country quickly turned on its charm. Queenstown is a small city of about fifteen thousand on the South Island and is a well-known skiing and lake resort reminding me of Vail or Aspen. A perfectly manicured downtown is lined with high end boutiques, restaurants, and the occasional outdoor adventure store. It is a well known gathering place for all things outdoors. Skiing, boating, whitewater rafting, bungy jumping, mountain biking, paragliding, sky diving and fishing are all popular attractions in Queenstown which sees a large variety of tourists annually. The city is nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and couldn’t have been more picturesque if dreamed up by an artist. We stayed in an Airbnb up the hill just out of town which provided sweeping views of the lake and city below. The suburbs to the city line the hills with beautiful homes and big green trees occupy almost any available space. The city is a shining example of nature and a modern city existing together in harmony.
A day trip outside of town took us on a drive along the lake in search of a good hiking spot. On our drive we spotted fields of purple flowers dotting the otherwise green landscape. They seemed to sprout from nowhere, out of place amongst a never-ending hue of blue, green, and brown. Some subsequent research revealed the flowers to be Lupins. The popular legend surrounding the flower is that the wife of a local farmer during the early settlement days decided the drab center of the South Island needed some color. So, she secretly spread seeds in the area and the plants took to the land like wildfire. While incredibly beautiful plants, they are not native species and are technically considered weeds by New Zealand’s department of conservation. A happy accident, we made many stops along the side of the road to photograph these beautiful plants that help make the landscapes that much more surreal. After a few hours of exploring we found a good hiking destination which took me up a mountain to unrivaled views of the lake and valley below.
Another day took us on a trip to Milford Sound. This Fjord carves a path deep into the South Island and a boat trip takes you through the transition from the calm freshwater river that feeds into the rough Pacific Ocean. Along the way, our boat explored the numerous waterfalls that feed into the sound, and you could peer up the foggy mountain peaks high above. The views and natural landscapes were some of the most beautiful I have ever laid my eyes on. I feel like New Zealand is what the world was ten thousand years ago.
Carefully protected by its inhabitants, the natural world here is better kept than any other place I have been in my life. The islands are physically isolated from the rest of the world and no major predators are native to New Zealand. Due to this fact, any foreign species introduced here can have devastating effects on the ecological landscape. This reality has caused the New Zealand government to be incredibly respectful towards and protective of its land. In a way, the vulnerability of nature here is what engendered the deep respect the citizens of New Zealand hold for it. All nations should really take a page out of the book here. The efforts made to preserve nature in New Zealand have insured that future generations will see the same beauty. I am starting to realize that this conservation mindset has worked into the DNA of New Zealanders. Over the course of our travels, I have made so many observations regarding the slow degradation of our Earth. It is refreshing to see an example of a country that puts so much effort in preserving its pristine landscapes. It gives me a little bit of hope for the future, especially as more people prioritize a conservation mindset. // Jeff