New Zealand's South Island, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in December 2012
Riding an 8-wheel-drive Argo vehicle on the Otago Peninsula #1, 43-second video clip
Riding an 8-wheel-drive Argo vehicle on the Otago Peninsula #2, 34-second video clip
Riding an 8-wheel-drive Argo vehicle on the Otago Peninsula #3, 30-second video clip

New Zealand fur seals #1, 58-second video clip
New Zealand fur seals #2, 62-second video clip
New Zealand fur seals #3, 61-second video clip

Doubtful Sound #1, 35-second video clip
Doubtful Sound #2, 34-second video clip
Milford Sound #1, 29-second video clip
Milford Sound #2, 52-second video clip

With abundant snow-capped peaks, glaciers, forests, lakes and rivers, the South Island of New Zealand is a paradise for skiers and sportsmen and for those who just enjoy “tramping” along its many “tracks.” Whales, seals, penguins and even royal albatrosses can be spotted along the coasts. In the southern interior of the island, Queensland, one of the world’s best-known adventure sports centres, attracts adrenaline junkies who thrill to jet boating, white water rafting, tandem skydiving, and bungy jumping which, by the way, was commercialized by New Zealander A. J. Hackett. Recently I made my third visit to South Island when my cruise ship called at Lyttelton, which is the port for Christchurch, and Dunedin. In addition, I cruised through some of South Island’s beautiful fjords before sailing west to Australia.

New Zealand’s first city, Christchurch was settled by the British in the middle of the nineteenth century; and the local economy is based on agriculture and related industries. In this, the largest city on South Island with a population of over 300,000, the visitor would think that he was in England. Sporting Gothic Revival architecture, lovely public gardens and its own River Avon (named after the Scottish stream which rises in the Ayrshire Hills and flows into the River Clyde), beautiful Christchurch is the seat of Canterbury, New Zealand’s largest province.

The expedition ships of renowned explorers Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton departed from the port of Lyttelton en route to Antarctica in the early years of the twentieth century, and today Antarctic exhibits are featured at the Canterbury Museum in downtown Christchurch. Also, there are active bases for the U. S., Italian and New Zealand Antarctic scientific programs at nearby Christchurch International Airport. For those with a few hours to spare, a tour of the International Antarctic Centre is fascinating. The day I visited, several Italian scientists were suiting up in preparation for their long flight south!

Earthquakes measuring 7.1, 6.3, and 5.8 on the Richter scale rumbled across the Canterbury Plain near Christchurch in 2010 and 2011. Although tens of billions of dollars of damage was caused and 185 lives were lost in the February 2011 event, which was one of the most intense quakes ever to strike an urban area, reconstruction was begun promptly and is well underway.


Further south lies Dunedin which, due to some gold rushes, could boast that it was the country’s largest city by population from 1865 until about 1900. Dunedin Railway Station, built in 1906, is still an attraction, although the only passenger trains operating from there nowadays are charters. During my visit to Dunedin I joined an excursion to the Reid Family’s large farm with spectacular scenery on the nearby Otago Peninsula in order to view New Zealand fur seals and the elusive yellow-eyed, bluish Hoiho penguins. To reach these animals on or near the beaches, tour participants first had to spend about 20 exciting minutes bouncing around in Canadian-made 8-wheel drive Argo vehicles.

The final highlight of my New Zealand cruise was the day spent cruising through Fjordland National Park, which encompasses 12,500 square km (4,826 square miles) in the southwest corner of South Island. The scenery in Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds was fantastic from the ship. I saw a number of waterfalls cascading down steep rock faces, and on one occasion our captain even paused for photographs. At Milford Sound I recalled an earlier trip which had been made all the more memorable when dolphins swam alongside our launch there.

Round trip restricted economy class airfare from Cairo to Christchurch begins from about EGP 9,300 including taxes on Etihad Airways via Abu Dhabi and Sydney. For the best prices, air bookings on long-haul routes should be made many months in advance.      


ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 316 of the 321 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open Saturday through Thursday 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  Web site:

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