A Lunch at Ostler Wine’s Vineyard

One of the logistical tasks for a tour guide in a country where the attractions are far-flung is to find a place to feed the tour members lunch. In New Zealand, our guide Richard Lyon accomplished this necessary detail with great panache. We had eaten lunch in some of the most beautiful gardens in the country, so we were excited as we drove from Oamaru through the Waitaki River Valley, past the power plant at Waitaki Lake……

….. to arrive moments later at the beautiful vineyard of Ostler Wine……

….. and the home of Jim and Ann Jerram, where we would have the opportunity to sample delicious wines……

…… and lunch on a catered feast, including this beautiful rice salad…..

……. with pretty bouquets of fresh garden flowers…….

….. while gazing at a spectacular new garden filled with native plants. What could be better?

We listened to Jim Jerram, a retired physician, discuss his mission to create memorable wines from the ‘heartbreak grape’, Pinot Noir.  As the Ostler Wine website says, twenty years ago he and Ann’s brother, winemaker and viticulturist Jeff Sinnott, went looking for a place in the Waitaki Valley near Oamaru where they could grow wine grapes.

Though the region had not featured vineyards to that point, the men “discovered a site Sinnott believed encapsulated the essential parameters for growing premium cool climate wine grapes; a north-facing limestone-influenced slope on an escarpment overlooking the braided river. It reminded him of the famous slopes of Burgundy.”

Indeed, the Waitaki Valley limestone seam not only imparts its characteristic minerality to the terroir, it also yields fossils that hint at the fact that this region was once a warm, shallow sea. That fossil shell embedded in limestone forms the logo for the Ostler family of wines.

We enjoyed our tasting as Jim poured, telling us a little about the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris we were sampling.  (For me, some of our Lake Ontario limestone-clay Pinot Noirs have more of the ‘licked stone’ minerality taste than the Ostler Wines,)

And though it’s not in the photo below, the utterly delicious Gewürztraminer we would buy from Ostler that day would be our afternoon reward for hiking the Hooker Valley Track at Aoraki Mount Cook the next day.

Outside, some of our group enjoyed sitting in the Jerrams’ kitchen garden…..

…. while others on the patio on the west side of the house inspected the native plants that had now become familiar to us, the various tussock grasses and tortured shrubs (I think the one below is Corokia cotoneaster).

There was rock daisy (Pachystegia insignis)…..

….. and the strange-looking toothed lancewood or horoeka (Pseudopanax ferox) that protects its gawky, Dr. Seuss-like juvenile form with fierce spines until it attains sufficient height and girth to assume a more traditional tree-like habit.

We made our purchases, with some in the group ordering wine to be delivered back in the U.S.  As always, Panayoti Kelaidis of Denver Botanic Garden offered gracious thanks to Jim Jerram on behalf of all of us and the American Horticultural Society, words he managed to tailor eloquently to each host on our New Zealand tour. And then it was time to drive on to mighty Aoraki Mount Cook.


Oamaru Public Gardens

It’s a measure of the depth of the gardening tradition in New Zealand that one of the most charming gardens I visited during our 3-week tour was not even on our itinerary.  It just happened to be behind a pair of iron gates a few of us spotted along the road as we drove into the town of Oamaru, less than a 90-minute drive north of Dunedin, en route to our  2-night stay at Aoraki Mount Cook.

As the bus pulled into the Oamaru town centre with its boutiques and art galleries, a handful of us doubled back the 3 or 4 blocks to the entrance of the Oamaru Public Gardens. A map was posted showing the features of the garden, arrayed like a long strip of green between residential neighbourhoods. The water meandering throughout is the Oamaru Creek, which charges various ponds and spills down splashing rills and small waterfalls.

We began to walk along the road, conscious of our limited time to visit.  Look at these gorgeous hydrangeas with agapanthus and dahlias.

I must admit I was a little worried when I saw the Craig Fountain and its surrounding beds, below, which looked a little Victorian ‘bedding-out’ for my informal taste. But the thing is the gardens are Victorian.  They were established in 1876 on 13.7 hectares (34 acres) set aside as public reserve, thus making them one of the oldest public gardens in New Zealand (Dunedin, Christchurch and Auckland are older).

We walked under this arch, which led to the famous ‘Wonderland’ statue which, of course, I missed.

But I loved what I found a little further along: this verdant scene with tree ferns, hydrangeas, Japanese maples and a small waterfall and pond.

A view of the water feature.

More hydrangeas.

We walked on and came upon the Display House. Enchanting!

The bromeliads, begonias, ferns and other hothouse plants were grown to perfection.

Look at these beautiful vrieseas.

The aviary featured an assortment of fancy birds. (I tried “Polly want a cracker?” in my best Kiwi accent, but no dice.)

I believe this was Mirror Lake (or possibly “top pond”)…. there is so little pictorial guidance of the features of the garden on the web.

We wandered through the Native Plants garden. So strong is the native plant ethos in New Zealand that in 2015 one of the unused glasshouses at Oamaru Public Gardens was loaned to native plant enthusiasts as a permanent propagation nursery for endemic natives.

We saw New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) and one of the many native sedges.

There were strange plants I needed help from my Plant Idents group on Facebook to identify, like New Zealand myrtle (Lophomyrtus bullata), or what the Māori call ramama….

…. and one we thought likely to be snow totara (Podocarpus nivalis).

A shady path led to the fabulous Fernery.  (I included this little section in my previous blog on New Zealand ferns.)

