Heading north from Arthur’s Pass we came to the town of Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park.  We decided to rent an sea kayak for two days in order to explore the park which is only accessible by foot or boat.  Under clear blue skies, we paddled into into the park and began kayaking up the coast.  Along the way we found countless secluded beaches, picturesque bays and hidden lagoons which we were only able to explore at high tide.  The coastline was incredibly stunning and the feeling of riding the open seas in our kayak was especially thrilling on the second day when the surf increased and we were forced to turn back and wait for the swells to die down.  I was so impressed by this park.  Later we would explore the northern area of the park on foot and find the same pleasures as we passed through dense semi-tropical rainforest and found ourselves on the most scenic and deserted beaches.  The wonders of this park are endless and are sure to bring me back again one day.

In the town of Marahau we picked up our friend, Molly, and together the three of us made our way around Marlborough Sounds and across Lewis Pass to the acclaimed western coast of New Zealand’s South Island.  Making our way down the coast was like being in a David Attenborough film.  We watched as the mountains all around us rose from broad, flat glacial valleys and rocketed towards the sky.  Snow capped peaks began to appear and before long we were standing in front of glaciers that used to make their way all the way down to the sea.

As we drove south along the coast we watched golden beaches appear on our ocean side while towering mountains rose on the other.  It doesn’t seem possible that mountains so steep and covered in snow could really exist so close to the sea.  But there we were with glaciers all around us, an endless ridge of gnarly peaks before our eyes and the sea lapping up at our feet.  Before long, New Zealand’s highest peak, called Aoraki or Mount Cook, made its first appearance beneath a brilliant blue sky, a sight that filled us with joy and left us staring in awe at distant snow-covered peaks.

We stood on the side of the road with our eyes fixed on a distant snow-covered mountain range.  Mount Cook and its equally imposing neighbor, Mount Tasman, stood in full glory before us with the sun gleaming on their peaks and snow-capped flanks falling from rocky summits towards the farmland below.  It was surreal to observe mountains that I have long drooled over in books and magazines.  It reminded me of the feeling that washed over me the first time I caught a glimpse of Denali.  It is these moments that drive me to travel halfway around the world, if only to see with my own eyes the same sights that have long graced the pages of a magazine.  Finally, after years of anticipation and dreams, I was able to look upon the same mountains that had once captured my attention on the pages of National Geographic.

We continued south through the wonderfully scenic and chill town Wanaka to New Zealand’s tourist mecca at Queenstown.  The tourist business is stifling here at times, but the location of the resort town on the shores of Lake Wakatipu make for a beautiful setting. Completely surrounded by the Southern Alps with access to unlimited adventure and outdoor activities, Queenstown serves as a base for exploring the South Island’s many natural wonders.

Eager to escape the hordes of tourists in town, we ventured into the mountain range that overlooks Queenstown, called the Remarkables.  We followed a steep, winding road to the Remarkables ski area and from the base of the lifts we climbed to the summit ridge.  The views of the ski area and surrounding valleys were beautiful, but nothing compared to the sensation of reaching the pass and looking down on Queenstown.  We could see everything from the top of the ridge.  The town and the lake lay below us and in every direction were the most amazing mountains that I could imagine.  The mountains here are more steep and abrupt, formed from glaciers that once covered the whole area.  Unlike the Rockies or the Appalachians, the Southern Alps appear more threatening with their steep, vertical ridges and precarious peaks.  They don’t have the same wide bases or gradual ascents.  They just shoot straight out of flat prairies and reach for the stars.  Their physical beauty is so unique and impressive.  I felt such elation standing on top of the mountain and looking down at a view that I have seen a hundred times in books. With a brisk wind on my face and the sun beating down upon me, I looked down at a postcard-perfect view and felt completely on top of the world.

The South Island is a special gem in the world.  I can imagine so few places with such opportunity for adventure and such diverse, amazing scenery.  I used to entertain the idea of moving to Oregon for beaches and mountains- but these people have really got it made. Huge towering mountains and warm sandy beaches, big flowing rivers and rolling hills, pristine farmlands and cute little towns- and that’s all just the beginning.  I have only see the South Island from the roads so far, but starting tomorrow when John and Molly leave I will be out in the bush alone- and all my dreams will be coming true.

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