So, a little mop-up in the guise of a recap is left to somewhat compositionally-AWOL me.
We began in Queenstown, which is charming, offering a well-conceived and articulated built environment as the human crown jewel set within, or the comparatively inevitably impoverished jumping-off point into, the spectacular and varied landscapes dominated and structured by the inestimably beautiful Southern Alps. To give Queenstown its due, it is perhaps the most beautiful and monumental setting of any urban area (it’s a small one) we have seen.
The town offers a hubbub of activity, as it is animated by its narrow streets and pathways, its small-scale and muscular urban and building design, and its energetic, on-the-go, hiker-accentuated human aesthetic. To use the indistinct (not my favorite way) but evocative (that’s good) phrases: The place and the people are happening, have good energy, give off a good vibe.
The landscapes of the region we have justly gushed (never enough) about. Even the humdrum among them – the city park, and an elevation-static walk starting in Queenstown along the lake and then beyond – are memorable and prospectively never tiring. Our one disappointment, not being able to walk/hike the three-day Routeburn Track, reputably among the most exquisite in New Zealand, owing to a minor injury Gideon sustained, turned into a compensatory boon of us getting to explore by car and foot more of the Queenstown region. After leaving the urban and in its own way urbane area of Queenstown, we drove through the seductive temperate rainforest
– it was, mostly on and sometimes off, wet with rain – and mountainscapes of the west coast, fittingly named West Coast, and then across the mountain isthmus of Arthur’s Pass to a more conventional and more distinctive urban experience of Christchurch.
In composing our journey, we usually seek to alternate types of places, so as to maximize contrasts — which constrains that assassin of experience, habituation — and the wonder of novelty. Though there are several of these types of alternations, the most obvious and frequently employed is the rural-urban one, which also often can be characterized by hiking trails vs. walking pavement and urban parks, and what each respectively brings us to.
So, we ended our rural bacchanalia of the South Island with a few days in Christchurch, its largest city, the third largest in New Zealand.
Even though I have nothing to add to Sarah’s magnificent portrait of reemerging Christchurch, I will mention a humdrum item – although many such items exist on the trip, but a nonprecious few make it into its official portrayal here. We discovered Macpac, a New Zealand analogue of Patagonia. When we were preparing for this trip, having resolved to bear gear and clothing of low volume and weight (essentially what hikers tote), which means hi-tech polyester, I of sensitive skin found only one line of shirts (from Patagonia) I could withstand. I got six of them for the trip.
One problem: Sarah hates their appearance. She says, because they are objectively hideous. In a willing bow to her, I have checked out a generous helping of outdoors stores, including those we happen upon, without success. Enter Macpac, which had a shirt of all the magical qualities — light, low volume, wicking — which I could epidermally tolerate, was more conventional material-like in feel and look, and which Sarah (and Gideon) liked.
Instant wardrobe replacement of short- and long-sleeve shirts, transforming me from a daily advertisement for Patagonia into one for Macpac.
Needing to fly somewhere in the North Island to resume our urban-rural alternation, we decided on the small Art Deco city extraordinaire Napier,
where we strolled for a few hours thinking of an architecturally unsullied Miami Beach and disputating the desirability of returning to Napier someday for a longer stint, before heading off by car to Tongariro, and its justly famous transalpine tramp. After four days of our rural and hiking wonders of Tongariro (Sarah: “I would do that hike every year”) and Rotorua – both of Hobbit/Lord of the Rings fame – we finished off our New Zealand romp with two solid days in Auckland’s Viaduct area, with a splendid view of the harbor, urbanity, and enough worthy activities to keep us happy.
Gideon went off on his own to do his solo-city-thing, this time to the concussive detriment of his head. Sarah and I went off to do our art and architecture thing, most notably at the lovely Auckland Art Gallery,
having already in the Christchurch Art Gallery seen a wonderful Bridget Reilly show and discovered a fabulous kinetic artist, Len Lye, and in the a Napier museum, receiving the unexpected pleasure of being introduced to a merging of arts we had not imagined in the body (really body-covers) of historic Art Deco Kimonos!
In sum, in New Zealand we drove ourselves South to North and then again South to North immersing ourselves in the experience of the most magnificent landscapes of nature’s pacific and tumultuous offerings, getting a taste or more of the largest (Auckland, 1.5M), third largest (Christchurch, 400K), sixth largest (Napier, 130K), tenth largest (Rotorua, 60K), and barely-large-enough-to-be-one, placing 27th (Queenstown, 15K) city, and many larger and smaller towns in-between, and taking pleasure in some of the finer products of human creativity. Everywhere and without exception, the New Zealanders were friendly, helpful, informed, and well-spoken in, at least to me, their charmingly accented English. They appear to know that they have something extraordinary going for them, and, generous lot that they are — here’s a woman who runs a weekly open-air soup kitchen in Auckland, offering us a meal — they don’t mind sharing the natural and urbanistic wealth.
We were, and left, and shall return, the richer for it.