06 November, 2010

A Landscape Devoid of Green

I wouldn’t be fair to write about Mt Taranaki without following it up with a blog about New Zealand’s Central Volcanic Plato; so here it is. After mine and Craig’s arduous assault of the summit of Taranaki we took an all together more leisurely trip to the upper reaches or Mt Ruapehu by ski lift; perfect! The sun, low in the sky, with its golden rays enhanced the rich colours of this young, mineral rich terrain. Only sulphur yellow lichens have so far colonised the upper slopes, a vibrant contrast with oranges of the rock and stark blue sky.

What else to do but lay back in the sun and take in the view and warmth of the sun. That was all well and good, but we had a chair lift to catch to avert a long walk down. As backpackers we generally travelled on a budget and often cooked and slept by the road side, but having spent the last few months fruit picking we deserved a little extravagance. The conditions couldn’t have been better. It was a perfectly still crystal clear evening so we booked ourselves onto a scenic flight over the volcanoes. We circled steaming vents, azure creator lakes and marvelled at the blackened cone of Mt Ngauruhoe casting its dark shadow across the North Island.


The following morning was less than perfect as we set out on foot for a closer look at the creator lakes. After a good hike into a brisk wind we were spared brief few minutes view down onto the lake rimed by yellow and orange bacteria before the cloud base descended and the rain set in. I enjoy hiking in the rain especially in mountainous terrain as it makes for dramatic landscapes, enriches the colours and fuels the waterfall. With the peaks and distant slopes concealed by veils of mist you’re free to admire the smaller things. The higher exposed slopes were not devoid of plant life but were certainly devoid of green, perhaps an adaptation to high levels of light.

On the higher scree plains hummocks of a grey moss/lichen offered shelter and anchorage for the hardiest of the alpine species to gain a foothold. Huddled together, barely poking their heads above their hosts, these tough little plants create gardens in miniature. Bellow the golden, coral like Hebe cupressoides, ruby red Parahebe hookeriana, emerald Olearia nummulariifolia and the blue, pink and red tinged Dracophyllum recurvum nestle together, and black lichens splatter the rocks.

Celmisia incana with is frosted silver leaves, and the bronze grass Chionochloa rubra, animated by the wind, are two more beautifully contrasting plants found on less exposed slopes along with Phyllocladus alpinus with its flattened blue/grey stems.


I have often thought about creating a garden without green, and people often jeer at the concept as dull and funereal. The botanical richness and beauty of these high alpine slopes are certainly a great inspiration and show the wealth of colours and forms that plants have to offer. Ok, so a garden with out green may no afford the jollity of herbaceous boarder in full bloom but I think it would certainly hold its own in the detail. This is one concept I will definitely work on.


  1. i appreciate it, now you gave me an idea.

  2. Only 2 posts on New Zealand? Did you not stay long?
    I've been to South Island twice (and up to Wellington)There are some wonderful gardens and landscapes out there. Looking forward to following your blog. it's all so different to anything at home.

  3. I spent nearly two years in NZ in total but started this blog afterwards. I may post a few more retrospective NZ blogs if I get time.