It was tea-break time for Diane and Jeanette at the general store in Ross on New Zealand’s little Highway Six. They sat at the wooden table outside the shop; as Di lit a cigarette and Jeanette sunk her teeth into a pink fruit bun. We were on a bench nearby, enjoying the ice cream they’d loaded into cornets for us; regaling them enthusiastically with tales from our first few days in their country. “I guess we take it a bit for granted, really,” said Di, as she sipped her brew between drags; miles from some of the most
stunning scenery on the planet. They were glad, clearly, to hear we were enjoying it so much, but happy enough for now, thankyou, to stay put in their small, neat township.
What a difference to our arrival in this beautiful country. Our first 24 hours were spent with Lorraine, a former BBC colleague of mine, so desperate to give us a whistlestop tour round her adopted home of Auckland that she was virtually pogo-ing with excitement at the airport as she caught sight of us; her black curls bobbing as she jumped and waved.
It’s a calm, elegant city; and Lorraine’s suggestion of a quick ferry ride to Devonport gave us the chance to look back at its skyline, and spend some time in a quaint, but bustling town across the water; grabbing lunch, catching up, doubled up with laughter as Auckland’s windy, wet welcome whipped Lorraine’s umbrella inside out and trashed; leaving us soaked to the skin and breathless as we sprinted back to the ferry.
Early next day: farewell hugs and a dawn departure to lake-side Queenstown, where even the airport boasts a breathtaking panorama of the Southern Alps as soon as you step on to the tarmac.
It was hard to believe that anyone could take a place like Queenstown for granted. Apart from the natural beauty of its setting; and its good looking shops and bars, it boasts the steepest gondola in the southern hemisphere; leaving me breathless once more–with raw, vertigo induced fear–as the town turned to Lego cottages way, way below. I could barely look. The meal at the restaurant at the top was one reward. But even more special was the gondola for two which took us back down in pitch darkness several hours later. Distant villages were now sparkling like fairy lights in a jar; the kind of view you get as your plane lands at night—but without the comfort of jet engines. Or wings. Or a pilot.
Maybe it was the night sky; maybe it was the Chardonnay; but suddenly, the steep, sheer, 450 metre cablecar ride didn’t bother me any more.
And…so far…the jaw dropping surprises have just continued from there. We’ve lost count of the number of times the scenery’s changed as we’ve driven from Queenstown, through the delightfully preserved former goldrush centre of Arrowtown…towards the northern tip of South Island. We’ve also lost count of the number of times we’ve turned a bend and said `Wow`.
We’ve seen lakes so icily still and serene that to toss even the lightest stone into their waters would be like shattering the most precious mirror. We’ve seen craggy mountains reaching up to the skies, their peaks softly wrapped in fluffy clouds like ermine stoles around a shoulder. We’ve gazed at the strangest mixes of flora and fauna; at temperate rain forests where familiar looking deciduous trees stand alongside the thickest jungle vines, the widest ferns, the thickest, palm like trunks. We’ve crossed bridge after bridge over rivers and streams running down from the mountains; each creek with a yellow roadsign and a name: Grave Creek, Cemetary Creek, Kaka Creek…and..hello….Joe Creek.
We’ve realised that this has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. Like a movie set where the special effects: from swirling puffs of cloud to a soundtrack of unfamiliar, exotic birdsong, are there already. With a glacier walk under our belt today; and the delights of North Island ahead; we’re taking absolutely nothing about this segment of our trip for granted. You can enjoy your brews and your pink buns, ladies of Ross.
We’re savouring every second.
We did our New Zealand adventure independently as part of a round the world trip. If escorted tours are more your thing, this trip with Titan Tours covers a similar itinerary:
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, why not share it on Facebook or Twitter, using one of the buttons below.