Autumn Impressions: South Island, New Zealand

May 15, 2017
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Travelling around New Zealand’s South Island during Autumn

I’VE just been travelling in the South Island, from the Nelson area to Invercargill. I thought I’d share some of my ‘impressions’ with you.

Abel Tasman National Monument

First off, here’s a picture of the Abel Tasman National Monument, on top of a hill between Pohara Beach and Ligar Bay. It looks simple but it is stunningly effective, like the black slab in 2001: A Space Odyssey, except that it’s a white slab that catches the sun and can be seen from a great distance. It was re-dedicated by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 1992 and is one of thirteen New Zealand National Monuments.

While I was in the nearby Abel Tasman National Park, I checked out the Tōtaranui campsite to see how the local wildlife was coming back. Years ago, there was nothing but the introduced Australian brushtail possum to be seen. Now the possums are in retreat and the flightless weka (mostly brown) and semi-flightless pūkeko (mostly blue) are numerous once again, running around in mixed flocks on the ground. Dogs are strictly banned, as they would make short work of such ground-dwelling birds, the cheeky and fearless weka in particular.

Abel Tasman National Park tidal sand-flats

Castles in the sand, Abel Tasman National Park

Pūkeko and two weka, at Tōtaranui


Paradise ducks and a close-approaching weka

The Tōtaranui campsite is on the beach and you can watch the sun come up over the water.

Sunrise at Tōtaranui

Another place we visited in the Nelson region was the Waikoropupū springs, formerly known as the Pupu springs. The great pool of the springs is one of the clearest lakes in the world, constantly refreshed by an upwelling of absolutely pure groundwater which is enough to fill more than forty bathtubs a second.

Waikoropupū Springs

There was also an amazing old colonial-era cemetery near the town of Collingwood, west of Nelson. Both Nelson and Collingwood are, of course, named after British admirals of the Napoleonic era.

Nelson has a traditional Māori name which was written in Victorian times as Wakatu, and perhaps more commonly these days as Whakatū. At the cemetery near Collingwood, we took a photo of the grave of a noted Māori rangatira or ‘chief’ of the region in colonial times, Tamati Pirimona Marino,whose gravestone says that it preserves his memory, that he lies beneath, and that he died at Wakatu, or Nelson, on the 30th of December 1877. Behind it, to the right, you can see the gravestone of a settler named Florence Ellis.

The grave of Tamati Pirimona Marino

Most localities in New Zealand have Māori names, though in the case of the larger cities the English name is the more familiar and commonly-used one.

After Nelson, or Whakatū, we went on to Christchurch ( Ōtautahi) to see how the rebuilding of one my favourite cities was coming along, more than six years after the great quake of February 2011. The short answer is that it is still coming along.Here is an old bronze war-memorial monument of an angel breaking a sword, set very aptly amid assorted devastation and rebuilding, even in 2017.

War memorial in Cathedral Square, Christchurch

Not sure if you can see the slogan below, but it reads (in neon), “EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT,” which is presumably the Christchurch version of Keep Calm and Carry On.

“Christchurch the Garden City on the Avon” reads the little structure below, still in the course of being patched up.

Here is a rather classy old documentary on that ‘garden city’ theme.


'Christchurch: Garden City of New Zealand' (1952)

People aren’t too sure what to do with the iconic Anglican Cathedral, which now looks decidedly post-apocalyptic. This photo includes another angle on the angel monument. This was once a busy square in the very heart of the city!

Christchurch Anglican Cathedral with war memorial and park bench. Hard to think that this is in the major square of a big city more than six years after the major earthquake of 2011.

To keep things in perspective, the other half of the square is back in service, though it’s pretty obvious that a lot of the buildings have gone, and not yet been replaced.

Walking through the side of Cathedral Square that has been reopened

Ōtākaro Limited is the reconstruction corporation for Christchurch

But there are lots of old buildings that have survived in this famously most ‘English’ of New Zealand cities, and the tramway is back in service.

The Christchurch Arts Centre, a former university precinct in Gothic style

The Canterbury Museum portico

A protest exhibit directed against high-handed actions of New Zealand’s central government, which unseated the elected councillors of Environment Canterbury (the Canterbury Regional Council) in 2010, before the earthquakes, in a dispute over water rights, irrigation, and conservation


Crossing Rolleston Street in front of the Arts Centre

This gives you an idea of the vintage of the Arts Centre

A pretty fountain in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens

At the Botanic Gardens, the Canterbury Museum in the background

At the Arts Centre, which used to be a university precinct

Flag of New Zealand and flag of the City of Christchurch

Walking in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Worcester Boulevard, between the Canterbury Museum and Cathedral Square

Poster advertising the city’s heritage tram

One of the advantages of electric trams is the ability to go right inside shopping centres, under cover, and pull up outside cafes without annoying people or appearing to risk running people over, in the way that a Diesel bus would. Imagine if more modern trams with cheap fares for the locals ran on these tracks as well as the somewhat expensive heritage tram (which, at an adult fare of NZ$25, is strictly for tourists).

