New Zealand – The Sounds, First Views

New Zealand is a geologically active place, sitting on two major crustal plates moving past each other at varyng angles. Though famed for the mountains these forces have thrust up, in a few places the land has been warped downward. The northeast portion of the South Island is one such place, where long valleys flanked by steep wooded ridges are now arms of the sea. These are the Marlbourough Sounds, and the home of my hosts.

Air New Zealand flights from and to San Francisco  land and take off from Auckland, far up the North Island.  From there, I took a domestic flight across Cook Strait to Blenheim, where Julius and Carolyn waited for me.

So my first view of the South Island was from the air as we flew over the sounds. Heavily forested ridges and islands flanked a maze of deep blue water as far as I could see. The ragged shorelines were indented by numerous coves and branches.  Occasionally I could see the white speck of a boat. On the return flight, I could see the large inter-island ferry as it made its way to Picton.

Later on the same flight I could see a line of white water like river rapids as a strong tidal current flowed past the end of land. The tidal flow through Cook Strait and the volume of water in the sounds create sights like this.

Back in the mid-1800s, England had problems. Unemployment was at a dangerous level and the government feared civil unrest. A solution: Settle those with the proper skills and adventurous spirit in a new, empty land where they could make new lives for themselves. This land was New Zealand.

While I was at my hosts’ house I picked up a book written by the man whose wife was descended from one of these pioneering families. She told him of how a young unmarried man sailed with his family on an emigrant ship. Landing just west of the sounds in an emigrant community, he met his wife. After a few years of his working in a lumber mill, the couple decided to strike off on their own to create their farm. They bought a small sailing boat, loaded their meager belongings, and sailed into the little-known complex of waterways and inlets of the Pelorus Sound.

Sailing in the Sounds is tricky because of changing wind currents between the ridges. Nevertheless they persisted, sailing up the sound, stopping at potential places, then sailing on. Finally, after three days they found their home in a sheltered cove with flat land below a high ridge. Heavy forest was all around.

Here they cleared land, built a house, got some livestock and gradually built lives for themselves, their children and grandchildren. Bit by bit, other settlers moved into the sounds, forming a far-flung community where neighbor aided neighbor and guests were welcomed.

This true story of early life in the Sounds illustrates the source of the New Zealand spirit of enterprise, self-reliance, ingenuity, and sincere friendliness.

What values have your family gained from contact with wild nature?

Next: Exploring the Sounds.

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About David McCoard

After earning my MS in geology I've done various things including managing the ski touring program at a small lodge in the Sierra. In 2010 I retired from Contra Costa College in California. I've always been fascinated by the mountains and nature and have spent countless days hiking, backpacking, climbing and skiing in the Sierra. The spiritual insights I've learned there have set the course for my life. Now I have time to share them and strike up a conversation.
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