Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Big Country

Blue skies, clear blue water, snow capped mountains and burnt orange scrub grass is the flavour of our journey to Queenstown. And after driving through the Homer Tunnel (a rough-hewn tunnel that cuts through a mountain from Milford) the drive, as always, is dotted with frequent stops for cups of tea and cries of wonder. This country has ever changing geography and now 

we are presented with thick moss covered forests and raging rivers pouring over smoothed boulders. We sleep in a lovely spot on a small, dry riverbed with a gentle, stony stream running through it that is surrounded by wood covered mountains. Some things need celebrating, whatever the celebratory method may be….

Morning has broken like the first morning
Driving on we find the Mirror lakes just as the sun reaches its zenith and reflects the majesty of the surrounding peaks. Set off against that wonderful sky it’s really magical and peaceful until suddenly three coaches, en-route to Milford, pitch up and we are surrounded by snappy-happy Chinese people and noise – yuk.

Mirror Lakes

It’s great being on this campervan road trip. We have a bed, kitchen and all the amenities we require as well means of transport. We really are free to go and do what we want, when we want it and for however long we wish. Our road time is never overly long and as soon as a hint of fatigue sets in we find a beautiful place to stop and have a cup of tea, a biscuit, lunch, a game of Rummicub or simply a a walk along one of the many signposted routes. We are so Rock n Roll.

Another night of freedom camping beside a disused railway line in a copse of trees then a spectacular drive along the wonderfully titled Lake Wakatipu gets us into Queenstown. This is the adventure activity centre of NZ with lots of very expensive options that drop you, dangle you, fire you, fly you, splash you and generally make you thank god you are alive at the end.

I have always loved this sort of stuff. And had always thought if I did get here I would bungy. I have sky dived, climbed, parachuted, rafted, canyoned, paraglided and generally exposed myself to some thrilling experiences. However, once here I discovered that I no longer yearned for any of the things on offer and we happily settled for a drink in a pub whilst watching a Blues band an outdoor stage and a few walks in the nearby hills – Not sure if this is the beginning of the end or simply sensible money management. I hope the latter.

There’s not much to report on Queenstown. It’s what you would expect with ski shops, bars and underdressed thrill seekers spending a small fortune to tick off their early bucket list entries. We head off the following morning through the quaint old prospecting village of Arrowtown and over the beautiful crown range. Even though it is pissing down and there are precipitous drops all around us this was, yet again, another fabulous stretch of road that showed another facet of the country’s geography.

Cardrona Bra Fence
We stay the night in Wanaka parked up in the small parking area overlooking the lake and are buffeted by the rain all night but…With the morning comes the sun and we set off to climb Roy’s Peak (1587m). It’s a bit taller than Ben Nevis and although the way is steep its grass covered.

Roy's Peak
Rachel’s dodgy leg (courtesy of Mount Kinabalu  a couple of years ago) starts hurting around the 1000m mark so she heads down to the van, warmth and tea (or probably wine) whilst I carried on – reaching the peak one and a half hours later in 10 inches of snow that was steadily being added to every second. The reward for reaching these peaks is found in both that sense of achievement and the feeling of standing on the shoulders of giants. In this case my reward was barely being able to see my hands and fear of getting lost in the low clouds (Graham Wood please note) up there on my own. Consequently I placed my stone, turned tail and literally jogged all the way down. How happy my legs were for the next few days!!!

Puzzling World. Rachel had been going on about Puzzling World for the last few weeks and I have to say she was right. It was bloody brilliant. We both like illusions and weird stuff and this did not disappoint although the huge maze was a bit tedious. Certainly star of the show is the “Alice in Wonderland Room”.  See Gallery for video. Essentially a room that is a giant optical illusion in size.

Makarora Morning
Our next stop is to be Fox Glacier but due to the road closing at Makarora we have to spend the evening on the wrong side of the Haast Pass ad enjoy a good evening around a log burner with Stu and his Phillipino wife, Immi, They both work on a road gang up in the mountain pass ($25 per hour to wave a lollipop about) and agreed to moony us if they saw us when we passed the following morning. Sorry to say we missed them and what would have been a surreal moment.

Franz Joseph Glacier
The Fox Glacier is pretty impressive and the pictures we took do not do justice to the ice floe. We later go to the Franz Joseph Glacier as well and both of these are similar from the ground. A huge river of ice moving down a valley. The Glaciers themselves, however, are actually retreating and its shocking to see the markers showing the speed it is doing so. Still, for now they are still there and in both spots we take a long walk up the shale covered valley floor to stare up and crumbling walls of blue crumbling ice. Very spectacular.


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