02.10.2010 - 01.02.2011
When we initially flew into Christchurch all I could see from the plane was farmland, which made me wonder if I misinterpreted the amount of natural beauty and natural ecosystems found here. But we were fooled by the view from the plane. The South Island has a vast amount of parks, National, Regional, Scenic Reserves etc., which enclose the natural and native beauty of New Zealand.
Our experiences on the South Island were filled with numerous natural experiences in pristine environments. Our favourite hikes were the alpine hikes as they were linked to surreal views when the weather co-operated. High on these mountain environments we discovered plants and bugs we had never seen before. All of these had adapted thick scaley membranes to protect them from the wind and cold. We also were blown away by the lush rain forests layered with diverse flora, the coloured lichens wrapping around tree trunks, the dense sprawling matts of mosses, the dangling old man's beard (a common lichen), the fresh fern fronds within vibrant green fern patches, and the thick gnarled branches of various beech trees. Never in my life have I seen such a diversity of species in a forest. It show prooves just how complex nature is, and how humans can never truly duplicate all aspects of an ecosystem, try as they might.
While on the South Island we stepped foot in every National Park. Of all the tramps and trails we completed my favourite two, because I can't choose just one, was Avalanche Peak and Gertrude Saddle. The two day tramp to Crow's Hut over Avalanche Peak was packed with jaw-dropping views, and the Hut was remote, quiet, and surrounded by towering mountains in a glacial river valley. The day hike to Gertrude Saddle was a favourite because our eyes never tired and your attention was always occupied by the various terrain and ecosystems we passed through. The views from both of these hikes were phenomenal and upon reaching the summit/saddle we felt like we were on top of the world. The images our eyes captured will never be forgotten.
Another favourite part of the South Island was Doubtful Sound. It was as if it hadn't been touched by humans. It is pristine. It is remote.
The South Island is laid back and not build up, and it is vast with few people, both of which are exactly what we needed. Throughout all of the South Island we never saw a shopping mall. Sure we came across big box stores like Warehouse (an equivalent in Canada would be Zellers or Walmart) but these were few and far between. The only highway that contained more than one lane in each direction was North of Christchurch. If I were to live in New Zealand I would have chosen Christchurch as my favourite city, however you would have to be crazy to move to that city now. As the two recent earthquakes have made it known that the city lays on top of a fault line. I would have lived in Christchurch as it is such a clean city with beautiful heritage buildings, incredibly friendly people, a great walkable downtown, and great parks. However, since the second earthquake all that has changed.
The people of the South Island are generally pretty chill and laid back. They have a day by day attitude, never knowing what they were going to eat for dinner or where they would be heading tomorrow. They are incredibly trusting and welcome strangers into their home. We have a few experiences with this. One of these experiences happened in ?? where I stopped at the library looking to use the internet. The librarian said they didn't have it but walked me across the street to her house so I could check my email! People who weren't affected by the second Christchurch earthquake were offering extra space in their homes to those who needed a place to live. The generosity and kindness of the kiwis are amazing and it would do the world wonders if there were more people like them around!
In terms of food we had a few surprises while on the South Island. You would think that with NZ being a small island surrounded by ocean sushi would be quite common. But surprisingly it is rare as they don't have the Japanese population to open up the restaurants. Another surprise of ours was the difficulty in finding sheep dairy products. Despite my efforts which consisted of looking in every grocery and health store I entered I never found any milk or yoghurt on the South Island. However, sheep cheese was fabulous although also hard to find. Other food discoveries included the meat pie, an amazing and common New Zealand savory.
The things we will not miss about this island include the clouds of sand flies. And if there weren't clouds of them there were tornadoes of them, all targeting your ankles. Our ankles now look like we had an outbreak of the chicken pox and are covered in red scars. These sand fly bites itch for days, it is nothing like a mossy bite which only itches for a few hours. But yes, they have those too!
Move the map around to get a visual of our route and to access photos of our stops along the way.