South Island, New Zealand Trip Report, #1

January 10, 2013


(Having trouble adding images….will try to add more later today….)

It’s raining this morning, a very agreeable weather considering how many days in a row we’ve been moving, moving, moving. I was delighted at the moody weather when we drove in last night, heavy clouds in dark puffs around the startlingly high, steep mountains and the enormous, long lake.

There is a reason a tourist town becomes a tourist town.

And the rain gives me time to collect a few thoughts about the trip so far. Everyone else has gone swimming, so I am left in the silence of the apartment to gather the sea- and sun- and delight-drenched moments to see what we have here. It goes so fast when you’re in the middle of it, and I have rarely been anywhere I felt so very much at home, but of course, we are outdoors, doing outdoor things, and when we are not, we are drinking tea and or ginger beer or choosing a little cake from a glass case.

How to gather a thousand moments into something coherent for you? I don’t have time to condense it all, so just follow along as you will.

Three words: color, animals, the sea.

I knew NZ was beautiful. I’d seen bits of it ten years ago, on a whirlwind trip to the North Island. The sea and trees and mountains are a winning combination.

But when we came South, I was not expecting it to be so mouth-gapingly beautiful, so lavishly painted with color. How many times have I stood still to grapple with ways to describe the layers and layers and layers of color here? Not all colors, but two of my favorites–blue and green. The bays, perhaps because they are relatively shallow, are startling shades of aquamarine, turquoise. The mountains are green close in, blue and bluer and bluest against the horizon of blue sky. The Abel Tasman park has to be one of the most gorgeous spots I’ve ever seen, with that stunning colored sea and the islands covered with heavy bush, and little caves coyly placed nearby gold sand beaches.

In Marlborough, were the Sauvignon Blanc grapes have become the countries largest fruit export (at 68% of the total), the rolling hills are planted endlessly with green vines, that familiar striped pattern undulating for miles and miles and miles, all of it quilted against soft brown hills that look as velvety as antlers.

And everything remarkably uncrowded, even at one of the busy times of year. We have encountered crowds, of course, at the main sites, but nothing like they would be in any busy tourist center in the US or Europe at the corresponding high season.

I thought Abel Tasman was as beautiful as it could get, but then we arrived in Kaikoura, where the mountains are taller, and then we drove further down to Dunedin’s little town on the sea, and now we’ve arrived in Queenstown, which is even more startling.

A lot of it looks like Scotland to me, the lochs and the hills, the sudden sweep of a turn that reveals a bay or an expanse of ocean.


It feels in a way that my education this time is all about the ocean. What lives there, how it looks, how it smells, how it feels. Just how very salty it is on my face by the end of a day of kayaking. Just how tangled my hair can be (and full! and wavy!) I grew up in Colorado, so there was no sea, but I remember clearly the first time I saw the ocean, the Pacific in Southern California. It was a windy day and the steel gray waves were high and choppy, and then it died down and we wandered on the beach picking up shells. I have no idea where we were exactly–somewhere near San Diego, I’m guessing. Ever after, I had the sense that the ocean would make me happy. I struggled to get back to California, and almost joined the Navy (but they would have made me cut my waist length hair). I landed there again a couple more times before my children were born, on a long wander down the coast at nineteen, and a couple of months living in San Diego a year or so later.

But then I settled in to go to college, and then raise my boys, and we traveled to the interior of the country more often than not. Sometimes, RWA conferences were held by the sea, and I could visit. A few times, I visited friends who had access, and they would take pity on my yearning and we’d go to peer in tide pools or walk along the sand so I could get my feet wet. My family and I took a ferry across the Irish Sea and I learned I can be terribly seasick. CR and I took a ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, British Columbia, which was astonishingly beautiful. When I started teaching at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference (which I will be doing again this summer–please come!), I had the most beach access of my life–that vast beach in the early morning, deserted except for me and my yoga mat, the boats bouncing gently under the June gloom.

