Having lived in Colorado, I thought I knew what dark skies looked like. In truth, I had no idea. Until I moved to New Zealand. How dark is it here? Well, in most places, on a partly cloudy night, the clouds show up as slightly grey, a bit lighter than the clear sky. Here in NZ, the clouds are completely black (because there is little/no light reflecting off them) and the night sky is actually a bit light (from starlight). The Milky Way is bright enough to cast shadows on the ground.
Canterbury, New Zealand. It’s often the place visitors pass through to get to somewhere more exciting. But for the last 12 months, it has been our home. And we’ve gotten to explore some of this often overlooked part of New Zealand. There are some gems in the area, some well-known, some not so well-known. Here’s what we saw.
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.
If I had to pick one picture that got me interested in photography, it would be one that I captured during this trip to the Maroon Bells in August 2003. It was probably the first time I consciously made decisions in order to take a shot and succeeded in getting a decent result. That image was selected as one of the Top 10 Digital Images of 2014 at my local photography club last night, so I thought this would make a timely Throwback Thursday post.
Not many people visit Glenorchy, I don’t think. The sleepy little town of 200 is certainly out of the way. Past the tourist mecca of Queenstown, at the end of a winding road, it is practically the last town at the end of the (paved) road. You’d be forgiven for giving Glenorchy a miss. But you would be missing out on a real gem of New Zealand.
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.
There is a place that, like many places, is overlooked in favour of more famous places. Places like Mt. Cook, Arthur’s Pass, and Milford Sound are justifiably famous and visited by many people on the South Island of New Zealand. But right here in our backyard in Mid Canterbury there is a place tucked away from most people that rivals the beauty of the others. That place, is Erewhon, the end of Nowhere.
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.