Previous segments of this blog post:
Leave Wanaka and drive to Queenstown
Really sad to leave Wanaka.
Queenstown was only a short drive away; at first I was wary because a lot of people have said Queenstown is full of irritating surf-type-dudes too cool for their boots, but I found the place to be incredibly beautiful and a great launch pad for other day trips.
The first thing about the town you notice is the mountain range that dominates your view of everything; called ‘The Remarkables’ since Captain Cook first spotted them and gasped Remarkable, and heavily used in the Lord of the Rings movie.
When the sun sets it catches the mountains in a light that is particularly beautiful. You experience this richness of colour that entices you to simply stand there and watch.
First day there we did the Shotover Jetboat, which is a flimsy framed speedboat bolted onto a huge jet engine, propelling you at fierce speed through narrow river canyons, over rapids, and into gut-lurching 360 degree spins. Don’t be put off by the commercial appearance of these companies; they’re all very well run, very professional and yet friendly, you walk away feeling like you got value for your money.
Arrowtown & Glenorchy
Next day we drove out to Arrowtown in the morning, wonderful old gold rush town with a living breathing 1920’s feel to it; then drove up to Coronet Peak as far as we could; had to give Skippers Canynon road a miss as we discovered you need a four-wheel drive off-road vehicle to even attempt it – mind blowing views of the mountains from Coronet Peak; then we drove out to Glenorchy to ride horses in the very mountain range where Saruman’s tower was digitally superimposed. If I could live anywhere in New Zealand, I’d like to live in Nelson, Whakappa and most of all in Glenorchy, stunning location.
Some drives stay with you forever. The Big Sur in California. The Fv976 from Andenes. And this drive, from Queenstown to Glenorchy. Just amazing.
Our final night in Queenstown we went up to the Skyline complex, riding gondolas up almost a mile. We did numerous runs on the luge (glorified tray on wheels with a rudimentary brake), where you fly down steep slopes and around tight bends at any speed you like, in fact, there’s a sign there that says in not so many words “You are not supervised, you can go as fast as you like but if you get hurt it’s your own fault”; my first time round I hurtled through a tunnel and came round a bend to see big warning signs saying SLOW and the track vanishing in front of me; I slowed a little bit not believing they would make it that dangerous. Nearly shat myself as the track dropped into an almost vertical wall that make brakes redundant, you simply fell down this monster. Great laugh though.
Later that night Jo and I are wandering around Queenstown. A young couple approach us and ask if we’d like to take part of a promotional cruise around the lake the next day. Sure. Why not.
Welcome to the TSS Earnslaw. A 1912 twin screw steamer and the only remaining commercial passenger-carrying coal-fired steamship in the southern hemisphere. Next day we head out to the pier and meet a few other people similarly selected, free coffee and too many scones with cream and jam. We sail out across the lake until a helicopter flies in with the photographer hanging out, everyone look natural now!
Coming into Queenstown – Skyline, with luge track, on hill in distance
Leave Queenstown and drive south and east – Nugget Point – Dunedin (aka Dung Den)
Left Queenstown after the photoshoot and headed toward Dunedin via the State Highway 8, truly a bizarre and depressing drive, going through utterly boring landscapes, and the kind of small towns that remind me of ‘tales of Dunwich county’ in the writing of H.P.Lovecraft.
Finally hit ‘Kaka Point’ and drive on through to ‘Nugget Point’ on the far Southern coast of the island. The wind is blowing like a demon, the sky is angry, and both Jo and I feel a trace of fear in our bones. Follow a nutty road that hugs the edge of sheer cliffs, then the road runs out and we park up and walk down an even narrower track, with even more precarious cliffs below us (can see massive elephant seals down there), follow the track further road and come to a point where it crosses the saddle of a rocky outcrop with death drops either side, ending in a fantastic lighthouse. The wind is howling across the exposed track, when you get to the lighthouse you cling to the wooden railings and look out across the ocean knowing that there is nothing more now until you reach the Antarctic continent.
We drive back North and it’s nightfall by time we reach Dunedin.
Dunedin, the worst point of our journey, what a shit hole; memory of walking through grim streets of oppressive architecture, wind howling, every building looking damp and unwelcoming. Our hotel was Leviathan, the worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in. You sometimes read in books about characters who ‘enter a place of tangible evil’, well this one such place. Freaky is not the word. Both of us wanted to pack our things and flee but our next destination was 4 hours away and it was already very late. So we drank a bottle of wine and tried to sleep through hell. I had the craziest dreams, of death and mutilation, horrendous images. Waking up in the morning we packed and left as soon our limbs would take us.
No photographs. Prefer to forget the entire place.
Driving out of Dunedin the road ahead was lanced by angelic light, almost as if to say ‘well done, this is the way out of Darkness’.
We were now heading back to Christchurch. Escaping Dung Den we stopped for breakfast at this place which has strange spherical shaped boulders strewn across a wide expanse of beach.
Back to Christchurch – Goodbye New Zealand
We had a day or so to kill before our flight. Time to visit a couple of places, chill, reflect, and say goodbye to our car (A Mighty Fine 915 ) which had been a fantastic work horse throughout the trip and then, to sadly say goodbye to New Zealand – amazing amazing amazing place.
It all finally comes to an end. Sitting in Incheon for 7 hours waiting for the next flight, I get the closing line for the new novel (EDGE) – a vivid contrast to the opening line of the book where everything is in chaos for the character. The month travelling around New Zealand changed me (and Jo) and it gave me a vast library of experiences and locations to draw upon for my upcoming years of writing.
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