About 20,000 earthquakes are recorded in New Zealand each year, of which roughly 200 are strong enough to be felt. Being in this so called Ring of Fire, can sometimes have catastrophic consequences. Others, it helps to create stunning landscapes.
A sad place
On September 2010, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Christchurch causing widespread damage and minor injuries. Six months later, a second earthquake struck the city again, killing 185 people. More than 4,500 earthquakes were recorded in the Canterbury area, where Christchurch sits, in the next two years.
Today, the city is fighting to get back to normal while still remembering those who lost their lives. Although some of the buildings are still in ruins, others are being rebuilt in creative ways, like the new cathedral, made out of cardboard.
After lunch, it started to rain – time to hit the road, time to find the mountains.
Is it real?
Mt Sunday may not be a popular destination – in fact, many Kiwis have never heard the name before. It does not help that in order to get there, one must leave the main highway and deal with a narrow gravel road for a few hours. And then…
It may not look familiar to you yet. What if I say you are looking at Edoras, in the Kingdom of Rohan? No?? Lord of the Rings??? How about now????
I know, “where is the castle”, you may be wondering. The film makers dismantled the setting after they were finished with the movie. There are no roads leading to it, no souvenir shops and no signs promoting the movies – but then again, you don’t need any of that with views like this.
The truth is, Mt Sunday is much more than a former movie set. This is a wonderful place in its own right with views unlike anything we had seen before.
I wonder how many other places like this are there in New Zealand.
Many, I hope.
Something about lakes
East from Mt Sunday lies Lake Tekapo. It was designated a dark sky reserve in 2012, which means the conditions here are are considered to be perfect for star gazing. No, I had no idea either that such reserves existed. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side and with more than a handful of clouds in the sky, we had to turn our attention to other amenities of the area. Craft beer, a swim in the lake and taking in the fantastic scenery. Can’t complain really.
The good thing about New Zealand is that the next highlight is never too far. After driving through a thick sea of clouds, another lake appeared before us, this one seemed to be hiding a couple of gems.
First one, its waters. Lake Pukaki takes the award to the most surreal shades of blue on a fresh water lake ever. The mountain range in the background is just a nice addition to the picture.
Yet there is a much bigger treasure at the end of the lake. Having left the clouds behind, we were blessed with perfect views of Mt Cook, New Zealand highest mountain.
Just a few days in New Zealand had been enough to understand two lessons. One, that weather changes very quickly here and there is nothing you can do about it, other than live with it. Two, this country is everything we thought it would be, and more.
And something about glaciers
Trying to make the most of the beautiful day, we put our (limited) hiking gear on and took on the Tasman Glacier track. A short gentle slope followed by a couple hours through a rocky path, to reach a grand finale: it is not everyday that one can sunbathe watching icebergs melting in an alpine lake at the doorstep of a massive glacier. A big reward for such small effort.
On the way back to the campsite, we had another reminder of how lucky we were to be there, in such perfect conditions being able to witness Mother Nature in all its glory.
Conditions at the base of Mt Cook changed for the worse the next day, meaning that some of the more challenging hikes were out of the question. Luckily, the alternatives did not disappoint.
Cloudy, rainy, beautiful. Despite Mt Cook’s decision to hide in the comfort of the clouds, the Hooker Valley Track still gave us the chance to get close to blue ice and walk through native bush. I guess you can’t win every day, not here.
Unfortunately, the rain got worse throughout the day. And since the forecast was not encouraging either, we reluctantly decided to leave the mountains and head to the coast, with that familiar feeling of having just visited a very special place.
We try to escape the rain by heading to the coast and we fail. But we get to see cliffs and sea lions and fur seals and penguins! Yay!