We walked through quickly. enjoying the allure of the towering tree ferns.

Then it was on to the large Chinese Garden where the impressive ceramic entrance mural was done by Christine Black. There is a lovely story online of how,  thanks to the persistence of a woman named Yvonne Cox, both the mural and the garden itself came to be here in 1988 as “a symbol of the friendship between Oamaru and the large Chinese community in the Waitaki district, most of them descendants of the Central Otago gold miners”.

There’s a handsome water feature…….

…… and numerous Chinese shrubs and trees, like Gingko biloba…..

….and, of course, a zig-zag bridge to keep the evil spirits away.

We left the Chinese garden via another nod to Asia, the red Japanese bridge overlooking the Oamaru Creek.

The morning was marching and it was time to head back to the bus to continue our journey to Aoraki Mount Cook.  We strolled towards the entrance past more spectacular mophead hydrangeas…..

….. and Acanthus hungaricus, which grows as well in New Zealand as in cold Canada.

And we chatted for a minute with one of the gardeners, who cheerfully answered a question or two for me.  Beautiful gardens like Oamaru (which was free to enter, like Dunedin Botanic Garden and all the civic public gardens we visited in New Zealand) are crafted and sustained in equal parts by good design; healthy, interesting plants; and hard work. So here’s to Matthew Simpson, a “real Kiwi” as he put it, and all the dedicated employees of public gardens in New Zealand and throughout the world. Thumbs up to you all!

Dunedin Botanic Garden

After travelling on the 10th day of our American Horticultural Society “Gardens, Wine & Wilderness Tour” from Lake Manapouri and Doubtful Sound to Dunedin in Otago on the east coast of the South Island, a 3-1/2 hour journey of 291 kilometres (182 miles)……

…. we arrived in the city late in the afternoon. Our route took us past the Dunedin Railway Station. Built in the Edwardian Baroque style in 1906, it provided train service for a city that had been founded 58 years earlier by the Free Church of Scotland. In fact Dunedin is the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh, and it was the Scots who were the first colonists, though the Māori had already occupied the land for some 700 years. It was a big whaling port in its early days, then the Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s led to its rapid expansion.

Where we had slept in a stateroom aboard a boat on Doubtful Sound in Fiordland the night before, tonight we would be sleeping in a rather lovely room at the Distinction Dunedin Hotel. What made it extra-special was the fact that the room was equipped with a clothes washer and dryer. If you’ve travelled for any length of time on a bus tour, you’ll know how welcome that would be.

Feeling a little tired after the drive, we ordered up a light room-service dinner of cheese plate & salad, and cracked a bottle of Marlborough Chardonnay.

The next morning, we headed out to Dunedin Botanic Garden….

…..where we were met in the parking lot for an orientation by Alan Matchett (left), Garden Team Leader/Curator and Collection Curator, Dylan Norfield.

Opened in 1863, it is New Zealand’s first botanic garden. It occupies 30.4 hectares (75 acres) on a property that slopes from native Lovelock Bush, the New Zealand Native Plant Collection, Geographic Collection and Rhododendron Dell at the top down a hillside through the Southern African Garden and Mediterranean Terrace  and Rock Garden – all considered the Upper Garden – to the Lower Garden where you find Herbaceous Borders, a Knot Garden, Glasshouses, the Clive Lister Garden, the Rose Garden, Theme Borders and a Water Garden. The main gates open to an intersection of three of Dunedin’s main streets.

We set off behind Alan and Dylan for a tour that was sadly much too short to see all the features of this wonderful garden.

The Native Plant Collection is vast, and includes traditional borders…..

….. featuring grasses and shrubs and with some of the country’s native tree ferns, like Dicksonia fibrosa, with its persistent frond ‘skirts’. (For more on NZ ferns, have a look at my previous post.)

There were cultivars and hybrids of natives here, like silver-leafed Brachyglottis ‘Otari Cloud’….

….. and the lovely variegated Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Irene Patterson’. Unlike the UK and the mild west coast, pittosporums are not much seen in northeast North America.  I wish I’d had time to search out many more.

In the shadier sections, the New Zealand rock lily or renga renga (Arthropodium cirratum) was in flower…….

…… and bush flax (Astelia fragrans) was already in fruit.

We toured a fascinating Alpine Scree.  On an island so dominated by the rugged Southern Alps (it is estimated that one-third of New Zealand’s flora exists in the alpine zone), it’s interesting to see plants adapted to the gravelly slopes of mountains…..

…..like giant Spaniard (Aciphylla scott-thomsonii), below. Though often called Spaniard grass or speargrass, the spiky Aciphyllas are actually umbellifers, members of Apiaceae that flower in November. The flowers in my closeup below have withered and blackened.

Here’s a vigorous clump of Marlborough rock daisy (Pachystegia insignis).

In the Geographic Collections, we noted South American plants like evergreen Luma apiculata from the Central Andes between Chile and Argentina…

….and Lomandra longifolia from Australia.

We made a brief stop at the Rhododendron Dell, which forms a large part of the 4-hectare (10-acre) Woodland Garden.  Naturally, as we visited in summer, nothing was in flower,  but I can only imagine what these massive ‘Halopeanum’ rhodos would have looked like in November.

Descending, we made our way through the large Southern African Garden.

There were beautiful king proteas here (P. cynaroides).

….. and masses of the dwarf Agapanthus ‘Streamline’.