The ocean itself, its vast, deep depths still were a mystery to me. I don’t really eat fish. I don’t know how they live and grow. I know it’s deep. I know things live in the water. I have no desire to swim in it. (Okay, maybe I’d swim by the Great Barrier Reef. That was very clear water. You can see what’s coming.)

This trip seems all about Things That Live In And Around The Ocean. Whales, seals, dolphins, sea birds, fish. The gigantic Royal Albatross, with it’s six foot wing span, wings that fold in threes, neatly, like origami, over its gigantic back. It can fly 1000 km in a day. It knows how to get back to the place it was born so that it can mate. Sometimes mated pairs arrive at the mating ground within hours of each other. Hours, after flying alone, thousands of miles, for months on end. How do they DO that?

How delicious is it that there are varieties of squid for every level of feeder along the currents where squids live? Seals it one variety, whales and penguins each another type.

I have learned to recognize three kids of sea gulls, all of them big and bossy and brash. I don’t like them since being mugged by one in Santa Barbara, but this time, I sat and watched a trio bathing at the edge of the water, fluttering wings and dipping heads, and it was peaceful and kindly, a ritual of conversation, coos and clicks. It isn’t their fault that they are the tourist scavenger birds from hell.

The whale was impressive, but nowhere close to as thrilling for me as the pod of little dolphins we saw, frolicking and dancing, or the baby seal pups diving and swirling in a small pool ringed with adults sunning themselves with one eye open.

This afternoon is more rain and a quiet dinner alone with CR. In between, my sister and law and I are going to indulge at the spa, which is a holiday sort of thing to do, as well.

More as I am able.

Oh, PS: KAYAKING ROCKS! How is it possible I never indulged this pursuit until three years ago??

8 thoughts on “South Island, New Zealand Trip Report, #1

  1. Thank you for this update. I have wanted to visit New Zealand since I was a child. “Seeing” it through your words and pictures is as close as I’ll get, at least for a few more years. Enjoy the rest of your trip and cherish your moments with this fascinating area.

  2. Tony Putman

    Kayaking rocks? How on earth do you kayak rocks?

  3. Sonny

    Thanks for the tour. I’m there with you. I looked on Google maps to put myself there as you led me onward. Wonderful place I didn’t know existed.

  4. I grew up in Australia but never did explore enough of New Zealand before firmly planting myself in the US. I keep promising myself on my next trip home I’ll include NZ.
    Your story telling, and descriptions, are so fabulous it makes me want to go book a flight. Right now. : )

  5. Sounds so beautiful. Thanks for letting me live vicariously through you.

  6. Barbara Samuel

    Sorry for all the typos. Internet access is very sketchy. Even if I see an error, I often can’t correct it.

  7. Laura

    I’ve been completely engrossed by your novels for the past couple of weeks while I haven’t been feeling well. I actually came searching for your site because I’m halfway through “The Garden of Happy Endings” and was hoping that a fifth book under your O’Neal title might have miraculously appeared overnight. 🙂 I particularly enjoyed “The Lost Recipe”, partly because of the food descriptions, because I’m apparently much greedier than I thought!, but mostly because of Elena and Julian, two of the most interesting characters I’ve read for awhile.

    No fifth novel had appeared overnight, but I did find an unexpectedly familiar sight! I’m a New Zealander, based partly in Dunedin when I have to go back to the university for research, but mostly in Central Otago, not too far from Queenstown, so as a biased local, I’m so glad that it sounds as if you had a good time there (although you may have missed the really hot weather – it’s been scorching the past two weeks. I can’t remember what it was like in early January, because I apparently have awful short term memory at the moment, but I vaguely remember a lot of rain!)

  8. Reynalda Sadeghi

    I am 67 years old and i just start discover the computer and the internet. It is awsome to read webpages like this one. I’m feeling bad because this did not happen years ago, when I was younger … Congratulations to all who write comments here !

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