After touring the North Island for 5 days, we left Wellington on Oct. 14 for the South Island by ferry. Crossing the very turbulent Cook Strait took 3.5 hours. Some passengers were so tired that they just slept on the floor.
At Marlborough we joined a local tour to visit the winery. It included free wine tasting. We were told that along this road for 35 kilometers were all vineyards with enormous production scales. We were surprised to discover that NZ could produce good grapes for wines, but had to import table grapes from the US, resulting in a higher price in the market.
On our way to Christchurch, we stopped by Kaikoura. It is a picturesque small town, famous for whale-watching, wild dolphins and seals, and crayfish production. We were shocked to hear that one month after we left on Nov. 14, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck just after midnight. Kaikoura was very close to the epicenter. It left two people dead, and many houses collapsed, roads cracked, and electricity cut off. One thousand tourists and hundreds of residents were stranded. In response, the NZ government sent military aircraft to the rescue. The Chinese Consulate also hired helicopters to evacuate the stranded Chinese tourists.
With wide streets and neat buildings, Christchurch is also known as a garden city of New Zealand. Our tour guide Xiao Zhang was a local resident. He told us that the water provided by the city is as good as the bottled water, and it’s free to all the residents. But there are many earthquakes in this area. In 2011, a 6.3-magnitude quake struck, killing 185 people.
We stopped by a pretty rural town called Fairlie. This small shop is selling a variety of pastry pies with good prices.
Lake Tekapo is one of the most visited tourist attractions in NZ. The lake is fed by melted water from glaciers of the Southern Alps. With certain minerals melted into the water, the lake shows a remarkable color of turquoise-blue under the sunshine. The scenery is magnificent and breathtaking.
The Church of the Good Shepherd, built in 1935, can be seen on many postcards. There is a bronze dog statue nearby. It is a tribute to the hardy Collie sheep dogs that help people develop the local husbandry. Besides its remarkable scenery, the region is one of the most pristine night skies in the world. Weather permitting, one will be amazed by the wonders of the night sky. The Milky Way looks so close as if it may fall onto the earth. Unfortunately, we were not there at the right time. The wind was blowing hard and nothing could be seen except for the fast moving clouds.
The lakes we have visited in NZ all have one characteristic in common. They are all pure and clean, with no impurities, and crystal clear. It's unforgettable.
We stopped by a salmon farm, and bought a piece of smoked salmon for dinner.
We stayed at a small town called Wanaka for the night. The temperature was low on that day, and wind blowing hard, making it uncomfortable to go out. Up ahead is the “lone tree of lake Wanaka,” one of the most photographed trees in NZ. It is a favorite wedding place for young people.
When in NZ, the best fruit to buy is kiwifruit, not only for its good price but also for its taste. The green kiwifruit tasted great there.
Before going to Queenstown, we went to watch bungy jumping at the Kawarau Bridge. “Bungie” in Cantonese is called dumb-pig’s jump, a true test of never exercise. Built in 1988, it is the world’s first commercially operated bungy site, attracting many daredevils and visitors here every year.
Ferburger is Queenstown’s world famous burger. One burger is almost as “big as your head,” and can feed two people.
Queenstown is renowned internationally for its tourism. Located on Lake Wakatipu, the town is surrounded by the mountains of the Southern Alps. It’s as spectacular as a fairyland on the Earth. There are lots of famous restaurants and hotels here, as well as adventure tourism activities. We took the Gondola to go up to Bob’s Peak, and had dinner at the Skyline buffet restaurant.
During the trip we met many young people from all over the world, such as Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, working here in restaurants or shops. New Zealand issues Working Holiday Visas to foreigners aged 18-30, so as to enable them to work while traveling. The schemes vary from country to country. While China has a quota of 1000 per year, Hong Kong gets 400. The duration is one year.
On the next day, we took the TSS Earnslaw steamship to visit the Walter Peak Farm. Built in 1912, the boat is 104 years old. It originally served as a cargo ship as well as a livestock carrier. Now it has been converted to a pleasure steamer.
The farm is owned by the Mackenzies family. At its peak it had 170,000 acres, up to 50 full time workers, and 40,000 sheep.
New Zealand English is close to British English, which we could mostly understand. This farm worker’s English has a strong accent that made it hard for us to understand.
We then watched the dogs herding sheep. In New Zealand, there are cattle and sheep everywhere. Just imagine how hard it would be to move them around without the working dogs.
Alpacas are originally from the highland of South America. Beyond their charming, quirky good looks, they are easy to take care of, and produce some of the silkiest, most versatile and colorful fiber found in nature. Generally, alpaca products cost more than the wool products.
There are no ferocious beasts in NZ. Most of the domestic animals, such as horses, cattle, sheep, and dogs, were brought to NZ by the early European settlers. The world famous kiwifruit, or Chinese gooseberry, was introduced to NZ in 1904 by a girls’ college headmistress from central China. Today, it is an important fruit export for NZ.
