New Zealand: Painting and Playing in “The God Zone”

boating on milford sound fjord-land new zealandAlthough travel is one of my favorite pastimes, I have to admit that New Zealand was really never at the top on my list. I had heard tales of how beautiful it is, but the long plane flight kept me from exploring the idea any further…until this summer.

My youngest son was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend the fall semester abroad in New Zealand where his ‘classroom’ would be in ‘the bush’. Suddenly, I found myself escorting my son to “The God Zone” or “The Shaky Isle”…quite apropos for our beginning destination of Christchurch, NZ had just suffered the now infamous 7.2 earthquake! In fact, upon our arrival we experienced a 4.5 earthquake that very morning!

The nickname, “The God Zone” derives from the saying, “God’s Own Country.” This term was first used to refer to New Zealand by the writer Thomas Bracken in a poem he wrote in the 1880s. After my visit, I now understand why he named it as such…

First of all, I was surprised to find out that this country is BIG…the size of California! Plus, New Zealand is diverse. Within a few short days of driving we saw wide green pasture lands, snow capped mountains, sandy beaches, lush temperate rain forests, ancient glaciers and majestic fjords. The flora and fauna is so unique yet remotely familiar. It looks like Banff Canada on steroids!

Hiking Trail near Queenstown and the garden

“The Remarkables” stand high above Queenstown where I enjoyed my morning run each day.

We crossed 5 small rivers to make our way to the rare Fiordland Crested Penguins…

New Zealand beach

We hiked into this beautiful beach to watch the reclusive penguins…

After hours of patience, my first glimpse of the shy penguin!

A baby seal watched us with curiosity.

Fiorland Crested New Zealand penguin on beach

fiorland crested penguin on the beach

Finally…another penguin makes his way past me (I was hiding behind a big piece of driftwood) to his nest. What an experience!

I had high hopes of plein air painting everyday, but the weather didn’t cooperate and it rained a lot! Most of the painting had to be done while sitting in the car with the windshield wipers on…In fact, New Zealand was experiencing fierce weather that was very uncommon for this time of year – but, that did NOT stop my fun!

Here I am painting in my little rental car… 

new zealand pasture near Glenorachy The view I was painting…

My attempt at painting the view…”Near Glenorchy”

Luckily, I planned ahead and brought some very small painting supports. The above little painting was painted in water-soluble oils on a thick watercolor paper postcard. I gessoed the watercolor paper which actually made a great ‘canvas’ for my painting. I was able to quickly capture the essence of the scene in about 15-20 minutes without worrying about detail.

…another quick sketch from the car.

On some big touring and driving days, I would paint at night. My modest attempt at a nocturne painting.

lake moeraki new zealand oil painting
The above painting was painted in the evening at beautiful Lake Moeraki in western NZ
new zealand sheep pasture oil painting

New Zealand is an amazing country with infinite amounts of artistic inspiration. Painting was just a small part of this trip because there was just too much to see and experience! I could keep sharing…but, here are a few more images to leave you with!

‘Lord of the Rings’ land! We saw many movie locations…

I am photographing wild black swans on a farmer’s pond.

new zealand sheep in misty green pasture

Endless pastoral settings – The south island of New Zealand has 10 to 1 sheep per person!

above queenstown new zealand

Here I am high above Queenstown with ‘The Remarkables’ mountain range behind me.

flying over New Zealand mountains

Goodbye to New Zealand! Now, I can rest assured that my son is in a friendly place and will have a wonderful time in the “God Zone”…~Lori

PS. The above little plein air ‘paintings’ are really more like ‘sketches’…quickly recording a moment in my travels that I will never forget. I am glad I dragged my painting gear along with me even though the weather was challenging and the time was limited.


If you enjoyed this article, you might like to read:

Painting & Playing in Provence

Water Soluble Oil Paints: Facts, Tips and Why I Use Them

A Day at the Louvre Museum

My Tour de France

Pack for Painting: Tips for the Painter by Airplane or Car

Maui’s Dynamic Art Scene

Local Color of the Caribbean

For more information about New Zealand, please visit:


  1. James Day October 13, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Love the photography and the corresponding paintings. Great job capturing the beauty & feel of nature! I really enjoyed it! 🙂 ~ James

    • Lori McNee October 13, 2010 at 8:44 am

      As you can see, New Zealand is a special place. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to visit there and can share it with others. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
      Best – Lori 🙂

  2. Bret October 13, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Glad you had such a fun and beautiful trip mom, it will be interesting to see what amazing works you crank out in the studio from all your amazing NZ photos! 🙂

    • Lori McNee October 13, 2010 at 7:13 pm

      Thanks Bret…wish you could have been there with me! Someday, I’ve got to get you and the of the family down there again. I already miss The God Zone.

