New Zealand’s South Island is a spectacular land, which has been uplifted by prodigious earth forces.
The South Island landscape is so different from the rolling green hills of the north that crossing Cook Strait is akin to travelling to another country. Beginning in the sun-drenched Nelson and Marlborough regions the majestic Southern Alps lift their snow-capped summits and stretch southwards for 600kms along an alpine fault line. The Alps embrace an area larger than Switzerland, thrusting up to a height of 3700 metres in the Mt Cook National Park, and giant glaciers descend the rock and ice-bound slopes to within 300 metres of sea-level on the wild West Coast.
The West Coast is a scenic delight crowded with lush, mysterious rainforest, tumbling mountain streams, picturesque glacial lakes and a storm-lashed coastline. By contrast the Canterbury Plains lie like a broad patchwork quilt of cropping paddocks sheltered by the main divide of the Southern Alps.
Nature reigns supreme in the vast wilderness areas that constitute national parks in Fiordland, Westland, Arthur’s Pass, Mt Cook, Mt Aspiring, Kahurangi, Abel Tasman and Nelson Lakes. Central Otago and Southland are criss-crossed with mountain ranges, often bearing the characteristic rounded form of glaciated land. Sapphire blue lakes, clouded with rock flour ground from glacier beds, dot the landscape. Interspersed between the ranges throughout the whole island are vast run holdings measured in thousands of hectares that give a new meaning to the term ‘sheep station’. Resort towns like Queenstown and Wanaka draw people from around the world who appreciate pure powder ski slopes and breathtaking scenery.
Christchurch dominates the human landscape as the largest South Island city, proud of its English heritage, stately homes, gardens and vibrant arts and crafts. Dunedin does its Scottish forebears proud as a thriving university city with splendid historical buildings and fascinating wildlife reserves. Nelson and Blenheim are the epitome of ‘top town’ lifestyle centres blessed with abundance of sun, golden sand, seafood, fine wine, fresh produce, fruit, arts and crafts.
As an added bonus for the traveller the South Island has excellent highways and little traffic congestion, as the island is home to barely a quarter of New Zealand’s population. The population drift northwards to Auckland and other North Island centres has allowed nature’s realm to thrive relatively untouched in many areas of the south. The South Island stands apart as a pristine environment of wide-open spaces and unsurpassed natural beauty. Visit its wild places and you will build a store of treasured memories.
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