A Tale of Three Sisters: Queenstown, Wellington and Christchurch.


(This is a blog-post from before we left New Zealand. Internet access had been a little intermittent there. Now we’re in California, it’s all-singing, all-dancing again. So here we go! And if I find I’ve gone metaphor-mad).



Of the three sisters Queenstown is the youngest. Conventionally pretty, if a little bland, she is used to getting everyone’s attention and thrives on the novelty of new acquaintance, needing continuous adoration from all-comers. Like the most popular girl in High School, she sets the trends for other, impressionable girls to follow. If you’ve not made it into her coterie of whispering confidants, you may feel desperate about your exclusion and decide to work very hard to make the grade. Alternatively, you may regard her with a certain bewilderment, silently wondering at her infamous popularity and at the devotion she seems to inspire. But of course, you will say none of this; even thinking it seems like a dark act of treachery!IMG_2835


Wellington, the eldest sister, is a very different character. Sassy, confident and edgy, she’s the kind of girl whose personal hygiene is a little suspect, but, hey, she absolutely knows how to have a good time. She’s a heady mix of excitement, bad habits, trashy clothes and contradiction. If you spend time with Wellington, she will probably lead you astray, encouraging you to break out and try new things, before disappearing into the night, leaving an intriguing scent of mystery in her wake.IMG_2830


Christchurch is the middle child and, suffering the familiar fate of “middle children”, has always struggled to feel secure in her position. Life has been hard for Christchurch and more than once, she has been broken by her experiences. But, if you think she’s a victim, you’re missing her amazing resilience. Time and again, she marshalls her resources, recovers and reinvents herself, emerging more robust and strong, determined to withstand the challenges of the future. Little wonder, then, if at times she seems confused about who she is  IMG_2829





Reflections and Moving On.


Today we crossed from New Zealand’s Southern Island, to the North. Exiting the Airport at Wellington a different pace, population and purpose was evident. But first, some reflections on our experience of the South Island.

Our travels took us from Christchurch on the East Coast, to Greymouth on the West Coast and then southwards to Queenstown. There are whole swathes of the South Island we didn’t even sniff.

What are my abiding impressions? Scenic splendour at every turn. I became punch-drunk on mountain vistas and river plains; sucker-punched by forests, lakes and glaciers. And remoteness. I’m used to the model train-set that is Great Britain, where you are rarely more than an hour from an urban conurbation and less from a motorway. Where the population of the small town where I live is two-thirds that of the entire West Coast. Here, there are vast tracts of uninhabited land, interspersed with “townships” – four or five roadside properties. Where the nearest supermarket is a two-hour drive undertaken once a month. Weather-permitting.

My other abiding memory will be of the people we met:

Jill, in Christchurch, who gave us a unique insight into the impact of the earthquakes in 2010/11, and how the community has been forever changed, and is responding.

Jan, whose amazing beachfront property we stayed at in Rapahoe, and who shared her extensive knowledge of the West Coast, sending us on our way with notes and directions to “must see” places.

Neroli, at Haast, a fourth-generation West-Coaster, who regaled us with tales of her ancestors. Hardy folk from Ireland who arrived amongst the first pioneers, landing cattle from their ships, and eventually developing a particularly heavy-framed herd, which could withstand the gruelling 250 kilometre drive from field to market, without losing condition and value. The descendants of those heavy beasts can be seen in nearby pastures today.

The ranger from the Conservation Department who took time out from grass-cutting, to give us a local history lesson at the far outpost of Jackson’s Bay.

Marc, who suggested we head out of the quaint but very tourist-centric Queenstown, and drive to Glenorchy along the banks of Lake Wakatipu.

All these people generously gave of their time and local knowledge and we greatly benefited from both. They gave our brief visit a unique context through their personal experiences, reflections, and opinions. Thank you.



Green. Grey. Blue.


I have just Googled “synonyms for colour green”. If you are wondering why, let me explain that I am currently in New Zealand and, if you know this amazing island (either personally or by reputation), you will understand. Before I came here, I was told that New Zealand is similar to England. In some respects it is; the rolling hills of the East Coast are like our green and pleasant land – on speed.


We began in Christchurch and took the Transalpine Railway across the South Island to the West Coast. The first part of the journey took us across the vast Canterbury plain, with its lush pastureland which is a green somewhere between emerald and eau de nil. As we travelled further inland, signs of human habitation become scarcer. Pasture gives way to alpine landscape as the train heads westwards and leaves the bright chlorophyll-haze of the grasslands. Still here, green dominates nature’s palette. All but the highest, snow-capped mountains are covered in shiny, fat-leaved verdant plants and trees of a slightly darker hue. On the West Coast the landscape changes again and we are in ambient rainforest, where rainwater drips from leaf to leaf. Big tree ferns reach to the sky, turning every view into a scene from Jurassic Park.



The Transalpine Railway travels from Christchurch on the East Coast and ends at Greymouth on the West Coast of the South Island. Greymouth is aptly named. It lies at the mouth of the river, and on a dull, rainy day is…grey. Once a thriving fishing port and mining town, both industries fell victim to tragedy. Rough seas and an inhospitable harbour claimed too many fishing boats and the remainder headed for less deadly ports further along the coast, and in 2010 a disastrous explosion led to loss of life and the end of mining in the town.

Over the past seven years the life has leached out of the town, with businesses closing and people moving away. It is a sad, grey shadow of its former self.



Then we did one of those “bucket list” activities and took a heli-ride over the Franz Joseph glacier. I could barely contain my delight when we got allocated the front seats! And it was a fantastic experience. As we swept round and caught our first glimpse of the glacier, I was surprised that it’s not the sheet of ice that I was somehow expecting. It’s a massive (but very slow) cascade of crumbly white lumps with a distinct blue tint and it moves at a rate of four metres a day. The helicopter lands at the top of the glacier, for a unique photo-op. Advance information had told us that selfie sticks weren’t allowed and when I saw the very confined space in the helicopter, and the steep slopes at the top of the glacier, I understood why!


The water from the ice and snow makes its way down via waterfalls to rivers and thence to the sea. That blue tint that we saw in the glacier emerges in the magical azure of the Blue Pools.