How spectacular is this eye-popping planting of Crassula coccinea, native to the fynbos of the Western Cape?

With time running out, I raced through the Mediterranean Garden, with its formal pool…..

….. and balustrade overlook, with the hills of Dunedin in the distance.  But I knew I’d be coming back here today after another tour stop to spend lots of time retracing my steps to really explore the place!

In the Lower Garden, there was a Knot Garden patterned on the one in the Shakespeare Garden at Stratford-on-Avon.

And in classic public garden style, there was a stunning herbaceous border that I viewed from one end……

….. to the other.

Look at these lovely combinations:  alstroemerias and bright pink phlox with Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’…..

….. and salmon achillea with old-fashioned Shasta daisies…..

….. and unusual (for me) Lobelia tupa with Phlox paniculata……

…… and soft pink achillea with chocolate cosmos (C. atrosanguineus). Isn’t this fabulous?

There were loads of bumble bees foraging on the alstroemerias……

….. and on the lovely blue bog sage (Salvia uliginosa).

And just to add a little design intelligence to all that floriferous brilliance, the garden also features a number of “colour borders”, including yellow…..

….. and red….

….. and violet, featuring Lythrum virgatum, Monarda fistulosa and Agastache foeniculum.

I was impressed by the massive size of this English oak (Quercus ruber) – aka the ‘Royal Oak’ – which was planted in 1863 to commemorate the marriage of the Prince of Wales and the Danish Princess Alexandra.  The children in the playground seemed unmoved that they were frolicking atop the roots of a piece of Dunedin’s colonial history.

For sheer elegance, I loved the Clive Lister Garden – and also the story behind it, below. What a wonderful way to enrich a public space, especially one that has meant much to you during your life.

Look at this view of grasses and many native plants from one side of the bridge in the Clive Lister Garden……

….. and the other side, featuring hostas, Japanese maples and other shade plants.

The garden is full of textural plants…..

….. and those with attractive, coloured foliage.

Flowering seems less important than good foliage in the Clive Lister Garden, but there were some lovely surprises, like this ligularia-montbretia combination.

This is the shimmering Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’, which we’re starting to see in N. American gardens.

Alas, our time at the fabulous Dunedin Botanic Garden had drawn to an end without me seeing the glasshouses, water garden, theme gardens, rose gardens or fully exploring the native and geographic collections in the Upper Garden we’d walked through so quickly. So I trotted out to the bus reluctantly and vowed to come back by taxi later in the day.


When I returned, clouds were gathering in the sky so I hurried to the Winter Garden Glasshouse. At its opening in 1908, it was said to be the first public conservatory in Australasia. It has three wings; the west wing contains a good cactus collection.

Tropicals find a warm, humid home in the central Tropical House.

And the east wing contains the sub-tropical collection, with plants like the lovely Vireya rhododendron, below.

It started to sprinkle as I left and eyed the Rose Garden – very nice, I’m sure, but I wanted to get back to the Upper Garden.

I decided to buy an ice cream in the visitor’s centre to see if the shower might abate, but it continued. So I headed quickly over Lindsay Creek to the Rock Garden…..

….. eyeing these spectacular red-hot pokers (Kniphofia sp.) as I walked. The climate here in Dunedin seems perfect for these South African natives.

The rock garden is stunning, and one could spend a half day just here examining all its lovelies, like…….

….. strange-looking Raoulia apicinigra, one of the “mat daisy” clan, …..

….. and Dierama pendulum, fairy bells.  But the rain had now intensified and having given my umbrella and raincoat to my husband to take back to the hotel (“Nah, I won’t need it.”), I found a plastic bag to partially cover my hat and tucked my phone under my shirt to keep it dry.  My cameras were now back in the camera bag as the heavens opened and the rain poured down.

One last shot, of a butterfly lily (Gladiolus papilio) that was as soaked as I was, and out I ran, down the steps and past the now deserted herbaceous borders to a bus shelter outside the gates, where I waited in the monsoon for 20 minutes to flag down a passing cab.

As sad as I was not to have had more time to spend at Dunedin Botanic Garden, I was so very grateful that I’d had the opportunity to see it at all.


Love botanic gardens? You might be interested in my blogs on New York Botanical Garden, Idaho Botanical Garden, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, UBC Botanical Garden and Toronto Botanical Garden’s fabulous containers and Piet Oudolf border. In South Africa, there is the mighty Kirstenbosch, the Harold Porter National Botanic Gardens and Durban Botanic Garden.  And outside London, Kew Gardens in autumn.

A Night on Doubtful Sound

Our 9th touring day on the American Horticultural Society’s ‘Gardens, Wine & Wilderness’ tour saw us leave Queenstown and drive south on Highway 6 along Lake Wakatipu.

Highway 6-Otago-Lake Wakatipu

We were heading to Fiordland National Park, 173 km (107 miles) and just over 2 hours away.

Queenstown to Fiordland-Google Map

A few bus window impressions of the countryside along the route included a colourful way to protect tree seedlings alongside matagouri or ‘wild Irishman’ shrubs (Discaria toumatou) …..

Matagouri and sapling protection-Otago-Highway 6-New Zealand

…… and native cabbage trees (Cordyline australis) along the shore of Wakatipu.

Cordyline australis-Lake Wakatipu-Highway 6

Crossing from Otago into Southland, there were farms with hay bales in ubiquitous plastic wrappers…..

Hay Bales-Southland-New Zealand

…. and lots and lots of sheep.

