New Zealand – Welcome to the Alps!

The upper Waimakariri River flows in a deep trough surrounded by steep mountains. Situated as it is, parallel to the axis of the island, it has a very gentle gradient here. The flat floor of the valley, up to over three kilomenters wide, is filled with sediment left by glaciers and brought down by streams. Due to the sediment load, the river itself flows in broad ever-changing braided channels, challenging those who would select a bridge site.

The mountains on both sides rise abruptly to roughly 1,400 metres, or 4,500 feet directly above the valley floor. Steep-sided side valleys and canyons extend far back into Arthur’s Pass National Park to the north.

November is late spring or early summer in New Zealand, so when we were there, snow covered the heights between rocky ribs.

After crossing the wide alluvial plain west of Christchurch, Highway 73 crosses a low mountain range and winds through the middle Waimakariri’s complex drainage. It joins the river itself opposite Kidson House, a small lodge built by a high school on the far side of the valley. We had access to it for five nights through Daniel’s family, who take care of it. Daniel accompanied us and guided us on walks.

Here at the edge of a narrow terrace, we were surrouned by mountains. We had only to look up to see snowy peaks above us, or outward to more mountains.

The buildings are right at the southern boundary of Arthur’s Pass National Park, a wide expanse of ridges and peaks, canyons, tracks and numerous huts.

The Department of Conservation, which operates the park, reflects New Zealanders’ appreciation of their natural environment, as well as their desire to protect it while welcoming visitors. The Department runs several national parks as well as other specially designated lands. In the parks and elswhere it runs excellent visitor centers and museums with lots of information and literature.

The Department’s website  is chock full of information on parks, tracks, wildlife and conservation, along with sound advice for visitors. Explore it!

Especially useful is the Department’s online zoomable GIS map . GIS stands for geographic information system. Besides shaded topography and detailed topographic maps of both islands, from the menu on the left you can choose overlays showing land designations, vegetation types and more. You can paste screen shots into your word processor, adjust them and add text, then print them–you’ve got your own custom maps to take on the trail!

So join me as we explore New Zealand’s inspiring mountains and forests. Remember–as a citizen of God’s great world, this is yours in the most intimate way, and you’re part of it wherever you are! What a blessing!

Next: the power of a waterfall.


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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