New Zealand: South Island, Island of Adventures - The360 Travel

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  • Saturday, December 14, 2019

    New Zealand: South Island, Island of Adventures

    New Zealand: South Island, Island of Adventures

    On land or sea, on a lake or in the air, the southernmost island of New Zealand is a great playground for outdoor enthusiasts and landscape hunters to get drooled Instagram.


    Kaikoura, in Maori, means "lobster meal". Literally. And for good reason ! The waters that border the coastal city are full of plankton, pushed by the sea currents that rise along a deep ocean fault of 2000 m, caused by the meeting of two tectonic plates. As a result, the wildlife is rich in the area. Whales, dolphins, sea lions, penguins and birds of any plumage can be seen close to the coast.

    With sea lions...

    You may have seen the video, viralized on social networks, of a kayaker receiving an octopus in the face, courtesy of a fur seal that was struggling with its prey.

    The scene was captured in Kaikoura, where the kayaker had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (some will say in the right place at the right time, it depends). Indeed, fur seals are usually active especially at night, when octopus come up from the depths. During the day, they spend more time lazing on the rocks, offshore.

    Since the earthquake that hit Kaikoura in 2016 (7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale), the shoreline has changed significantly in the region. "In some places, the coast has risen nearly 2 meters," says our guide, Cowan Fearn. Once submerged rocks are now visible even at high tide. They are the ones who now welcome the sea lions that have come to rest.

    It is therefore possible to approach them in sea kayak without generally arouse other reactions than a curious look. Kaikoura Kayaks offers several guided tours to observe them.

    ...and dolphins

    Few animals are as amusing to observe as dark dolphins (dusky dolphins). True gymnasts of the seas, they multiply the saltos out of the water and the acrobatic zigzags in the furrow left by the engines of the boats.

    One of Kaikoura's most popular activities is snorkeling with these dolphins in their natural environment offshore. No depressing pens or dolphins kept in captivity here. We have to go looking for them and hope that once close, the dolphins will be curious enough to approach.

    It is the company Encounter Kaikoura that offers these trips at sea, on board boats that can hold a maximum of 16 swimmers (in addition to spectators who want to stay dry). Captains know the area well, dolphins are numerous in these waters rich in nutrients and they live in group. In short, it is almost impossible not to notice. But it is also impossible to predict whether dolphins will approach or not apneists. To attract them, Jordan, our guide, suggests we sing or whistle in our tubas. The result is cacophonous, but it works. The dolphins pass nearby. In three dives, more than thirty have passed near our masks... Magic.

    Lake Tekapo

    The sky is clear over Lake Tekapo: light pollution is almost non-existent and the mountains are a barrier to the fog of the Pacific Ocean. In 2012, the entire Mackenzie region was declared a World Dark Sky Reserve. It is the only reserve of its kind in the entire southern hemisphere. Here, the beauty extends well above the heads, especially after dark.

    Astronomy and Maori legends

    Maori followed the stars for millennia to move on the Pacific. "They were great browsers reading in the stars," says William Beauchamp, storyteller at Tekapo Stargazing. Each evening, the company offers extraordinary astronomy evenings: after observing stars, planets and nebulae from several advanced telescopes, visitors are invited to don their swimsuits. The evening continues in floating hammocks, in the middle of a swimming pool heated to 38 ° C. Under the Milky Way, bathers can enjoy the spectacle of stars, whose constellations differ from those of the northern hemisphere, while the guide tells Maori legends, including that on the separation of Heaven (Rangi) and the Earth (Dad). An evening under the sign of serenity.

    From the sky

    Weather conditions in Lake Tekapo also favor scenic flights, by plane or helicopter, over the region. From here, you can easily reach Mount Cook and the 23 other peaks over 3,000 m that line up to form the mountain range of the Southern Alps.

    The 45-minute flight with Air Safaris (aboard a six-passenger GA8 aircraft) provides a glimpse of a changing, but still spectacular landscape: glaciers stretching their tongues of bristling ice for miles, valleys surrounded by flowing lazy rivers, large merino sheep farms and, of course, Lake Tekapo, with its turquoise waters. An unforgettable flight.


    Legend has it that the sons of the god Rangi were exploring the ocean when their canoe struck a reef. The three brothers and their canoe were petrified by the icy wind. Thus was born the South Island of New Zealand. The eldest, Aoraki, became the highest mountain in the country. Maori continue to call him Aoraki; for them, it is a sacred mountain. Westerners, on their side, baptized Mount Cook to pay tribute to the British explorer James Cook.

    In order to conquer its summit at 3724 m, it is necessary to have a solid knowledge of mountaineering. Avalanches are frequent, and the slopes are steep. The climbers are also deposited in the refuges by helicopter. In short, it is not within the reach of all.

    Located at the foot of the famous Mount, the beautiful Hooker Valley Trail is more. For 10 km (round trip), we cross or cross over three suspension bridges over the Hooker River. All around, the snow-capped peaks stand guard. The hike, without much difference in altitude, leads to a glacial lake with milky waters. The view of Aoraki and the Mueller Glacier is splendid. Pure happiness for the eyes and soles!

    But be careful before going there: the first suspension bridge was damaged by floods in late March, and the trail is closed until the work is completed. No date is advanced, but given the high popularity of the trail, it should not drag. Work is already in progress.


    In Wanaka, it takes a minimum of imagination to see in the mountains bordering the west bank of the lake the silhouette of a sleeping woman with her hands crossed on her belly. "It's Takiana, the lady of the lake. According to the Maori legend, she died frozen, a stormy day, when she came to decorate the mountains carved by her husband Tamatea. The latter cried so much that his tears filled the valley to create Lake Wanaka."

    Austin Davis-Bunn is not Maori; He is american. But the paddle surf guide had such a crush on Wanaka that he quickly learned local legends. Planted upright on his surfboard, he recounts the importance of the lake in Maori culture. The waters are home to a sacred island, Mou Tapu, where the tribes of the region used to bury their dead. We will not go that far on Paddle Wanaka's Paddle Surf Tour. The lake being huge - 192 km2 - it would take days to explore everything...

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