Sheep farm-Southland-New Zealand

We had a brief stop in little Mossburn, which bills itself as the “deer capital of New Zealand”. Not native deer, of course, since New Zealand doesn’t have any. They were Eurasian red deer (Cervus elaphus) imported originally by colonists in the 19th century, then escaped into the wild and now farmed or hunted for venison (as is wapiti or American elk). In fact, Fiordland National Park, where we were headed, encourages sport hunting of deer, wild pigs, elk and chamois since they compete with native birds for certain trees and plants.

Mossburn-Deer stag statue

We ate our picnic lunch at the Fiordland Cruise Dock on Lake Manapōuri, where I photographed this complicated explanation to the hydro-electric project at the west end of the lake that is considered to be the birthplace of New Zealand’s environmental awareness.  For it was in 1970 that 10-percent of New Zealanders signed the Save Manapōuri petition, drawn up to counter a plan conceived over the previous two decades to create a power plant that would require the flooding of both Lake Manapōuri and nearby Lake Te Anau by raising the water by up to 30 metres (100 feet), thus flooding the lake’s islands completely and drowning the beech shoreline. When the government resisted the protestors, owing to a pledge mandated in 1963 to develop an aluminum smelter with hydro-power from the plant, it was subsequently defeated in the 1972 election. The new Labour government formed the Guardians of Lake Manapōuri, Monowai and Te Anau to manage the lake levels sensitively, which they continue to do today. (Click on the photo below to see a larger version.)

Manapouri Hydro Scheme-hydrology

We were thrilled to be heading out on Manapōuri, the first leg of our overnight cruise on Fiordland’s Doubtful Sound. The captain of the small boat that conveys passengers to the dock at Manapōuri Power Station did a nice job of talking about the lake…..

Lake Manapouri-Boat Captain

….. which you could choose to listen to, or head out on deck where the wind was amazing.

Lake Manapouri-Boat to West Arm Jetty

Fifty minutes later, we arrived at the jetty beside the water intake of the huge Manapōuri Power Station, below, which generates enough power for 618,000 average homes. Although it’s not evident here, there is a 178-metre (584-foot) drop from Lake Manapōuri to Doubtful Sound; it’s this gradient difference that made the site so attractive for hydro power.  The massive machine hall, which was hollowed out of granite deep within the mountain is accessible via a 2 kilometre (1.2 mile) spiral tunnel that can be visited by tourists at certain times.  To learn more about this monumental project, have a look at this short YouTube film.

Lake Manipouri-West Arm-Power Station-Fiordland

A bus was waiting for us, and off we went on the 22 kilometre(13-mile) 40-minute journey across the Wilmot Pass on a gravel road that had been constructed between 1963 and 1965 to accommodate the trucks hauling large equipment from Doubtful Sound to the new power station.

Wilmot Pass between Manapouri and Doubtful Sound-map

Our bus driver was a bit of a stand-up (sit-down?) comic and we enjoyed his informative, witty commentary.  After climbing the pass for a while, we arrived at a lookout that gave us a beautiful view of Doubtful Sound. Established in 1952 Fiordland National Park is huge: 12,607 square kilometres (4,868 square miles).  Though there are other places to visit in the park, accepted wisdom is that a cruise here (given its isolation, only one tour company, Real Journeys does this overnight stay) is one of the best ways to experience this stunning part of the park.

Wilmot Pass-Doubtful Sound View-Fiordland

Though a brief stop, it gave some of us a chance to do some fast botanizing. There was mountain ribbonwood (Hoheria glabrata)……

Hoheria glabrata-Wilmot Pass-Doubtful Sound-Fiordland

…… and koromiko or willow-leaf hebe (Hebe salicifolia/Veronica salicifolia).

Hebe salicifolia-Koromiko-Wilmot Pass-Doubtful Sound-Fiordland

Back on the bus, we descended to the dock in Deep Cove where the Fiordland Navigator, our cruise boat and hotel for the night, was awaiting us. I had just enough time to peek through the shrubbery on shore at Helena Falls, one of many near-vertical waterfalls in the sound.

Helena Falls-Deep Cove-Doubtful Sound

….. before boarding the boat.

Boarding-Fiordland Navigator-Deep Cove-Doubtful Sound-Fiordland

Then we were off, sailing in a northwest direction into Doubtful Sound. Forty kilometres (25 miles) long and 421 metres (1381 feet) deep at its deepest point, it’s technically a “fiord” carved by successive glaciers (the last being 18,000-28,000 years ago), not a “sound”, which is a river valley that has been flooded by the sea.

Fiordland Navigator-Into Doubtful Sound

(Now, a small confession about the next images, in case anyone is knowledgeable about the specific order of the different parts of Doubtful Sound. It’s a good idea, when you bring 3 cameras and a cellphone with you, to make sure they’re ALL on local time. In my case, only my phone was hooked into real time in New Zealand.  Enough said.)

Soon we were passing the near shore of Elizabeth Island, site of the Taipari Roa Marine Reserve. It was thrilling to see this dense ecosystem of rainforest plants. In parts of Fiordland National Park, rainfall can exceed 6000 mm (236 inches-20 feet) but Doubtful Sound generally receives one-third that amount.

Elizabeth Island-shore-Doubtful Sound

The grass-like plant is Astelia (likely A. nervosa).

