hobbits, whales and fjords: visual new zealand

We couldn’t have picked a more different country to break up our stay in China. New Zealand is famously under-crowded and a wildlife paradise. If green is the most restful color on the eyes, New Zealand wins. No contest.

In fact, we heard of a guy, a friend of my aunt Trish, who would periodically visit an old quarry just to rest his eyes from all the green!

Another magical tree on the North Island


Offsetting the green are impossibly-turquoise bodies of water, empty white sand beaches, impressive and often unmarked waterfalls, and all kinds of big knarled trees.

Beautiful beach at Cape Reinga (the white dots are seagulls)



Tasman, meet Pacific. Pacific, meet Tasman (looking north off Cape Reinga)


Aside from aesthetics, cars are cheap (New Zealand is Japan’s dumping ground), roads are orderly, prices are fixed, English reigns happily, and meat pies and free maps can be found on every corner. It’s the perfect pitstop for a culturally-overstimulated traveler.

Chaos and fractal theorists will love the abundant ferns




Did I mention sheep yet? Yes, there were plenty of sheep!


We started on the North Island, which is by far the more populated of the two. Still, we found it pleasantly bucolic with rolling green hills, cows, sheep, and kiwi fruit farms. Giant kauri trees and graceful tree ferns coexist in tropical jungles, and beaches are plentiful.  Surprisingly, a few volcanos and craggy mountains rise up from this landscape.

We spent a few pleasant weeks in Kerikeri over Christmas with my aunt, grandmother, and cousins, followed by sailing and hiking adventures with my parents in the Bay of Islands and Tongariro National Park.  Then we bundled my folks onto a bus to the airport (no, I’m not a very good child!) and scooted down south to the South Island.

Cruising down a river to Ninety Mile Beach. Roads are so last week…


Angie takes a swim break on Ninety Mile Beach


Plentiful kelp


Angie, getting her hike on during the Tongariro Crossing


My mom trying her best not to slouch!


Staring down the intimidating Ngauruhoe (location of Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings)


Looking across the crater-rim on top of Ngauruhoe (what was so hard Frodo?)


Blue Lake from the top of Ngauruhoe


The nearby Red Crater


Dust plain next to Red Lake


The improbable Emerald Lakes



Soft tussock hills around Ketetahi Hut


Unreal aqua blues at Huka Falls


Though it’s only a few-hour ferry ride between the North and South Islands, they might as well be separate continents–each has its own entirely unique feel.

The South Island is the adventure island. It’s far less populated, and the landscape changes quickly: snow-peaked mountains, lush rainforest, dramatic fjords, California-esque beaches, arid plateaus, vineyards, orchards, and yes, even more sheep.

Goodbye Wellington and North Island, hello adventure and sandflies!




Castle Hill–a bouldering mecca if you like polished limestone slopers, awkward slabs and soft, grassy landings


Flock Hill–more of a hike than Castle Hill but highly recommended. Once again, it’s a mecca if you like slopey aretes and smooth dihedrals (but with a few more features than Castle Hill). Unfortunately, I hiked up with just one climbing shoe, so it was more of a visual experience for me!


Delicate wildflowers we found around the Castle Hill area


The most delicious cherries we’ve ever had–from a farm-stall near Queenstown


Another surprising roadside treat: juicy, tart apricots


The Darrans, Fjordlands National Park–a fantastic sport and trad climbing spot near Milford Sound.  If you have time to wait out rainy spells, the Darrans offer the best hard climbing in New Zealand with several steep, featured granite walls (most notably the Big and Little Babylon crags.) Just be ready for steep approaches and reflective hut days!


Looking down toward Milford Sound from Homer Tunnel


Homer Tunnel following a light dusting


The cozy Homer Hut run by the New Zealand Mountain Club


Not a bad view from the doorstep!


The Chasm, a waterfall chute near the Milford Sound


Awesome rainforest around the chasm



Arrestingly blue Lake Pukaki


Mt. Cook–most commonly approached by helicopter these days, leaving just the summit push for would-be peak-baggers

Mt Cook HDR.jpg

Unlucky beached pilot whales at Farewell Spit, Golden Bay




Much luckier whales! (Although, sadly they beached themselves again that night. Apparently they just hate leaving part of the pod behind)


Gulls and black swans in Golden Bay



Paynes Ford, Golden Bay: a sport climber’s paradise, featuring a good-value unashamedly-hippy campground (Hangdog Camp), nearby swim holes and beaches, and a whack of high-quality limestone sport climbing. Here Angie sends Rhinoceros at the Rhinoceros wall


Good-natured Ben getting his crank on


Me hanging off 1080 and the Letter G

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Family photo. (Taken on Robertson Island during our sailing adventure in the Bay of Islands)


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8 Responses to hobbits, whales and fjords: visual new zealand

  1. Sweet as man! Great pictures and great post! Hope all goes well wherever you’re off next!

  2. Dad says:

    Who took that last photo?

  3. jb says:

    “My mom trying her best not to slouch!” – That’s the traditional Rosselli woman ‘taking in the view’ pose as practiced by at least 3 generations. Angie, Kim and Becky better pick it up soon before it is irrevocable lost to future generations.

  4. julia chen says:

    you guys take AMAZING photos!!! Sitting in an office living vicariously through you guys :) keep it up! Hopefully someday that will be us! Safe travels, looking forward to many more exciting posts!

  5. Aidan says:

    woah! look at that pic of 1080 and the letter G (? strange name). thats amazing!

  6. capetownsteve says:

    Hey Aidan, it’s a cool 7a next to the Fish wall. You should try it! Click on the picture to see others of the same route…

  7. finchplucker says:

    As usual, brilliant photos and inspiring travel tales. Keep spreading the joy!

  8. Wonderful climbing on Mount Tongariro, New Zealand. And… apricots in NZ? Very good. Here as well.

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