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New Zealand South Island

Our first trip is two months to the Southern Hemisphere. Our youngest daughter is doing a Gap Year (actually 6 months) teaching English and Social awareness in a school in Vanuatu, so whilst seeing her we decided to visit New Zealand. I can hear every one saying ‘ I know New Zealand, but where is Vanuatu’? Vanuatu is a collection of Islands about 1500 miles North of New Zealand. Because everyone knows much about New Zealand, most of this write-up will be about Vanuatu.

Week 1

Our first ever 29 hour flight, including a 3 hour stop-over in Hong Kong. What does one do for 29 hours on a ‘plane? Apart from trying to sleep for a few hours and catching up on the travel books, I had fortunately downloaded the 2007 Reith lectures. This year it was by the USA economist Jeffrey Sachs and was entitled ‘bursting at the seams’ and was on the theme that with this connected world, problems are now multinational and need a cross boundary solution. In my own 50 years existence, I have seen England go from a country that ignores others (apart from the odd colonial war) to the Chernobyl Nuclear power station problem affecting Welsh sheep farmers and the multinational treaties to protect the ozone layer.  This year’s lecture transcripts and audio files can be found at: www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2007

After a quick stop-off in Auckland, we moved to Christchurch on the South Island. Although intellectually you know that Spring in the UK is Autumn in New Zealand, it is still strange to see the trees in their Autumnal colours in April. Actually, to be more accurate, it is only the imported trees such as oak, beech etc that are autumnal, as the native New Zealand trees are all evergreen. There is currently a big PC movement in New Zealand trying to ban the imported trees from public spaces.


Christchurch has to one of the prettiest cities we have seen, ignoring ‘tourist’ cities such as Bruges and Venice. It has the benefit of the River Avon flowing through its centre. Why did the old colonial Britons have to reuse names:- Southern Alps, Canterbury, Ashburton, Nelson, Oxford Street, Cambridge Street or in the USA Boston, Manchester, Washington, New York etc. Christchurch feels quite British in its architecture and culture.




Having hired a camper van and started to drive out into the countryside and mountains, we can start to see ‘real’ New Zealand. The architecture here is more akin to the USA – long straight roads and single story buildings. There are 10 times as many sheep as people in NZ, and the fields help to prove this point. The field sheep density is about 2 or 3 times that in the UK. I guess the grass grows much faster here. Every 20th field contains a heard of deer. Venison must be very popular.


Want to enjoy the trolly dollys on flights? Dont go on Air New Zealand. Ours were men in their 60s

First, a couple of pictures typifying the South Island.

As you can see, a very high sheep density and the long straight roads of the Eastern plains

As mentioned previously, if an English person were blind folded and dropped into say Christchurch, they would struggle to know they were not in the UK although they may think that they had gone back in time by 20-30 years, and wonder where all the designer shops had gone.

Words cannot describe how beautiful NZ is. It is easy to become blasť about yet another 400 foot waterfall. The USA has its stunning parts, but they are well spread. Here it is possible to access most with a few days drive.

 This beauty is not always appreciated by the locals who appear to be in two camps. The youngsters want to move to Australia as NZ is just “too bloody boring”.  A NZ passport gives automatic residency to Australia. The immigrants want to move to Australia as NZ’s food/water rates/housing is much more expensive. The NZ 5 bedroom house is just not big enough. Strange how a bigger washing machine is more important than all this beauty! It will be interesting to see if in Vanuatu (where they have nothing) people will also have an eye on their neighbour’s wealth.

In England we take our history for granted, perhaps because history teachers have such an ability to turn a fascinating subject into something flat. We mention this because we took a 50 mile detour to see a historic mining village. Pleasant as it was, it was only half the age of our own English village which fortunately has no tourists.

Our own stay in the South Island was a mere 8 days. An 8 week stay would be barely long enough. In our short trip, we found the following to be stunning:

Milford Sound – actually a fiord in the fiordland areas. The average rainfall here is 7-8m (25-28 feet) per year! A boat trip is required to see it in all its glory.

Franz Joseph glacier – One of over 3000 glaciers in NZ. Most are in the South Island on the west coast. The 1 day guided tour is excellent.

A rain forest walk – Ours was at Franz Joseph glacier, but there are many in the south west

A mountain walk above Arrowtown.

The Kiwis are a hardy bunch, full of  adrenaline. Everything is geared towards the great outdoors. They will often be seen wearing shorts when it’s two degrees below freezing. Any gear will do, the more ripped or filthy the better. NZ is well set up for this outdoor life – there’s even a bike assembly area with frame support racks at the airport.

Finally, the weather can be very changeable, especially on the west coast. It is important to have a few spare days in the itinerary to allow for rainy days.

The Kiwis export to the UK butter, lamb and good wine. In exchange, England exports .............. Coronation Street!