Elizabeth Island-Astelia-Doubtful Sound

Here is the sign for the Marine Reserve.  Covering 613 hectares (1514 acres), it features black and red corals and rare yellow sea sponges. A pod of bottlenose dolphins regularly visits, and as if on cue……..

Elizabeth Island-Taipari Ro Marine Preserve

….. we were alerted by an announcement from the Navigator’s captain that a mother and calf were swimming near the boat.

Bottlenose dolphins-Tursiops truncatus-mother and calf-Doubtful Sound

They were two of a community of around 56 dolphins (2008 figures), and their declining numbers have mandated Dolphin Protection Zones in Doubtful Sound. But chance encounters are fine. and our captain maintained his heading while the pair swam alongside. The next day, we saw a bigger pod of bottlenose dolphins in the sound, and I combined video of the mother and calf with that group in the following little film.

The natural history of Doubtful Sound was made exciting by Carol of Real Journeys, who told me she never tires of the spectacular sights here.

Carol-naturalist-Real Journeys-Fiordland-

Look at this amazing ‘gneiss’ basement rock, whose little steps and fissures become the birthplace of a vertical rainforest.

Gneiss-Doubtful Sound

I could photograph rock all day.

Shore rock formation-Doubtful Sound

Gazing back down the sound, I was captivated by the blue silhouettes of the mountains behind Deep Cove, including lofty Mount George.

Mount George-Elizabeth Island-Doubtful Sound

The wind picked up as we neared the mouth of Doubtful Sound and the Tasman Sea.  Here on the Nee Islets, we saw a colony of fur seals.

New-Zealand-Fur seals and gulls-Nee Islets-Doubtful Sound

The seals rest during the day and dive at night for fish, sometimes as deep as 160 metres (525 feet).  Here we see the rough Tasman Sea crashing into the rocks.

New Zealand fur Seal colony-kekeno-Doubtful Sound-Tasman Sea

The sea was named for Dutch seafarer and explorer Abel Tasman, who also gave his name to Tasmania. In 1642, he became the first European to sight what he called Staten Landt at the northwest corner of the South Island. It was later renamed Nieuw Zeeland (New Holland) by a cartographer with the Dutch East India Company.

Tasman Sea-Abel Tasman-1642

The next European to reach New Zealand’s shore was English sea captain and explorer James Cook. On March 14th, 1770 Captain Cook wrote the following in his log after considering, then rejecting, the idea of navigating into the body of water that he would call Doubtful Harbour.  “The land on each side the Entrance of this Harbour riseth almost perpendicular from the Sea to a very considerable Height; and this was the reason why I did not attempt to go in with the Ship, because I saw clearly that no winds could blow there but what was right in or right out, that is, Westerly or Easterly; and it certainly would have been highly imprudent in me to have put into a place where we could not have got out but with a wind that we have lately found to blow but one day in a Month. I mention this because there was some* on board that wanted me to harbour at any rate, without in the least Considering either the present or future Consequences.” (*The person to whom Cook was referring was the ship botanist Joseph Banks.)

Captain James Cook-Dusky Sound-Second voyage-Resoluton-March 1770

I am a great fan of Captain James Cook.  Why? A little personal aside that has to do with 18th century explorers. As a young child, I lived on Pembroke Street in Victoria, British Columbia.  HMS Pembroke was the name of the ship James Cook served on in 1758 during the British war against the French in Quebec. Victoria is on Vancouver Island, B.C., named for British sea captain and explorer George Vancouver, who charted the Pacific Northwest in 1791-92 aboard HMS Discovery (which had been under Cook’s command 12 years earlier). I caught my bus to school on Cook Street named for Captain Cook…..

Captain James Cook-by Nathaniel Dance-Holland-1776

…..who made three voyages to the southern hemisphere between 1768 and his murder in Hawaii in 1779 while captaining HMS Discovery. On that first voyage with Joseph Banks he did not linger long off the coast.  But on his second voyage (1772-75) on the Resolution – which included midshipman George Vancouver, above – he explored and charted Dusky Sound (36 miles south of Doubtful Sound) from March to May, 1773, while repairing his ship, botanizing and engaging peacefully with local Māori.  And my school was on Humboldt Street, named for yet another explorer, the great German botanist Alexander von Humboldt, 1769-1859.

We turned away from the Tasman Sea and made our way back down Doubtful Sound, sailing alongside immense mountain walls cloaked with trees, shrubs, ferns and mosses.

Rainforest mountainside-Doubtful Sound

Look at these fabulous southern rāta trees (Metrosideros umbellata) with their red flowers.

Metrosideros-umbellata-Southern rātā-Doubtful Sound

We saw more rātas dotting the slopes on the sound, which also feature tree ferns (Cyathea smithii).

Metrosideros umbellata-southern rata-Doubtful Sound

One of the fun features of the Real Journeys overnight cruise is the chance to get into a kayak or small tender to explore one of the quiet arms of Doubtful Sound.

Kayaking-Real Journeys-Doubtful Sound-Fiordland Navigator

I elected the tender…..

Kayaking-Doubtful-Sound-Fiordland Naviator

….. but you can see the massive scale of the setting compared to the kayaks.

Kayaks-Doubtful Sound-Fiordland

Up close, we could see the epiphytic moss hanging from trees……

Moss-epiphytic-Doubtful Sound

….. and the terrestrial mosses on the rock. Throughout the sound, it is mosses that give the rock faces a foothold for the ferns (like the crown ferns, Blechnum discolor, below) and seed plants that come later.