Hitching a ride!

We travelled on to Timaru, where there is a spectacular old Roman Catholic basilica, and then on through Waimate with its rather Russian-looking 1870s wooden church, and inland Otago and its picturesque pubs, where the leaves were falling from the trees and where the car sped past wild bushes covered in red berries at that time of year.

The old church in Waimate, a structure that dates back to the 1870s. Time passes slowly in these parts.

Another view of the old church in Waimate

The Roman Catholic Basilica in Timaru

The Waitaki Hotel, just before the Lindis Pass which leads from Canterbury into Otago

The Lindis Pass looked like Nevada . . .

The Lindis Pass, as seen from the passenger seat

Lindis Pass landforms

Yellow poplar leaves near Wanaka, in Otago

And so on to Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu, where it seemed that winter had already arrived.

The Queenstown Gardens are often overlooked. Established in 1869 by far-sighted founders, they occupy a peninsula sticking out into the lake between Queenstown’s cove and the nearby Frankton Arm.

As in the town itself, one of the more idiosyncratic features of the gardens is the presence of immense California mountain redwoods (sequoiadendron giganteum), planted by the first founders of the town.

In fact, most of the trees in and around Queenstown are foreign to New Zealand, as the climate is too cold and dry for local species to flourish naturally. The hills are covered in pines, which definitely aren’t native to New Zealand. Thus visitors come to the tourist town of Queenstown and find themselves in a treescape that is probably more reminiscent of northern California! Queenstown may be many things, but the ‘real New Zealand’ it isn’t! Having said that, the gardens are as pleasant as anywhere in California might be.

By the way, Lake Wakatipu is the lake that features in the Brit drama Top of the Lake. I don’t think the area is as gothic as all that in real life, though.

Queenstown from the Queenstown Gardens. In the distance lies Gorge Road, an impressive locality in itself

The Queenstown foreshore including a view of Eichardt’s Private Hotel on the left, the town’s most famous pub, which dates back to the 1860s

Queenstown Gardens

Lake Wakatipu is almost as clear as Waikoropupū Springs. From a plane, you can see the bottom of the Frankton Arm quite clearly, and you can see that it is strewn with rocks.

The Queenstown Gardens consist of a terminal moraine, an area where a glacier melted and deposited rocks embedded in the ice. At the end of the ice age the level of the lake was also somewhat higher than today, and rocks embedded in glacial icebergs ultimately dropped onto the bottom. Both causes have led to a rock-strewn landscape, which was once a rocky lake bed itself.

There are lots of boulders lying around in the Queenstown Gardens.

The present-day lakefront, at the tip of the Queenstown Gardens

The TSS (twin-screw steamer) Earnslaw plies its course up and down the lake, as it has done for more than a hundred years. By the way, the photo below, in which the Earnslaw appears as a white speck, gives you some idea of just how big Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding country really is. People compare Wakatipu to Loch Ness in Scotland, but it is far larger, and so are the hills of the surrounding ‘highlands’.

The Earnslaw under Walter Peak. The terraces in the background give some idea of the former lake level; these would have formed a shallow silted-up river fan back then

A closer view of the Earnslaw

And so, to Invercargill: a city honoured in the internationally popular brass band tune known as the Invercargill March.

Everything in the South Island often seems to be a bit old fashioned to anyone from Auckland, and this is just as true of Invercargill, a city where the traffic stops if it looks like you want to cross the street, and where the motto on the Invercargill Town Hall and Theatre reads ‘For the Common Good’, a very old-fashioned idea by Auckland standards.

Invercargill streets and buildings

Invercargill Water Works

Invercargill Water Tower

Water Tower base, with date

Invercargill Town Hall and Theatre

‘For the Public Good’

In the old-fashioned Queen’s Park there is a café with old-fashioned silver service. Even the court house bears an old-fashioned coat of arms.

Invercargill Footballers’ Memorial

Otepuni Gardens, part of the Invercargill ‘Town Belt’ or Greenbelt

Information Panel for Queens Park, Invercargill (which connects to the town belt). Note the rather grand and formal layout centred on a dead-straight Coronation Avenue. The entrance to the left is guarded by the Feldwick Gates.

The Feldwick Gates, leading on to Coronation Avenue

A Queens Park peacock

Gilt-edged service in the Queens Park cafe

The Invercargill High Court and District Court. The British coat of arms was used for official purposes in New Zealand until 1947, and not replaced wherever it was already in use.

And that’s really as far as you can go, apart from Stewart Island!

One last look back: Elton John glasses beside the cemetery, near Collingwood!

Here is my Amazon author page. I’m also publishing my books, progressively, on other platforms.


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