By Bonnie and Bill Neely
Although most of the 4 million New Zealanders live on the North Island and most of the official tourist sites are there, too, we had to see what was below at nearly the bottom of the world. Our passion is driving, and we have insatiable appetites for seeing what's just over the hill or around the corner. With that in mind, we boarded the Interisland Ferry to be transported from Wellington, North Island, to Picton, South Island. Then we drove almost the entire length and breadth of this island, so pure and unspoiled and gorgeous in its newness.
Our drive along the west coast seemed long on gloom and rain for five hours in high mountains with a few stops to stretch our legs in spite of the precipitation. At the Ship Wreck Sand Bar we learned from the signage about a shipwreck on this coast in the late 1800s. In better weather it's possible to walk the huge sandbar. It was formed by glaciers, wind, waves and rain working together to dump thousands of tons of sand where the rock jetty juts out into the sea, and this sandbar pushed the rocky moraine from volcanoes away from the coast, creating a dangerous coastline.
For several hours we drove along the Boundary Highway with high mountains on each side of a deep gorge created by the passage of huge glaciers moving through, starting at Haast Pass between the Southern Alps and the southwest coast. Miners discovered the pass when they were searching for the prized greenstone (jade) near Hokitika.
The boundary is along the straight fault where the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates collided thousands of years ago and pushed up these high mountains. The ice age here was 14,000 years ago, and now many glaciers among the high Alps are being affected by climate change. We drove beside steep cliffs with continuous "S" curves. The thick tropical rainforest of palms, evergreen trees and huge ferns would be beautiful but for the heavy rain and cloud cover hiding the mountains. This coast is always rainy, windy and cold all year. We were happy to spend several hours at the fascinating Haast Pass Visitor Center, where we learned all about this area from their comprehensive displays.
A little farther the road and weather changed, allowing us to see spectacular scenery through the region of Mataroa, with the beautiful Alps on both sides. When at last the atmosphere changed we appreciated the sunshine and the brilliant colors of blue lakes, bright-green grass, huge verdant pines, and billowy blue and white sky. It was scenery worth the problematic drive and more beautiful than we had ever seen before.
We drove beside Lake Hawea on the opposite side of the road, spectacular as we drove away from the wet west coast and moved to the center of South Island. Our destination was Lake Wanaka in the time of midnight sun. We have gone out of our hotel rooms many nights hoping to see the Southern constellations, but it stays daylight so long we have not seen the famous Southern Cross yet. Still, the drive in to Lake Wanaka yielded what we agreed was the most beautiful scenery we had ever driven through. Constellations or not, we were glad we made the trip.
WHEN YOU GO
Bonnie and Bill Neely are freelance writers. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.