Good Shepherd Church, Lake Tekapo, NZ

New Zealand: Big Mountains, Tiny Towns

September 5, 2011

in mountains, Nature, new zealand, road trip, vacation

In the middle of the winding ride south to Queenstown, I flashed back to my senior year art history class.

My gaze hung on the mountains, seemingly larger and closer than any I’d ever seen before. A lake at the foreground shimmered in the last slivers of sunlight. It and the mountains seemed to turn colors as the sun skimmed over them in its nightly farewell: blue to gray to purple, then, finally, to black.

Mountain and lake in South Island, NZ

The word I’d remembered from my art class was the concept of the sublime. I remembered specifically a painting we’d studied where a man stood on a beach while the black night sky rose up above him, dwarfing his presence. The sublime is equal parts pleasurable and painful, which makes it so confusing.

“It’s…beautiful,” I said to Brendan as I studied the mountains. “But it’s also kind of scary.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, there’s just nothing around. There’s no one.”

Winding our way down the steep path to Milford Sound a day later, the snow-covered mountains cornered us. I felt like I’d been plunked inside a stormy snow globe. These mountains would still be standing after I died, after my kids died, after my grandkids and their kids died.

Mountain road in Milford Sound, NZ

It was so weird for me, a person who needs a lot of alone time, to be unnerved by the lack of human presence. I have always loved nature and being outside, but New Zealand’s naked beauty left me bewildered. It was all so in your face. And it was all so much bigger than me.

Mountain in the day time, Milford Sound, NZ


Then there were the times we hit small scraps of civilization.

Tiny towns, like something out of a movie, out of Middle America, but even more rural, would dot the highway every couple hundred kilometers. Houses stretched far apart, though sometimes they were huddled, a compact, sustainable community far from the city.

Tiny church, rural countryside, South Island, NZ

I stared as intently at these small towns as I did at the mountains. I wanted to know how their inhabitants lived, what they did for fun, if their kids loved the outdoors more than the TV. The tiny churches and school houses drew me in the most. Functional buildings in which people educated and preached, but they stood so small and alone.

But that’s the thing: these buildings were big to the small groups of people who used them. They were the epicenters of remote lives, as important and captivating and humbling as the mountains surrounding them.

Good Shepherd Church, Lake Tekapo, NZ

19 Comments - Add Yours!

    1. Lauren Post author

      Cheers Matt — it certainly is a beautiful place and the trip is still sitting with me days after returning.

  1. Heather

    Lauren, I love your current profile pic on FB and found myself almost shocked by how beautiful it looked, even though I’ve heard and seen photos.

    The photos and your words here seem to hit the nail on the head — the vastness of it all, time to reflect on our place in the world and the place we’re visiting. Sounds like a plate that evoked a lot of emotions and thoughts and looking forward to hearing more.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks Heather! It was shockingly beautiful, almost like I couldn’t stand it. I feel like I’ve changed on this trip.

  2. Amanda

    I don’t think I could have possibly described New Zealand any more eloquently than this. It certainly is a land of extremes – including the extreme way that it seems to leave an impression on people.

    Can’t wait to hear more about your trip!

  3. Chris

    New Zealand does have a kind of lonely beauty to it. I can see how you would find that a little scary. Had I been alone at all when I was in NZ, I’m sure I would have stopped and pondered on it. I love that feeling of isolation. I felt it very keenly while visiting temple in Korea in 2007.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks for the comment Chris. I think it resonated very deeply. I am definitely missing it in the hustle of getting back to the grind this week. Have you written about this precise temple on your blog?

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