Moss-terrestrial-crown ferns-Blechnum discolor-Doubtful Sound

But even when the rocky mountainsides become fully covered in plants, the weight of that biomass at the steepest angles combined with heavy rainfall or snowload often results in “tree avalanches”  that cascade down the slopes, leaving the rock exposed once again.

Tree avalanche-Doubtful Sound

And of course the rock face itself often fissures and……

Rock Cracks-Doubtful Sound

…… giant rock falls to the fiord shore as well, where it will gradually erode.


With our little exploration finished, we reboarded the Fiordland Navigator where we enjoyed a lovely buffet dinner. (You can see images of the ship’s interior and staterooms in the previous link). With the ship at anchor in the arm, we turned in for the night and enjoyed the sound of rain when it began in early morning.

And what a morning! I felt like I’d awakened in a National Geographic magazine cover.

Cloud-Doubtful Sound

Cloud and mist shrouded the mountains and hanging valleys around us in the same primeval way it has bathed this temperate rainforest in moisture for thousands of years.


It felt magical, as if the towering rimu trees (Dacrydium cypressinum) and beeches had poked their crowns through the clouds to breathe….

Misty trees-Doubtful Sound-rainforest

…. After breakfast, I dressed in the raincoat I wore for the very first time in New Zealand……

Day2-Janet Davis-Fiordland Navigator-Doubtful Sound

…. so I could enjoy the weather.

Rainfall Doubtful Sound

I loved this thin waterfall splashing down behind the kātote (Cyathea smithii) tree ferns with their persistent frond stems.

Waterfall & tree ferns-katote-Cyathea smithii-Doubtful Sound

We were nearing the end of our cruise but there was one more magical moment to come.  The “Sound of Silence” has become something of an iconic experience aboard the Fiordland Navigator since “place of silence” is the English translation for the Māori word for Doubtful Sound, Patea.  It was a magical few minutes, floating, boat engines turned off, with just the odd clang from the kitchen or someone’s packing noise in a neaby cabin to intrude on the sound of water lapping and birds calling on shore.. But it gives you a little sensation of the wonder of this primeval place of beauty and silence.

Queenstown – Bungy-Jumping & Botanizing

As the crow (or Air New Zealand) flies, it’s approximately 1024 kilometres (636 miles) from Auckland on the North Island to Queenstown on the South Island, most of it over the Tasman Sea.  That was our route on our 7th touring day with the American Horticultural Society’s Gardens, Wine & Wilderness Tour in January 2018.

New Zealand-Auckland to Queenstown-Flight

Below on Google’s satellite view is the approximate route that AZ 615 takes inland from the Tasman Sea (which also separates Australia and New Zealand), bearing southeast over the Southern Alps towards Queenstown.


Gate to gate, the flight takes about 1 hour and 50 minutes (80 minutes or so of flying time) and the last 15 minutes of flying over the lake, through the valley in which Queenstown sits and up its Frankton Arm to the airport make it among the most beautiful air approaches on the planet. In fact in 2015 respondents named Queenstown as the “most scenic airport approach” in a survey of that category.

Lake Wakatipu-Frankton Arm-Queenstown-flight route

So….. given that we had perfect weather on the flight, that I had the almost perfect seat overlooking the left engine cowling, and that I was enjoying trying out my new Samsung S8 phone, indulge me for a few photos while we approach Queenstown together.  (If you make it to the end, there’s a little….’surprise’.) The route took us over  the Southern Alps, the South Island’s long backbone, which stretches for 500 kilometres from Fiordland in the southwest to Nelson Lake National Park in the northeast. Here we are looking north toward Mount Aspiring National Park. North of the park and not visible in the photo is mighty Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak at 3724 metres (12,218 ft), where we would be in a few days.

Southern Alps-Aerial View-near Queenstown

Within seconds, below, the northernmost arm of the dogleg-shaped (Z-shaped) Lake Wakatipu was visible, with Pig Island a notable landmark.  This beautiful finger lake is 80 kilometres (50 miles) long with a maximum depth of 380 metres (1280 feet).  Though the mountains look barren here, that greenish-yellow in the scree and fellfields on the slopes features snow tussock meadows with myriad high alpine species.

Southern Alps-Lake Wakatipu-Pig Island-Aerial View

In the photo below we are looking straight up Lake Wakatipu towards the town of Glenorchy at its head. The lake was carved out by glaciers more than 15,000 years ago, between mountains uplifted over millions of years by earthquakes along the Alpine Fault. (New Zealand is part of the seismically-active Ring of Fire in the Pacific Basin, as we know from recent devastating earthquakes in Christchurch and elsewhere). Here on the west side of the South Island, the mountains are made of greywacke, a sandstone-mudstone mix that rose tectonically with the mountains from sediment in a deep ocean trench on the boundary of the Gondwana supercontinent between 100-300 million years ago. (Before it broke off and floated away, New Zealand was on the edge of Gondwana, which also included South America, Africa, Australia, India, and Antarctic.) Because greywacke fractures and falls apart easily, mountain climbers in the Southern Alps nicknamed it ‘Weetbix’. On the east side of the South Island, the bedrock is mostly metamorphic schist.  For a more comprehensive exploration of New Zealand geology, have a look at this excellent website.

Lake Wakatipu-Aerial View-Auckland to Queenstown-Air New Zealand

Now we’re heading straight along the middle arm of the Z-shaped lake towards Queenstown.