  3. Marc H October 14, 2010 at 5:14 am

    Lori your trip, the pics, paintings, writing… All of it makes me want to hop on a flight for NZ right now!!! What an adventure. Thnx for sharing.

    • Lori McNee October 18, 2010 at 11:51 pm

      Hi Marc, what a nice surprise to see you here on my blog! As you know, I loved the trip to NZ. I have to admit, I almost didn’t post those little paintings because they are not that good. But, considering the weather and time constraints, I am glad they turned out to be recognizable! They do remind me of the beautiful landscape and a moment in time that I will not forget.
      Thanks again for stopping by.
      Lori 😉

  4. kat October 14, 2010 at 9:10 am

    you’ve got me hooked…i want to go!!

    very cool to see your paintings along side your photos! all very beautiful!

    • Lori McNee October 18, 2010 at 11:53 pm

      Kat, I am glad to have inspired you to visit New Zealand someday! You will love it. Yes, I think it is fun to see the view and the painting side by side. Those quick little studies recorded a wonderful moment!
      Cheers – Lori

  5. Ashley October 14, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Awesome Mom! So cool to see your little sketch paintings. Great blog too! Looks like you had an amazing trip. Next time you’ll have to take me 😉

    • Lori McNee October 18, 2010 at 11:54 pm

      Hello my beautiful daughter! It is nice of you to stop by and comment on your mom’s site! Wish you could have been with me in New Zealand. Someday we will go again.
      Love – Mom

  6. Daniel October 16, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    My wife is a Kiwi Lori and I have lived there on and off at various times. For me when I am in New Zealand I just can’t stop myself from feeling deliriously happy for no particular reason! I am so glad that you got to spend some time there and I am sure that your son will be richer for the experience. ~ Daniel.

    • Lori McNee October 18, 2010 at 11:48 pm

      Hi Daniel,
      What a wonderful experience for you to have. I felt that same happiness while visiting there. The people seem more relaxed and they were very friendly. In a weird way, it didn’t feel like I was very far from home. Thanks for your comment.
      Best – Lori

  7. Hilde Anfindsen October 17, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Great pics ånd paintings from å beautiful country! Was there 18 years ago. Had visitors from nz this summer, summer and they were thrilled to see Norway , were I live. You should try this next!

    • Lori McNee October 18, 2010 at 11:46 pm

      Yes, I agree Hilde. I have heard how beautiful Norway is and hope to go there soon. Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my post.
      Lori 🙂

  8. Scott Martin October 22, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Lori, You take me to a better time, a better place. Thank you and best wishes to you…

  9. Carolyn October 23, 2010 at 3:15 am

    Lori, I loved reading about your fabulous trip, but I admit the photos were the very best part – and your art is amazing! What a memorable vacation – I’m sure you would love to go back!

    • Lori McNee October 27, 2010 at 9:46 pm

      Carolyn it is great to see you here! New Zealand was amazing and the photos don’t even do it justice! Thanks for the comment.
      Lori 🙂

  10. Lorna Allan December 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Hi Lori, great to hear about your adventures here in NZ and yes, October was unusually bad this year. I instantly recognized the photo of up near Glenorchy. Did you go right to the end of the road up in the mountains? Perhaps not with a little rental, its quite a rugged road but an utterly awesome place, way past Paradise… a place there is actually called Paradise.

    Dont know where you live but this year I traveled in Alaska and some of the lower 48, west and midwest states. Sometimes I got the chance of doing small plein air paintings and yes, they are little painted sketches and for me the most magical thing about them is that they make you sit there in nature doing what you love the most. Some of my memories of such times will be in my heart always.. too wonderful to entirely explain…and so amazing, especially up in Alaska.
    Hope you can come back some day.
    Warm regards

    • Lori McNee December 12, 2010 at 10:21 pm

      Hi Lorna-

      Yes, New Zealand is such a special place and I really miss it there. My youngest son just returned from living there for over 3 months in an outdoor program. It was very challenging and it has turned him into a man! Alaska…that beautiful place is next on my list. I hope to go up there someday soon. I live in Idaho and it is beautiful too. In fact, there were places in NZ that reminded me of home.

      Thanks for taking time to share and visit-
      Lori 🙂

  11. Robert Stacey February 25, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Hi Lori – I have just read you article on painting in NZ with interest – It is a fantastic country – Unfortunately Christchurch has suffered another quake – A lot more destructive than the last – I have been down there from Nelson helping clean up – Don’t let this stop you from returning to paint our beautiful land – It may take a while but the place and people will recover – then they will need beautiful paints like yours to admire – cheers Robert.

    • Lori McNee February 26, 2011 at 1:33 pm

      Hello Robert. Just reading your sweet comment brings a lump to my throat. I absolutely love/loved New Zealand and her people. It is a magical place and I will come back again someday. I am sad that Christchurch is suffering right now, and I am sending positive prayers your way. Thank you for stopping by for a comment. I really appreciate it!


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