American painter, Alex Roulette, is currently on a journey through Oceania. His artistic talents extend beyond the painting medium, however; here, Alex showcases striking photographs from a three-week journey through the beautiful, diverse landscapes of New Zealand.
Why did you decide to travel to New Zealand? What about the country enticed you?
It was the incredible natural scenery that drew me to New Zealand, as well as the numerous hiking opportunities. Photography was a major reason for the trip as well; I’m an artist and landscapes play an important role in my work.
Describe your route. What was your means of transportation?
My friend and I flew in to Christchurch, one of the larger cities on the South Island, and rented a camper van. It was autumn at the time, which is considered off-season and car hire is drastically discounted. We began by heading south towards the Otago region via a stop at Mt. Cook National Park. After a brief visit to the Otago Peninsula, we headed for Milford Sound and the area around Queenstown, then drove along the west coast until reaching the ferry to the North Island. From the port of Wellington, we slowly headed north towards Auckland, with stops at Taranaki, Taupo, Waitomo, and Coromandel. The route took three and half weeks to complete and we lived out of our camper van the entire time, staying in Holiday Parks most nights. It was the first time I’ve ever traveled like that and I’d say it has it has it ups and downs; it can be cumbersome to drive on small roads in such a big vehicle. We even managed to get it stuck in a McDonalds drive through!
Were you faced with any challenges while traveling?
Overall, New Zealand has been one of the easiest countries I’ve traveled in. Thousands of tourists visit every year and the country’s infrastructure is well set up for it. The people are amazingly friendly too.
That said, we were particularly challenged by one of the hikes we went on. The track was called “Earnslaw Burn” and it is seldom used and not well maintained. The difficulties began at the beginning of the day when we couldn’t find the start of the track; we ended up going the wrong way for two hours. When we finally got that sorted, it was fairly late in the morning but foolish determination pushed us onward. The track traversed rough terrain through a forested valley, including steep river gorges and numerous fallen trees. After six grueling hours, the forest finally opened up to the breathtakingly gorgeous Earnslaw Valley. It is a stunning and little known valley surrounded by waterfalls meandering their way down the dramatic glacially carved cliffs. By the time we had a picnic lunch in front of the icefall, the sun was already setting ominously. We were not equipped for camping so we had no choice but to head back on the 6 hour track in the darkness. Fortunately, we had headlamps with us and were able to slowly work our way back through the river gorge, trying our best to use the sporadically placed markers. Even with the markers, though, it was easy to become disoriented, as the trail is thick with undergrowth and constantly blocked by fallen trees and debris. We lost the trail completely on more than one occasion and were forced to retrace our steps. By the time we reached the van it was almost 11pm, making the entire venture about 12 hours.
Describe a highlight or two from your trip.
Driving around New Zealand is a highlight in itself. Nearly every road on the South Island is stunning. On the west of the Island is Franz Josef Glacier; we took a helicopter there then hiked through the icy crevasses. It was incredible. There is thermal activity all over the North Island and we found an amazing natural hot spring near Lake Taupo. Thermal streams flowed into the larger river, creating several hot pools where we could swim freely. If you got too hot, we’d just make our way out toward the cold river.
Why should other travelers add New Zealand to their bucket list?
New Zealand is an incredible place to visit, particularly for its scenery, landscapes and unique ecology. Though it offers something for everyone – good food, party scenes, opportunities for extreme sports – it is especially relevant to those who love the outdoors. New Zealand also offers a smooth travel experience. Perhaps the only obstacle facing backpackers is that it is a bit more expensive to travel through, as compared to some other popular destinations. In my opinion, though, it’s well worth it.