So much of photography is down to chance — that was brought home quite forcefully during our last getaway on the South Island. Since we had only a weekend free, it had to be relatively close by. Thankfully, we had something that fit the bill perfectly — Moeraki Boulders outside Oamaru, a short 2-hour drive.
If you asked me for only one single place to visit on the South Island, I would recommend Aoraki/Mount Cook without hesitation. It has everything — flat plains/valleys, soaring mountains, impossibly blue lakes, rivers, glaciers, and forests. If you want a luxury hotel stay and do not want to do any hard hikes, there’s something for you. If you want something more middle-of-the-road and want to do some easy/short walks, there’s something for you. If you’re hardcore and want tough multi-day treks, complete with backcountry skiing or kayaking, there’s something for you too.
After the low-key atmosphere of Fiordland and Te Anau, Queenstown is somewhat of a shock to the system. It’s big, it’s brash, it’s bold. By New Zealand standards, that is. If Wanaka is like Summit County (Colorado), then Queenstown is more a mixture of Aspen and Boulder. Of New Zealand.
I’d heard about Fiordland ever since moving to New Zealand. Words like “spectacular” were usually thrown around in conjunction. So I figured that we should probably check it out during our time here on the South Island. Now, if you ever visit New Zealand and especially if you spend some time on the South Island, you might get mountain fatigue by the time you reach the southwestern corner of the South Island that is Fiordland. The Southern Alps offer stunning vistas for much of the island, and you would be forgiven for wondering if the long drive out to Fiordland would be worth it. But trust me — it is absolutely worth every kilometre and hour spent getting there. Many countries have a defining “highlight”, something that is unique (or nearly so). Fiordland is New Zealand’s defining highlight.
Wanaka, in the one day we were there, reminded us quite a bit of our old home in the US, Summit County, Colorado. There’s a large lake, Lake Wanaka, ringed by mountains on all sides, and the town sitting on the flat areas. The central core of the town caters to tourists, with residents seemingly scattered around the outskirts (again, similar to Summit). We were there for only one night as a stop-over on the way to Te Anau in Fiordland.
I’m not one for bucket lists. But ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had a list of 5 cities that I wanted to visit (in no particular order): Istanbul, Barcelona, Sydney, Hong Kong, and Rio de Janeiro. I’ve been to Istanbul and Barcelona, but didn’t think I’d make it to Sydney (simply because it was so far from the rest of the world). As luck would have it, our move to New Zealand opened up Australasia/Oceania for us to explore, and this past Christmas 2014, we made a quick trip to Sydney.
With my usual flair for being late to all internet trends, here is my first Throwback Thursday post (apparently it’s a thing): a trip to New York in June 2001. It was our first proper trip as a couple after college/university. And also my first trip after getting a digital camera — the mighty 3-megapixel HP Photosmart 315! Unfortunately, any skills gained during my 5 years of using a Canon film SLR (in high school and college) had deserted me in the intervening time and I was pretty much a beginner in photography. Any half-decent pictures from the trip were the result of pure dumb luck…
Topping out at 3,724 m (12,218 ft), Aoraki/Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. It served as Sir Edmund Hillary’s training gound for Everest, and is one of the highlights of any trip to the South Island. During the term holiday, we spent four fantastic days there, exploring the trails through the valleys.
One of the great things about living in New Zealand are the dark skies. With very little light pollution, the stars are bright in the night sky. And one of the best places to see them is at Lake Tekapo, which is part of the gold-rated Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. And that is where we decided on our first Kiwi vacation.
It was the sun that tipped me off. Something was off. According to the airplane “moving map”, we were flying east towards Christchurch, but the position of the sun outside the window suggested we were heading south. And then it hit me — we were in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning the sun stayed in the northern half of the sky. So the rising sun ahead of us and off the left side of the airplane meant we were indeed heading east. I’d spent all my life in the Northern Hemisphere and I’d used the sun being in the southern half of the sky to orient myself. But not anymore. Not for the next year or two, or three.