This part of the South Island is very rugged with lots of fast flowing streams and rivers…almost always crossed by single lane bridges…one way at a time. Fortunately, with only a million residents who mostly live on the east side of the island, and despite tourists, traffic is rarely an issue.
Other than the Maori, the first residents along the west coast of the South Island were miners. Even today New Zealand has abundant coal, silver, iron ore, limestone and gold reserves. About 7,000 New Zealanders are directly involved in mining…
We passed a couple of deserted mines as we drove south along Route 6. There are still ghost towns and ruins to explore and relics to be found. As you can see in the preceding photo, the countryside is quite rugged…and it wasn’t long before it became even more so!
We came up over a low mountain pass and…Wow! This is Lake Wanaka, one of the several lakes that constitute the Southern Lakes District. This district has New Zealand’s only true Continental climate, so extremes of temperature and landscape are common here. Summers can be sizzling hot and dry; autumn is a blaze of colors and the winters are cold and clear.
This is one of the places where we’ve experienced skies so clear that the night sky seemed ablaze with stars! The sky is all the more interesting because the visible stars in the southern hemisphere are very different than in the northern hemisphere.
This is another view of Lake Wanaka… In Maori, Wanaka means ‘renewal of the soul’, which seems fitting indeed! The lake covers an area of approximately 74 square miles. It’s about 26 miles long and 6+ miles wide at its widest point. In addition, Lake Wanaka is 980 feet deep!
Lake Wanaka lies in a dramatic glacier shaped basin with the peaks to the west rising to over 6,500 feet above sea level. Most of the lake’s shoreline is unmodified and it is protected against development. The mountain range, which has various branches or sub-ranges, is referred to as the Southern Alps.
I borrowed this satellite view of the South Island from the Internet. I think that it clearly shows the great expanse of the Southern Alps. They stretch for about 300 miles from the south to the north. Being in the southern hemisphere, the warmest part of the South Island is in the north. The highest peak in the Southern Alps is Mount Cook at 12,316 feet, but there are 16 other peaks that are 9,800 feet or higher. The Southern Alps also have thousands of glaciers with the Tasman Glacier at 18 miles being the longest.
FYI…Christchurch is in the notch at the top of the large peninsula about 2/3 of the way up the right hand or east side of the island. The Lakes Region can clearly be seen at about the center of the island… The Pacific Ocean is on the right and the Tasman Sea is on the left.
The flora and fauna of the South Island is like nowhere else. There are ferns everywhere. About 75% of the native flora is unique and it includes some of the world’s oldest plant forms. Laurie and I were a little uneasy at the lack of mammals and wildlife in general.
The only mammals indigenous to the Island are bats and seals. Flightless birds are becoming less common due to predation and damage caused by introduced species. Rabbits, red deer, wild pigs, chamois and Himalayan tahr were all introduced for hunting purposes…and they’ve all evolved into invasive species! Another introduced problem species…for their fur… is the rather cute Australian possum. There are an estimated 30,000,000 of them in New Zealand… For a video showing one of these possums eating fruit, just go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1H2Vw2QkU4.
This is the town of Wanaka on the shores of Lake Wanaka. When we visited in 2000 and had a nice relaxing lunch, Wanaka had a population of roughly 4,000. In 2006, the census revealed that the town had grown to about 7,000 residents. It has become a very popular resort town. Wanaka is located at the head of the Clutha River where it flows out of the lake.
Tourism had an early start here with the first hotel opening in 1867. Many tourists like it better than Queenstown because it’s less commercialized. For dog lovers…this was the site of the world’s first sheepdog trials…also in 1867. Trekking or walking the many trails in the area is a major tourist draw.
There is also an annual air show, “Warbirds over Wanaka”, that attracts from 70,000 to over 100,000 visitors during Easter on even number years. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warbirds_over_Wanaka) Another attraction is the Toy and Transportation Museum. Despite the fact that this museum actually opened a few years before our trip, I somehow missed it on our itinerary. It really sounds like a great and varied collection! For more information, go to http://www.wanakatransportandtoymuseum.com/.
This is downtown Queenstown New Zealand, at least this was the way it was back in 2000. Queenstown has something for everyone…shopping, outdoor adventures and site seeing galore, lazy relaxed cruising on Lake Wakatipu, fine dining, cable car rides, etc., etc. From what I’ve been able to determine, it appears that the population of Queenstown and vicinity has grown by over 25 % in the past 12 years. Still, at 16,600 residents, it’s still a relatively small but bustling…or as they say…‘happening’ town.
Laurie took this photo from the front of our hotel on the hills above Queenstown. The town is built on a bay of the same name on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown’s first growth spurt was attributable to the nearby discovery of gold in the 1860’s. Many of the town’s streets bear names that reflect that era. Queenstown is surrounded by various ranges that are part of the Southern Alps.
One more photo from our hotel… The scenery is spectacular! Queenstown and the adjoining Remarkable Mountains, (yes, that is their name!), is a center for adventure tourism. Skiing and snowboarding, jet boating, whitewater rafting, bungy jumping, mountain biking, skateboarding, trekking or tramping, parapenting, sky diving and fly fishing are all popular activities.
We did indulge in a couple of local activities…one of them even is a version of adventure tourism but I’ll save that for Chapter VI of our New Zealand trip.
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by and sharing another segment of our trip with us!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave