The Insider's Guide to New Zealand
THIS IS an overachieving
alpine landscape: it doesn’t just lay claim to some of that rugged
Southern Alps backbone, it also has the tallest peak, Aoraki/Mt Cook. It doesn’t just have loads of glaciers; it has the longest and largest, the Tasman Glacier. It doesn’t just have stars, it has the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest of its kind in Australasia. That’s just plain greedy.
It’s a colour-wonky place, too. The tawny tussock of the high country has a lot of chromatic noise to contend with: milky-turquoise lakes, otherworldly glacial blues, perky pink and purple lupins, shouty lavender crops, purest snow-whites and darkest-night-sky blacks. This jarring palette was summed up perfectly by a visiting city-bred 10-year-old who, on clocking the region’s colour surprises for the first time, said: “It looks like kids coloured it in.”
But perhaps the most striking thing about the Aoraki/ Mackenzie region is that its air of serenity belies the geological turmoil that gives it such good bone structure. The majesty of this landscape is the result of vigorous glacial gouging, with the upwards force of tectonic plates making the Southern Alps the fastestrising mountains in the world (at a rate of 10mm to 20mm per year). If it weren’t for the companion force of erosion, geologists think the Southern Alps would be even more colossal, and Aoraki/Mt Cook would be more than double the height of Mt Everest.