Lake Wakatipu & Mount Crichton-Air New Zealand-Auckland to Queenstown

A little fun fact about Lake Wakatipu. Its dogleg shape causes it to produce a tide-like phenomenon called a seiche, or standing wave, derived from a Swiss-French word that means “swaying back and forth”. The lake’s surface rises and falls roughly 10 cm (4 inches) on a 25-minute cycle, best observed apparently at Bob’s Cove (below) on the way into Queenstown. In Māori legend, the rhythmic surging was caused by the monster Matau dozing away at the bottom of the lake.

Lake Wakatipu-Seiche-Bob's Cove-Matau-Aerial View

A few seconds later, we come to the fun part: Queenstown. Though it’s New Zealand’s winter sports centre with lots of mountain areas to ski,there is something for everyone in this alpine town 12 months a year. Here I’ve labelled a few of the things we did over the next few days. Yes, we visited the Queenstown Garden and then travelled up the gondola in order to botanize on the flank of Ben Lomond from which we saw those ‘ghost pines’ in the far left!

Queenstown-Air New Zealand Flight-Ben Lomond-Gardens-Aerial View

And this, a second or so later….Yes, my husband Doug played golf at the Queenstown Golf Course, below (thank goodness for extra-curricular activities for non-gardening spouses!)  Now we’re flying down the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu towards the airport suburb of, yes, Frankton.

Queenstown-Air New Zealand Flight-Golf Course-Aerial View

You must be thinking we’re going to land any moment now, right? Well, that’s what we thought as we roared towards the runway………

Queenstown-Air New Zealand-landing-aerial view

…. but NO!  Captain didn’t like those tricky Queenstown winds. So up we went for a fly-around. Of course, no one would rather ‘take a chance’ on a landing, so thank you Captain AZ615 for keeping things safe. Now we see the Lower Shotover River behind the airport as we ascend again. Fun!

Aerial View-Aborted Landing-Queenstown-Lower Shotover River-Air New Zealand-

I’m not quite sure where we went…. Remarkables?  (There are so many mountains around Queenstown). Anyway, we rounded a craggy, brown peak……

Craggy peak-Queenstown fly-around-Air New Zealand

….. and flew over Lake Hayes, below.  (At this point, I should give a nod to Google Earth, which helped me identify many of the Queenstown area landmarks.)

Lake Hayes-aerial view-Queenstown

Finally, with that first small adventure under our belt, we landed at the airport in Queenstown – adventure capital of New Zealand!


Wine-Tasting Adventure!

Alan, our lovely bus driver from the North Island was at the airport to meet us and off we drove along the Kawauru River towards Cromwell.  This narrow gorge of the river is called Roaring Meg; it contains a dam and two small power stations that form the Roaring Meg Power Scheme, built in 1934. Hydro-electric power provides almost 60% of New Zealand’s electricity.

Kawarau Gorge

I couldn’t resist this bus window view of the local greywacke rock with its “Weetbix” composition.

Greywacke-Kawarau Gorge-Otago

Before long we arrived at Goldfields where we were scheduled to have a wine tasting and lunch. But the place is more than that; it offers tourists a chance to pan for gold like the prospectors who arrived by the thousands in the 1860s for the Central Otago Gold Rush.

Goldfields-Kawarau Gorge-Prospecting equipment

Or you could pay to sit in a jet boat and roar up the Kawauru Gorge.  (No thanks…)

Jet Boats-Goldfields-Kawarau Gorge

Instead we elected to head to our reserved table at Wild Earth Wines…….

Wild Earth-Goldfields

…. to enjoy a wine tasting……

Wild Earth winetasting-Goldfields-Otago

….. and have a lunch that reminded us all that New Zealand is home to vibrant sheep and cattle farming industries as well as a rich fishery!

Wild Earth-Otago-Wine Lunch

After lunch, we had a date with one of New Zealand’s iconic adventure tourism spots. Along the route, we passed a small vineyard and learned that this is the most southerly of New Zealand’s wine-growing regions.


NOT Bungy-Jumping Adventure!

Soon we arrived at the Kawarau Bridge Bungy Centre, which is the original site for New Zealand bungy-jumping.  It was here in 1989 that Kiwi pals A.J. Hackett and Henry Van Asch first launched their plans for a commercial bungy-jumping enterprise mimicking the “land jumpers” of Vanautu. Check out this video at 2:35 of their big p.r. stunt in Paris, bungy-jumping from the Eiffel Tower, followed by a quick arrest.   One of the serious medical risks of doing this is retinal detachment – and since I suffered one of those without even jumping off my kitchen table a few decades back, I restricted myself to photographing the lovely young woman below, who would have paid $205 ($175 NZ student) for the privilege of doing this……

Bungy-jumping-Kawarau Bridge-Otago

…… and videotaping a man doing a water dunk as he enjoyed his bungy-jump, with a little valley wind in the background. (My 4- and 2-year old grandkids LOVE this video.!)

We watched as river rafts waited for the jumpers to clear the platform.  A few in our group chose to do some rafting the next day – but we were planning to look for plants!

Rafts-under Kawarau Bridge Bungy Centre

Janet Blair Garden

Then we made our way towards Queenstown via the lovely garden of Janet Blair.

Janet Blair garden-Queenstown

Our American Horticultural Society guide Richard Lyon of Garden Adventures, Ltd. enjoyed his chat with our hostess, Janet. Richard, a Pennsylvania-based landscape architect has friendships with a long roster of creative gardeners who generously open their gardens to him on his annual winter tours to his home country.

