New Zealand Gondolas

New Zealand

Both of the New Zealand cities we went to had gondolas that were major attractions.  I mean, when you have mountains and breathtaking views from the top, why not have a gondola?


Farther out from the CBD, the Christchurch gondola was on a mountain on the edge of a range.  On almost all sides of the view, were plains, with other mountains further in the distance.  In true New Zealand fashion, sheep were up on the mountain, munching away on the grass.

There was also a ride that told the history of Canterbury, the region surrounding Christchurch, up on top of the mountain–a good introduction to New Zealand and the area.


Here it was a much different landscape, focused in blues.

Lake Wakatipu, the town of Queenstown, and the Remarkables (mountains that were remarkable!) featured in the views from the top of the gondola.  It really showed how Queenstown has its own little protected beach and bay, which makes it an even more popular tourist destination.

On top of the mountain, we could look down and see other people bungy swinging from little huts installed on the cliff face directly underneath the gondola.

As well as the gorgeous views this gondola afforded, it also had the bonus of luging on top of the mountain–super fun!


South Island Drive

New Zealand

The drive from Christchurch to Queenstown (or vice-versa) is very popular.  We started at the Christchurch end; the drive begins with the farm land and rolling plains of the north South Island, which gives way to the mountainous southern region, which is home to a lot of the outdoor filming locations for the Lord of the Rings.

Lupins (one of my favorite flowers since reading Mrs. Rumphius) lined the whole  road.  The pops of blue (the best!), pink, purple, and white amongst the greens of the landscape were amazing.

This view from the bottom of Lake Pukaki looking up to Mount Cook (or Aoraki) is well known–for good reason!  The water was an indescribably gorgeous shade of blue with color that is clear but opaque at the same time, while the tallest mountain in New Zealand (3,724 m) rises dominantly in the background.  And again…lupins!

Marked by a small sign on the side of the road and with only a small pull-off, Roaring Meg did not seem like much.  However, the view was amazing.  Another great shade of blue (more green-ish toned) in the stream but with the added whitecaps of water bouncing off rocks and through the narrow area.  There are also 2 small hydroelectricty power stations and a dam a little ways up the river.

New Zealand lake beaches are basically made for rock skipping: the water is calm and the rocks lining the shore are all smooth and flat.  You also can’t go wrong skipping rocks with such beautiful scenery around you…

Glenorchy is at the northern tip of Lake Wakatipu, a lightning-bolt-shaped lake.  Out of all the gorgeousness in New Zealand, this was some of the most spectacular.  Driving with mountains towering over us to the right and the lake shimmering to the left, so many shades of blue with green speckled throughout–what could get better?



New Zealand

On the South Island, this small city is popular all year round.  In winter for skiing on the surrounding mountains, most notably The Remarkables, and in summer for more daring activities like bungy jumping and skydiving.

The city itself is a mixture of older buildings, it was found as a sheep farm in the late 1800’s, and new money from the tourism.  It’s chock full of shops and restaurants crammed along tiny streets and weaving their way back through laneways.

Situated on a small, square bay on Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown has beautiful water views and a picturesque shoreline.  Lake Wakatipu is the only naturally lightning-bolt shaped lake in the world.  It is a Maori legend that an evil spirit who kidnapped a local chief’s daughter, laid down to sleep with his knees bent up.  The spirit was set alight by the man rescuing the chief’s daughter and the spirit’s body shape burnt into the ground and was subsequently filled with water.  Lake Wakatipu’s water level can fluctuate more than 20 cm within an hour, which is said to be the spirit’s heart still beating.

One of the adventure activities available in Queenstown is luging.  After taking a gondola up most of the mountain, there is a chairlift to be taken even higher.  At the top, just grab a luge and fly back down the mountain on one of 2 courses that weave their way back down.  It was seriously fun… Even Mr. Jelly Belly took his turn luging!

As there is a beachfront, various water sports are also popular.  As well as the standard kayaking and paddle boarding, there were also huge floating tricycles called Water Bikes.  We chose to kayak and Water Bike.  Both were extremely fun and afforded some spectacular views.

For the more daring, there were also these strange submarine boats that were shaped and painted to look like sharks.  The first time one popped out of the water, I almost had a heart attack.  No one wants to kayak alongside a 3 meter shark!

But above all, the jaw-dropping scenery was magical.

Lake Wakatipu is known for being very pure, and while that may not be so true anymore after all the jet skis and boats, the color and beauty of it surrounded on all side by the Southern Alps is still magnificent.


New Zealand

Christchurch is a city of destruction and reconstruction.

Traffic cones and empty lots everywhere.  Buildings roped off and in varying states of decay/abandonment.  New high rises popping up from an empty flat plain.

For being on of the largest cities in New Zealand, Christchurch was not the bustling city you’d expect.  The two earthquakes, one in 2010 and one in 2011, truly ravaged the city and 6 years on, recovery is still a slow process.

Since the old cathedral downtown was destroyed and made unsafe by the earthquake, a new one had to be built.  In order to built it quickly and with limited resources, the building materials of the cathedral are not what you’d expect–almost the entire building is made of cardboard.

Officially named the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral, but appropriately dubbed the “Cardboard Cathedral,” the building has been such a huge hit that there are no future plans to tear it down and build a more permanent building.

All of the tubes seen are layered cardboard, similar to the tube of wrapping paper, but much thicker.  They are present on the walls, in the cross, on tables, etc.  The tubes that make up the roof are shielded from the outside by industrial plastic sheeting.  On each side of the main space, there are three shipping containers that have been turned into a small room, including a kitchen and a chapel.  The stained glass window features printed designs of the pictures of the window that was in the original old cathedral.  Some panels can even be slightly opened to allow better ventilation.  A beautiful mixture of basic and high-tech.

The Re:Start shopping centre is another post-earthquake attraction.  It’s a normal outside mall bursting with people; the only difference is that the entire thing is made from shipping containers.  The containers are ubiquitous around the city (I’ve never seen so many in one place before).  The mall is also home to the earthquake memorial as it is a major symbol of the resiliency of the city and its people.

The Christchurch Museum was a nice introduction to some Kiwi culture.  The moa bird is similar in size to ostriches and emus but is now extinct as it was haunted to death by the Maori people.

Paua shells are distinctly Kiwi, especially on the South Island.  A couple decorated their entire house in the iridescent shells and subsequently opened their house to the public as a tourist attraction.  The house has been moved into the museum and really exemplifies the beach-y culture of South Island coastal New Zealand.

A doll house featured in the museum, which was shaken in the earthquake, was left untouched for the last 6 years.  Furniture was strewn about the room, dolls were thrown from their perch, and generally havoc was wreaked everywhere.  It served as another reminder of the travesty of the earthquake and how much it effected everything.

New Zealand reaches farther south than Australia and is therefore closer to Antarctica.  They really pride themselves on being the portal to Antartica and featured lots of Antarctic wildlife in their natural history displays.

And of course, kiwis, the national bird of New Zealand and also a national icon.  They were much larger than I had thought.

A gorgeous botanic gardens right downtown seems to have been unmarred by the earthquake.  Huge trees are dotted all across a large lawn providing a ton of much needed shade.