I leave at daybreak the next morning. The road hasn’t been closed,
or at least not yet. It leads once again through an epic landscape of bare
brown hills and high mountains. This intermontaine basin is called Mackenzie Country and is named after an 1850's cattle rustler. It ends in the 971 metre high Lindis Pass, the
third of the three crossings over the mountains, and another one which was well -known to and used by the Maori. There are no listed hostels between Mt.
Cook and Queenstown on this route, nor between Queenstown and Te Anau, so I am obliged
to spend another night in Wanaka.
Looking back the way I have come, you can see how small the cars are. This is one of the few stopping points. There is a monument here to the release
of the first seven red deer in 1871. I hear a lot more about them later
I keep wishing I had a dashcam on this trip as there are so few places to pull over, but
looking at some of the footage on the net,
not even that would convey the scale or drama, except perhaps some from “Lord of the Rings (3)”
showing the Battle of Pelennor Fields, which was filmednear here at Twizel. The Clay Cliffs further down, were another stunning location, but fearing that I'll be late for my stay in Wanaka, or worse still for my bookings in Fjordland, I can't stop to explore.
One thing I do find out from looking at some of the videos, is that it does green up a bit in summer and that the roadsides are then lined with lupins.
After so much desolate looking country, I was very taken with this wild apple tree
Things look up on the other side of the pass. There are sheep runs and a clutch of vineyards. The tiny village of Tarras, famous for its fine Merino wool and being the home of Shrek the Sheep, who gained international fame in 2004 for managing to elude the shearers for six years, offers a welcome break of
journey with its gift shop, bakeryandcafé. It also has toilets which is a great relief in more ways than one.
The tiny village of Tarras makes a pleasant stopover
As it happens I get to Wanaka earlier than expected, so I explore part of the Millennium
Walkway around the lake and do another short walk along a river gorge past Glen
Dhu, where rock climbers cling precariously from outcrops on the other side.
Can you spot the two climbers on the big rock in the middle just above the grass?
Glen Dhu, about 12 km west of Wanaka, reminds me of the illustration that used to be on boxes of Derwent Coloured Pencils
I stay at a different
hostel this time, not because the other one wasn’t nice, but because there’s
parking available outside. Wanaka is hardly the crime capital of the Western world,
but I didn’t like carrying my worldly goods for several blocks for a one
night stand. Now I get to carry my shopping several blocks instead.
This hostel is in a former medical centre. It's smaller and a bit
run down. The kitchen is dark and cramped, the pot plants are dead and the
bathroom doors are painted in unfashionable shades of green and pink, but the
complimentary coffee is the best I’ve tasted since coming to New Zealand.
The hostellers are different too. They aren’t the fresh -faced gap - year students I’ve
been meeting in the YHA’s. Most are more
mature and working in the hospitality industry in Wanaka. Several are from South America. The young man from Brazil
immediately offers me his mate to drink and we all sit around talking late into the night.
As I climb into my squeaky bunk, I realise that this is something I’ve been
missing on this trip -the conviviality I mean, not the wobbly bunk. The other hostellers have been friendly and
polite and I don't necessarily want to go back to those early days of hostelling with compulsory
cheery singing and rostered duties. It’s just been so bland. If I were staying longer I would go straight out and replace those dead plants with some pansies or something, but that's another thing I'm starting to dislike -the
pressure of having to book ahead for everything and then having a deadline every night. It provides certainty yes, but it also takes away the spontaneity of
I hurry down through the Crown Range again and down through
the Devil’s Staircase on the other side of Queenstown. Neither seem as scary now
as some of the other roads I’ve driven on since.It rains all the way to Te Anau and when I
get there, there’s an announcement that the road to Milford Sound has been
closed due to snow and the risk of avalanches. I am anxious now. My cruise
booking is early in the morning the day after tomorrow and there are no other hostels
between here and Milford Sound.