New Zealand has a high-income advanced economy with a GDP per capita of over US$36,000 in 2015. Agriculture made up about two-thirds of exported goods. Historically, Wool has been one of NZ's major exports. The same is true with dairy and meat products. Some tourists from China like to buy milk powder for home.
New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. There are 3 World Heritage sites, 14 national parks, 3 ocean parks, and hundreds of nature reserves and ecological zones in NZ. In 2015, NZ had a population of 4.64 million, while the number of tourists reached 2.39 million. Among them, 900,000 were from Australia, and over 280,000 from China. No wonder in many tourism attractions there are road signs written in both English and Chinese, not to mention in the airport where Chinese posters are commonly seen.
Mirror Lake is by the roadside on the way to Milford Sound. The scenery is so pretty that it has been called a must-stop by many photographers.
New Zealand's seasons are the opposite of the northern hemisphere's. Its spring starts in September, and summer in December. So, when we were there, it was cold and windy. It rained a lot. Sometimes it may have sunshine for a while, then rained heavily a moment later. As a Chinese poem goes: It’s sunny in the east while raining in the west; the weather is as changeable as the heart of my sweetheart.
The kea is an alpine parrot found in the South Island of NZ. It is a large, intelligent bird with olive-green feathers and a slender bill. Its diet includes carrion, roots, fruits, nectar, and insects. Sometimes it may attack livestock, digging into the sheep’s back for fat and meat. Innately curious, the kea can be attracted to everything, including vehicles on the roadside, surprising people with their mischievous behavior.
In the early 1990’s, NZ opened its doors widely to Chinese students. Meanwhile, it has loosened its immigration policy, making it possible to the Chinese to settle down in this wealthy country. This has greatly strengthened the relations between China and NZ, resulting in today’s prosperous situation in trade and tourism.
Milford Sound is a fiord in the southwest of the South Island. It is a renowned tourist destination, recorded as a World Heritage site, and named as the eighth Wonder of the World.
When a glacier travels across and down a slope, it carves its way into a U-shaped valley, creating a long, narrow inlet with steep sides called a “fiord,” where cliffs rise vertically upward from the ocean. The Mitre Peak rises 1692 meters, and the Lion, 1302 meters.
Milford Sound is one of the wettest areas on earth. Rainfall can reach 250 mm (10 in) in a day, and 182 rainy days in a year. Heavy rainfall has created many rainforests, lakes, rivers, and numerous waterfalls. The announcer onboard says that having a sunny day here is by sheer luck, and we are lucky enough today to have bright sunshine for our voyage.
The duration of the nature cruise is 2.5 hours. We had a buffet lunch onboard. After reaching the inlet of the fiord, the boat turned back home. Tasman Sea is in front of us. Australia is on the other side of the sea.
Once at the brink of extinction, the NZ Fur Seals were taken as food and pelts by humans. Now they are fully protected and on the way to recovery.
At Stirling Falls, the cruise boat got to the edge of the cliff and stayed for a while to let the passengers enjoy the magnificent waterfall. The fall is 150 meters, nearly three times as high as Niagara Falls.
On our way back, it rained heavily again. The weather here is really unpredictable.
Our next stop is Dunedin, the second largest city in the South Island. It is a region of unique landscapes and fascinating cultural history. Built in 1906, Dunedin Railway Station is one of them. The booking hall features a mosaic floor of 750,000 Minton tiles. It is served by daily sightseeing trains now and has an art exhibition on the second floor.
The First Church of Otago was built in 1873 by hundreds of convicts with pick and shovel for six years. Religious activities are closely connected to the local people. It is one of the inseparable parts of their lives.
We visited Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest residential street. A walk up the street will make a dog tired. It’s hard to understand why some people choose to live in this place. Every summer since 1988, athletes compete running from the base of the street to the top and back down again.
We returned to Christchurch, and in the afternoon went to visit the Canterbury Museum. In NZ, all national museums are free to the public. Most of the exhibits are of historical significance and priceless in art value. It is said that these Chinese ancient treasures are all donations by the private sector.
Two weeks have passed so fast. Now it’s time to say goodbye. Before we came to NZ, we had learned from our friends that it is a very beautiful country with friendly people. They said that we would like it when we were there.
This is true indeed. It is a nation where people advocate freedom, respect life, love nature, and protect the environment. Landscapes of snow-capped mountains, turquoise lakes, dense cold temperate rainforests, extensive vineyards, picturesque grasslands and livestock, lovely animals and plants, all can easily be captured in superb photographs. No wonder since the early 1800s, NZ has been called "God's own country" and the "Paradise of the Pacific."
Even before the tour ended, we had begun talking about where to go next year. The world is so big, and there are many places to go on our wish list.