An Otago farm.
While still in her work uniform, Mindy jumped into the back of the Honda for a relaxed trip to Queenstown. However, as soon as we hit 100 kph, the super “air-conditioning” system (aka: windows down) kicked in, making the back seat an icebox. After a brief stop for dinner, we rotated seats and headed south on our high-speed tiki tour of the South Island. After all, Brian Gonci was only in New Zealand for a short stay.
Night had fallen by the time we arrived at Lake Tekapo, a highland lake in the heart of the South Island. Fittingly, the name Tekapo is derived from Maori words Taka (sleeping mat) and Po (night). The night sky was unforgettable as we gazed up from our tent site in the pines. While admiring the Southern Cross and Milky Way, we savoured the ginger and rata honey flavours of Montieth’s summer ale. Our summer solitude was interrupted only briefly when a New Zealand possum - looking like a cross between a raccoon and a cat - visited our camp. He left as quickly as he came … disappearing into the night.
Night turned to morn, and the bunnies hopped out of their
We caught a setting sun on our way to Lake Takapo.
burrows. We soon left the Mackenzie Basin and delved deeper into the Central Otago Region. Cromwell, known as the “fruit bowl of the south", boasts vineyards and fruit orchards aplenty. Nearby, the Bannockburn Hotel was the perfect setting for an outdoor lunch, but we passed up the pinot for no good reason.
Queenstown, the “Adventure Capital of the World” awaited us. The picturesque lakeside town has the over stimulation of Vegas, but instead of slot machines it houses several adrenalin stirring, sanity-reducing adventures. On one fine November day in 1998, a record 402 people took the bungy plunge. We didn’t cough up the 200 clams for an 8.5 second free fall thrill, but we did take advantage of the natural beauty in the area.
Upon arriving in Queenstown, we had just enough time to squeeze in an afternoon tramp up Ben Lomond Mountain. Brian Gonci took off, keen to get his heart monitor strap pumping and for a peek at what was over the saddle ridge. Midway up the mountain, Mindy felt a pain stab her right groin and she stopped to stretch a pulled muscle … then hobbled back down the track. Bryan hiked to the saddle
Mindy woke early the first morning and crossed fences in a walk with the bunnies down to the lake.
with Brian G. before descending to his ill-fated partner.
The next day, we drove the 13 kilometres of gravel switchbacks to the Remarkables Ski Field. From there, we hiked up the familiar looking sharp black-faced rocks that evidently were filmed in the Lord of the Rings. Mindy’s leg muscles loosened up while Brian’s leg muscles screamed at him. All pain was put aside upon seeing a bird with fanned feathers of orange, blue, and green sore overhead. We were in awe as we gazed at the only alpine parrot in the world. However, we were wary of the perils of feeding the keas -they turn into juvenile delinquents and will steal windscreen wipers, hats, and peck anything they come in contact with. We did not temp them to human food, so they stayed tame, yet curious. One nibbled at Bryan’s boot!
We were ready for a nibble ourselves, and headed off to Wanaka (more about that in another blog entry) for a stop at Puzzle World and dinner at Red Rocks. We told the cook that we were on our way to the west coast, and his words of wisdom were, “Bring bug spray.” The bugs stayed at
Cromwell is an up-coming area, but already has well established orchards.
bay that night, and we thought that the cook had exaggerated. We drove passed waterfalls and thick green forests in the race against the clock. Darkness was setting in as we stopped for the night alongside the river in Haast Pass.
Mosquitoes and sand flies joined us for breakfast. Who knows what their interest was; we were eating the world’s worst pancakes. It was by no means a reflection on the skills of the chefs, but a matter of the wrong ingredients and only a fork to flip the gooey mess. We counted cyclists on touring bicycles pull into the rest stop as we slapped our arms and scratched our ankles. A tour bus filled with well-groomed patrons arrived as we brushed our teeth and put our clothes to the sniff test. The rest stop was getting too crowded for our blood, so we decided to move on to the glaciers.
Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers lie just 13 kilometres from the sea, where they have been advancing towards for the last 20 years at about one metre per week. Glacial movement occurs when the weight of the snow and ice press against the valley floor, creating a
Ben Lomond Mountain
Queenstown sits at the base of this Mountain.
river of ice. As we neared the blue ice crevasses of the Fox Glacier, we shivered and added layers of clothing. We could nearly see the moisture cool and condense in the glacial air, and stood in awe as we listened to the ice crack! Icefall danger is high and we witnessed chunks of rock and ice tumble off the face of the glacier. Our experience at the Franz Joseph Glacier was completely different as we decided to view it from afar. We ambled through a thick jungle of ferns and trees covered in moss, lichens, vines, and more moss to a viewing area. We stood in wonderment for a wee while before continuing on our northbound journey.
Lake Mapourika was the ideal spot for dinner on the docks, but that is where our world of bliss fell apart. We aimed to saddle another quaint and restful camp site, but unbeknownst to us, finding a grassy spot uninhabited by large roving animals with udders proved insurmountable in these parts. Our daylight, temperatures, and patience faded. We were cold, wet, and stinky as we drove into Ross. The town had thrived on the riches of gold in the early 1870s,
Brian on high
During the climb in the Remarkables we were surrounded by nearly black rocks.
but we remember it as the dark and desolate town that witnessed a marriage on the brinks.
Although we don’t like to dwell on tenuous times, we can’t help but recall the moment when Mindy had had enough and marched off into the darkness, leaving Bryan and Brian alone at a rocky riverbank. Swallowing her pride, she turned and walked back to the boys in an effort to survive the night. We learned that when all else fails and the troops disappear into the night, wave a white flag and run towards a DOC camp ground. We had never been so relieved to see public toilets and campervans!
On the final day of our tour, we kicked back with a new understanding - and bewilderment - of each other. We decided that it was a good day for a beer … or seven. On our tour of Montieth’s Brewery, we mingled with open vats bubbling with yeast. We joined one of the workers (still on duty) in a sampling of the goods - little encouragement needed. The long drive back through the pass gave us time to reflect. Our tiki tour had taken us to see the glorious
Alpinists feathered friends, the curious keas followed us up the ridge line.
mountains, turbulent seas, and wild forrests of the South Island. Sometimes, though, travel is not just about seeing landscapes, but also about seeing within yourself.
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