Janet Blair & Richard Lyon-Queenstown

Look at this heart-shaped hedge window…..

Heart-shaped window in hedge-Janet Blair-Queenstown

….. and this beautiful arch into a garden room.

Arch in hedge-Janet Blair-Queenstown

New Zealand experienced record heat in our first week of touring, echoing the dry summer they had before our arrival. This shady dell offered welcome relief.

Shady table-Janet Blair-Queenstown

Pretty combinations abounded in Janet’s garden, like this lavatera with lavender that…..


….. mirrors the hues of the Remarkables mountain range in the background, below. It was now time to head to our hotel in Queenstown for the night.


Queenstown Public Garden Advenure!

A free day in Queenstown! Along with a few plant geeks in the group, I visited the Queenstown Garden where our AHS host Panayoti Kelaidis, outreach director at Denver Botanic Gardens…..

Panayoti Kelaidis-AHS Host-New Zealand Tour-Queenstown Public Garden

…..toured us through the collections, which came from all over the world.

Panayoti Kelaidis-Queenstown Public Garden2

Apart from native New Zealand plants like lacebark ( Hoheria populnea)……

Hoheria populnea-Lacebark

….. and wire netting bush (Corokia cotoneaster)….

Corokia cotoneaster-wire netting bush

……. I found some beautiful Romneya coulteri from California being visited by honey bees…..

Honey bee on Romneya coulteri-Matilija poppy

….. and giant California redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum) with massive trunks….

Giant Redwood-Sequoiadendron giganteum-Queenstown Public Garden

…..and towering Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii).  Seeing them here, clearly thriving after many decades, it would be shocking later that day to see the way they’ve invaded the mountains and valleys surrounding Queenstown – including those in the background of the photo – where the flanks are dark green with these Pacific Northwest natives.

Douglas firs-Pseudotsuga menziesii-Queenstown Public Garden

Botanizing on Ben Lomond Adventure!

Soon after lunch, a few of us convened at the hotel and shared a cab to the Skyline Gondola Station at the base of Ben Lomond or Te-taumata-oHakitekura. It was a popular place with mountain-bikers and everyday folks like us.

Skyline gondola-Ben Lomond-Queenstown-mountain bikes

Going up, the view of Queenstown Bay and Lake Wakatipu was spectacular. You can see right here the ‘wilding pines’ – a generic name for many non-native trees like these Douglas firs that were planted by European colonists in the late 1800s as a beautification project.  Subsequent plantings took place as Arbor Day activities.

Skyline Gondola-Queenstown view

After getting off at the top where the view is even more stunning…..

Skyline Gondola-Terminus-Queenstown

….. we began our ‘tramp’ (as the Kiwis call a hike) by walking up through a dark Douglas fir forest. Notice that there are no understory plants here.  Nada.

Wilding-Douglas Fir forest-Ben Lomond

Soon we were on a path curving gently up through the Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve.  We would be stopping well short of the upper saddle and summit (1748 m – 5735 ft), but it was still a good walk. And the botanizing was great!

Botanizing-Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve

I saw my very first mountain beech (Fuscospora cliffortioides).

Fuscospora cliffortioides-Mountain Beech-Ben Lomond-Queenstown

The view over the subalpine shrubland was stunning…..

Tussock meadow-Ben Lomond-Queenstown

…..if you discounted the sprayed ghost forest of Douglas firs across the valley and the young trees popping up in the tussock grasses.

Douglas firs-wilding control-Ben Lomond

They are taking ‘control’ of these invasive conifers very seriously, as evidence by the sign here. And coming down on the path as we were ascending was one of the wilding eradication volunteers, clippers stuffed in his backpack.

Wilding control sign-Ben Lomond-Queenstown

But the plants! We saw turf mat daisy (Raoulia subsericea)…

Raoulia subsericea-Turf mat daisy-Ben Lomond-Queenstown

….. and turpentine bush (Dracophyllum uniflorum), so called because of its eagerness to burn…..

Dracophyllum uniflorum-Turpentine bush-Ben Lomond-Queenstown

….. and mountain cottonwood (Ozothamnus vauvilliersii)…..

Ozothamnus vauvilliersii-Mountain cottonwood-Ben Lomond-Queenstown

….. and a very cool lycopod, Lycopodium fastigiatum.

Lycopodium fastigiatum-Alpine club moss-Ben Lomond-Queenstown

That’s snow totara (Podocarpus nivalis) with the red berries, below. Not sure about the prostrate plant.

Podocarpus nivalis-Snow totara-fruit-Ben Lomond-Queenstown

Panayoti had his reference book of New Zealand alpines with him, but he is a natural font of botanical knowledge and pointed out the tiniest plants to us as we trekked up the path. On the way we were passed by lots of young hikers heading up to the summit or coming down. From here, it was another 1-1/2 hours to the top. Ah to be young again, with fresh knees……

Botanizing-Panayoti Kelaidis-tussock meadow-Ben Lomond track-Queenstown

We had decided that the beech forest would be our turnaround point, and we finally got there.  What a day it had been. Sitting in the shade under the beech trees…..

Beech forest-Ben Lomond-Queenstown

…… we realized we were tired, hot and thirsty.  Time to start the hike down the mountain and back to the hotel — with a timely stop at a Queenstown pub en route. No gin-and-tonic ever tasted quite as delicious as the one I polished off with my fellow ‘trampers’.