Photo Essay: New Zealand’s Diverse Landscapes

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By Kaelyn Lynch
In New Zealand, the landscape can change drastically within a few hours’ drive. Northland provides near tropical scenery, with the sunshine to match. The Bay of Islands, pictured here, is a hub for sailboats offering tours through the islands with stops at some of their pristine beaches and snorkeling spots.
The black sand beaches of West Auckland provide a contrast to their tropical neighbors to the north. While West Auckland is popular amongst Kiwis and tourists alike, uncrowded gems like White’s Beach are still accessible with a little extra effort.
The black sand beaches of West Auckland provide a contrast to their tropical neighbors to the north. While West Auckland is popular amongst Kiwis and tourists alike, uncrowded gems like White’s Beach are still accessible with a little extra effort.
On a clear day from Tongariro National Park, you can spy Mt. Taranaki off in the distance, all the way on the West Coast. According to Maori belief, all the volcanoes were once gods and warriors of great strength, including the mountains of Tongariro (Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngrauruhoe), and Taranaki. In the legend, the mountains were all in love with the one female amongst them—Pihanga, and had a contest for the right to win her. They fought fiercely amongst one another with violent eruptions, smoke, fire, and rocks that burned the sky for days. When the fighting ceased, Tongariro was the victor and became the supreme leader of the land, while the other volcanoes were forced to retreat. Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu moved a respectable distance just to the south, while Taranaki, in his great anger, gouged a great trail in in the earth as he moved all the way west. The tears he cried for Pihanga filled the gorge and formed the mighty Whanganui River.
A site of cultural significance in Maori legend, Ngauruhoe was made known in popular culture as a Mt. Doom in The Lord of the Rings. Climbing to its sheer face to reach the cone is no easy task—requiring hours of scrambling through loose rock, or scree.
From its peak Ngauruhoe provides expansive views of the once mighty volcano Tongariro. Coming down the slope is almost as difficult (and dangerous) as going up, requiring running, and often sliding, through loose rock, and listening out for shouts of “rock!” to warn of loose boulders coming from above.
Mt. Owen is reflected in a tarn, or alpine lake. Its unique glaciated karst landscape, vast cave network, and panoramic views make it a fantastic place to explore for outdoor adventurers.
On some trails, cairns form the only trail markers. This one on Mt. Owen easily blends in with the rocky landscape, making the trail often difficult to follow.
An old hut, part of the Temple Basin Ski Lodge, provides a stark contrast from the somber Southern Alps behind it in Arthur’s Pass National Park. Huts like this one are common in New Zealand’s backcountry, providing shelter for trampers.
A New Zealand Fur Seal sits atop the craggy outcrops of Kaikoura. Since the earthquake in 2016, sections of the seabed have been raised up as high as 2 meters in some places. Much of the fur seal colony was also disturbed and the population has yet to reach its former numbers.
The endangered kea is the world’s only alpine parrot, and is endemic to New Zealand’s mountains. They are highly intelligent and social, and are known to be mischievous at times. They are under threat from introduced predators and human activity, and trampers are instructed not to feed them in order to reduce the risk of accident.
Glacial ice covers the high, jagged peaks of Mt. Aspiring National Park. Glaciers played an instrumental role in forming New Zealand’s landscapes, carving out U-shaped valleys and leaving behind moraines, deposits, and stratifications.
The untamed coast of the Catlins is home to yellow-eyed penguins that must brave the rough surf to bring their daily catch back to their chicks. Fur seals and an array of sea birds can also be found amongst the rocky bays.
The lack of light pollution in the New Zealand countryside is ideal for stargazing. Some areas, such as Lake Tekapo and Mt. Cook National Park, and considered dark sky reserves, preserving the night sky for viewing. On occasion, the southern lights, Aurora Australis, can be seen lighting up the sky in shades of pink and green.
Central Otago offers some of the country’s best scenery. Here, the season’s first dusting of snow can be seen on the way through Lindis pass, which links Otago with the Mackenzie Basin.
At 3,724 meters, Mt. Cook is New Zealand’s highest peak. Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to successful summit Everest, is said to have trained by climbing Mt. Cook twice a day. The peak stands in the Main Divide of the Southern Alps, forming a bridge between the Hooker and Tasman glacier valleys.
Lake Camp in Canterbury reflects the spectacular surrounding scenery in its glassy waters. Located at the end of a rough gravel track, Lake Camp is surrounded by tramping trails, and offers water skiing in the summer and ice-skating in the winter. According to locals, in the late spring or early autumn it’s possibly to go snow skiing and water skiing around Lake Camp in the same day.