Nature is the greatest actor on the stage of New Zealand’s South Island – wild, desolate, and yet more varied than the North.
It begins sweetly, with the emerald green bays of the Marlborough Sounds, and the brilliantly golden, deserted beaches of Golden Bay. This is where the Dutchman Abel Tasman tried to land – after the Maori and before even Captain Cook, he was the next to “discover” New Zealand. His sailors jumped into their dinghies to explore the terrain, but they never made it. One of them brought out his trumpet. It was, after all, a ceremonious occasion. But the Maori interpreted the trumpet as a declaration of war. They rammed the boat and slaughtered the shipmates. Operation Disaster. The Dutch turned tail and made for the open sea.
Poor Tasman, he missed out on paradise. As I travel along the West Coast, I have to keep pinching myself to make sure I am not dreaming. The freakish Pancake Rocks that look like piles of crêpe suzette; the overwhelming Fox and Franz Josef Glacier (below) on the West Coast; the rainforest further down. The highlights keep mounting: Mount Cook (above), where Sir Edmund Hillary trained before his ascent on Mount Everest in 1953; the steep rugged cliffs and stunning fjords of Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound deep in the south-west; and then there’s the gigantic cascading waterfalls. This is wilderness you just don’t see anywhere else on earth.
No matter where I go I am surrounded by beauty and silence. New Zealanders are proud of their land and are very environmentally aware. Ten to fifteen percent of the country has been declared protected national parkland. And even the most right-wing politician wouldn’t dare put nuclear energy on the agenda. The Department of Conservation (DOC) is responsible for about a third of the country’s land area, as well as marine reserves and offshore islands. Its work includes managing more than 1,000 huts that walkers or other recreational users can enjoy when exploring the riches on offer from Mother Nature. You’re welcome!
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