My wife and I sought to escape winter weather this year by heading south—to the Southern Hemisphere in fact. Conveniently, our daughter lives in Wellington, New Zealand. So we flew cross-country and then cross-Pacific to reside from mid-January to mid-March in Middle Earth.
We’ve been to New Zealand many times in the past, but this was our first visit in four years, thanks to the pandemic (ironically, we escaped Covid the whole time there but came down with some other kind of virus upon our return!). This time, rather than travelling all over the country, we decided to stay in just a few places. The map will provide some orientation. Part I takes up our stay on the South Island, from Christchurch to Golden Bay (west of Nelson). Part II will focus on the North Island, from Wellington to New Plymouth.
Due to a relative lack of pollution, the light in New Zealand is strong, even stark at midday, especially in the summer. Twilight affords softer, more slanting light, although the sunrises and sunsets are vivid, exactly suiting my photographic tastes. Still, there are cloudy days where the light is more diffused, and that’s when I liked taking photos of the wondrous vegetation. The native bush is quite different from the Appalachian forest at home, maybe not as diverse but equally interesting—especially if you like ferns! We did spend some time in Christchurch and Wellington, but most images are from walks along the beaches and in the woods.
After our arrival in Wellington, we spent a lovely week in the suburb of Breaker Bay, to which we’ll return in Part II. Then we flew down to Christchurch on the South Island.
Christchurch suffered a devastating earthquake in February 2011 (we were actually in the country during the quake, though far away in Wanaka; our daughter miraculously escaped harm in the ravaged central business district). Horizontal and vertical shaking coupled with soil liquefaction on an alluvial plain were impossible to resist, particularly by old masonry buildings. The damage “may be the greatest ever recorded anywhere in a modern city” [New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, 4 March 2011]. Some 185 people died, most of them in the Canterbury Television Building. Rebuilding has been extensive, but it’s far from complete, and reminders of the devastation persist beside new construction.
New buildings have much better bracing, in hopes of riding out the next shake (not if but when it occurs, as major faults run through Christchurch up through Wellington).
We also visited the lovely Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
And we took a day trip up into the Southern Alps. We visited the rock formations called Castle Hill or Kura Tawhiti, then glimpsed the mighty Waimakariri River.
From Christchurch we took the train up the east coast, with a brief stop to view the Kaikoura Mountains.
In the small port city of Picton we met our daughter, arriving on the Cook Strait ferry with her car.
We then drove over to Golden Bay (so named not for actual gold but for golden sand beaches). To get there you have to climb up and over Takaka Hill (793 metres) on a very winding road that deters some. I have a t-shirt that reads: “It’s just a hill; get over it.” And so we did.
After reaching Takaka, and learning how to pronounce it, we proceeded about nine miles east to Ligar Bay (rhymes with “tiger”). Ligar Bay is small, protected and relatively undeveloped. We spent two and half glorious weeks there, basking in the light, walking the beach just across the road, and enjoying a family of California quail in our front yard. It was in many ways the high point of our holiday.
Here are a couple of doctored images of Ligar Beach at sunset, in fact consecutive shots with different sky swaps. Some may cringe, but I encourage them to start a conversation about the use of AI in photography.
Did I mention ferns? Here are a few (okay, a double-few) among many:
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