Under the Southern Cross-Monte Dolack Travels to New Zealand


I recently traveled with my wife and fellow artist Mary Beth Percival to the other side of the world on tour of New Zealand and also for a visit with her brother Mark and his wife Alice. They have lived in Nelson for the last thirteen years and are passionate about it and especially the tramping (hiking).

A country of almost four million people located in the southern hemisphere between the South Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea it consists mainly of two large islands, of which the North Island is the most populated. The south Island where we spent most of our time on this particular trip is less populated and being further south is also more temperate than the more tropical north island which is also the location of Palmerston North, Missoula’s sister city. The South Island is famous for it’s fjords and glaciers and many rivers and mountain ranges as well as its extreme sports, like bungee jumping.

While down under, I was constantly reminded of other places I had been. The sub tropical flora was lush like Hawaii but with far more abundant native flora and complex, varied geology. There are large limestone uplifts similar to France’s massif and mountain ranges reminiscent of Montana. The rolling grassland areas are akin to Central Montana high prairies or the moors of Scotland. Never far from the ocean, the Marlborough and Nelson area on the north end of the South Island are comparable to the Napa valley north of San Francisco. Various native tree ferns, some reaching 50 feet, include the silver tree fern or Ponga, New Zealand’s emblem.

Tree Fern

Various native tree ferns, some reaching 50 feet, include the silver tree fern or Ponga, New Zealand’s emblem.

The development of New Zealand was driven in part by gold rushes in the 1860s paralleling those in the US including California and Montana. Due to the Waitangi treaty of 1840 between various Maori chiefs and the British governor of New Zealand the indigenous Maori people retained their lands and the rights of British subjects.

With its position in the southern hemisphere under the Southern Cross, New Zealand has opposite seasons to our northern location. There are more than a few fishermen who have dreamed of spending the cold Montana winter fishing the rivers of New Zealand for their famously huge Brown and Rainbow trout, first introduced in the 1860s.

Before the Maori or Europeans came to New Zealand it was inhabited by many species of large flightless birds called Moa, some 12 feet tall. Most if not all died off from overhunting by the Maori before European discovery. More recently the introduction of non-native species has presented a problem for native species of plants and birds and much of the native forest has been cut for plantations and sheep paddocks.

The Kiwi, another emblem of New Zealand is endangered mostly because of the stoat, a weasel like predator introduced to control the rabbits, which were also introduced. The stoats discovered that the native flightless birds such as the Kiwi were far easier to catch than rabbits.

We visited many galleries and artist’s studios and craft shops as well as regional art, cultural, and heritage museums. The arts are very strong in New Zealand and the Nelson area brands itself with the two-word identity of Wine Art. The majority of the arts we saw were very contemporary but traditional crafts still flourish. Greenstone is a hard jade found mainly on the west side of the South Island. Pounamu is the Maori name for greenstone. It has played an important role in traditional Maori culture, used for both jewelry as well as tools. It is worn by many New Zealanders, carved by local craftsmen into various shapes that are associated with mythic symbols and cultural traditions.

We have vowed to return to New Zealand as soon as possible. Our next visit will certainly  include our sister city, Palmerston North and the many fine people that have become our friends and friends with Missoula over the years.

(Click on photos below to enlarge and use arrows to scroll through images.)


To see more of Monte Dolack’s artwork, visit his Gallery or check out his newly renovated website.


A native of Great Falls, Monte Dolack grew up surrounded by the same sweeping vistas and big sky that inspired Charlie Russell. His love of Montana and passion for the West’s diverse landscapes and wildlife are evident in the images he creates and the commissions he undertakes.

His best known early works – wild animals wreaking havoc in human homes – comprise his “Invaders Series,” exploring the myths of the West and how we view our relationship with our environment. The irresistible appeal of these images helped build Monte’s national reputation and continues to attract collectors.

A love of the natural world, combined with his exuberant curiosity and travel experiences, has shaped the content of Monte’s imagery.  Blending mythology, technology, and elements from nature and the landscape, his work is infused with a sense of humor and irony.