New Zealand: Canterbury Treasures

  • Exquisite meals and picture-perfect views.

    Exquisite meals and picture-perfect views.

  • Situated amid the alpine splendor of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, The Hermitage overlooks glacial valleys and the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps.

    Situated amid the alpine splendor of Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, The Hermitage overlooks glacial valleys and the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps.

  • Alpine memorabilia covers the walls of the Old mountaineers Café in mount Cook Village.

    Alpine memorabilia covers the walls of the Old mountaineers Café in mount Cook Village.

  • The aptly named panorama room at the Hermitage hotel offers diners both.

    The aptly named panorama room at the Hermitage hotel offers diners both.

  • A view from The Hermitage hotel toward Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak.

    A view from The Hermitage hotel toward Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak.

  • On the tasman glacier with mount Cook ski planes.

    On the tasman glacier with mount Cook ski planes.

  • A view of Otahuna Lodge from the surrounding gardens.

    A view of Otahuna Lodge from the surrounding gardens.

  • Pan-roasted breast and confit leg of duck with estate-grown vegetables and quince, in the dining room at Otahuna.

    Pan-roasted breast and confit leg of duck with estate-grown vegetables and quince, in the dining room at Otahuna.

  • One of the seven suites at Otahuna Lodge, a historic property in tai tapu, outside Christchurch.

    One of the seven suites at Otahuna Lodge, a historic property in tai tapu, outside Christchurch.

  • Fresh produce from the potager-style kitchen garden at Otahuna Lodge.

    Fresh produce from the potager-style kitchen garden at Otahuna Lodge.

  • The Canterbury museum.

    The Canterbury museum.

  • A punter at Christchurch’s Antigua Boat Sheds.

    A punter at Christchurch’s Antigua Boat Sheds.

  • Restart, a pop-up mall made of shipping containers, has brought business back to downtown Christchurch.

    Restart, a pop-up mall made of shipping containers, has brought business back to downtown Christchurch.

  • Owners bruce and Carol Hyland at maison de la mer.

    Owners bruce and Carol Hyland at maison de la mer.

  • The nautically themed boathouse suite at maison de la mer in akaroa.

    The nautically themed boathouse suite at maison de la mer in akaroa.

  • Christchurch’s Cargobar.

    Christchurch’s Cargobar.

  • Driving past akaroa’s 19th-century lighthouse.

    Driving past akaroa’s 19th-century lighthouse.

  • Boat sheds in akaroa.

    Boat sheds in akaroa.

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From the picturesque harbor of Akaroa to the Tolkienesque mountainscapes of the Southern Alps, New Zealand’s Canterbury region spoils visitors with sweeping scenery, farm-fresh food, easy adventure, and genuine bonhomie. So what are you waiting for?

By Christopher P. Hill
Photographs by Stephen Goodenough

My week in New Zealand’s Canterbury region began in Christchurch, on the central east coast of the South Island. But I won’t talk about that just yet: a city still reeling from a series of devastating earthquakes is hardly the best place to kick off a travel article.

Shall I entice you instead with sightings of adorable Hector’s dolphins in the great volcanic bowl of Akaroa Harbour? Or with a ski-plane landing on the ancient ice of the Tasman Glacier, high in the Southern Alps? No—let us begin at the end of my trip, gazing up at the night sky above Lake Tekapo, a firmament so thick with stars that it glowed like silver filigree. This was atop the tussocky rise of Mount John, whose bland name does nothing to suggest that it is home to New Zealand’s premier planet-hunting facility, an astronomical observatory run by the University of Canterbury. It’s also the centerpiece of one of only four dark-sky reserves on the earth, a designation conferred on places where the quality of stargazing is, well, out of this world, thanks to few clouds and virtually no light pollution. (Even the bus that took us to Mount John’s summit was obliged to switch of its headlights before reaching the top, so as not to interfere with the observatory’s sensitive research equipment. It made for a few nail-biting moments.)

Had I known any of this before signing up for the Earth & Sky stargazing tour—there’s precious little else to do in the tiny township of Lake Tekapo on a chilly mid-autumn night—I might not have been quite so dumbstruck by that vast star-studded skyscape, though I did join in the chorus of oohs and aahs as our guide used his laser pointer to walk us through the heavens. We could not see a cloud because, as Lewis Carroll once pointed out, no cloud was in the sky. But we did see the Magellanic Clouds—two galaxies that orbit our own at a distance of tens of thousands of light years—and the entire arc of the Milky Way, called Te Ikaroa by the Maori, whose legends describe it as a great fish swimming across the sky. There was Orion to the west, and Scorpius rising in the east; the Southern Cross and a star cluster called the Jewel Box; gas clouds and nebulae; and Venus and Mars hanging somewhere overhead and clearly visible to the naked eye, once you knew what to look for.

By the time a round of hot chocolate was served I had a crick in my neck as bad as after my first visit to the Sistine Chapel. But the show wasn’t over yet. Though we didn’t have access to the observatory proper, we did have the use of a small observation dome housing a stubby but powerful telescope. What I saw through that was the last gift in a week that had unfolded like a well-wrapped present. It was Saturn, rings and all, a pale orb framed against the blackness of deep space. You could have knocked me over with a kiwi feather.

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