Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day,
To claim our long-forgotten gold.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Thursday, September 3, 2015
Far over the Misty Mountains cold . . .
Even though Thursday was technically our first full day in New Zealand, it felt like our second. We had packed more into the previous day than we had planned, partly because we had no idea how much jet lag and our 36-hour travel day would affect us. Adrenaline had a major role we think, for none of us felt too tired—though we did sleep very well. I think it helped that we arrived in Auckland before sunrise, and the day was naturally progressing. For instance, we thought we would have done the Skyline Gondola Thursday morning, but since we already did it the day before, we were free to head to Glenorchy first thing in the morning.
Our only experience with driving the campervan thus far had been the short 15-minute stretch from Britz to our campsite. That was thrilling enough after being cooped up in planes and airports all day. But we were in for a bit of a scare on one of our first roads out of Queenstown. We followed the GPS directions and were instructed to turn left down a steep road called Lake Street; it must’ve been a 45-60-degree angle. The campervan is a heavy vehicle, so we almost took brakes for granted until we rode in a vehicle like this.
Once we got on the actual road to Glenorchy, things went more smoothly. The views were amazing. White clouds were hugging the mountains all around us. Philip did an excellent job navigating the many hills, bends, and curves, while avoiding tree branches and rocks, and clearing blind corners. It was a challenging first extended drive, for sure, but he gradually got more comfortable with it. At least the directions were simple. We quickly learned that there aren’t too many more ways than one, to connect place A and place B in New Zealand.
We stopped at Bennett’s Bluff lookout for a good while and snapped photos. We overheard a private tour guide giving another group a tour, so we sort of got a free tour ourselves and description of the area. We learned the names of some of the peaks and the islands in Lake Wakatipu–Pig and Pigeon Islands.
An hour from our start, we arrived in the small town of Glenorchy, and parked near the red Wharf Hut. We walked along the water and to the end of the dock by the Wharf Hut and soaked in the 360-degree mountain and lake views.
We stopped for a snack break and decided to give it a go on the road to Paradise, a bit further in the mountains than Glenorchy. It was a bit risky because most of the road there is not paved. (Technically, perhaps, we were not allowed to go on those kinds of roads per the campervan rental agreement, but the only road they had specifically told us to never go on was the Crown Range Road between Queenstown and Wanaka, and that had to do more because of the hairpin turns, not whether it was paved or not.)
But we did it anyway. The road was narrow in parts, especially through a forested section. We came across a stream, called Jordan River, where we almost decided to turn back, but forded it anyway after testing it by walking across. We didn’t go much further down the road, because we didn’t know how many more fords we’d have to complete, but we got some quality time with some herds of cattle, sheep, and looked up in awe at the mountains that were used as Misty Mountains in The Lord of the Rings films.
Eventually we headed back into the Glenorchy, where we parked again for some lunch of cut-up apples, crackers with cheese and hard salami, and juice boxes. We did another short walk along the lakefront, from a different side (oddly, near a small skate park–probably the most scenic skate park in the world) and snapped more photos–too many of which are frame-worthy.
On our return, we saw the reverse view of the Queenstown-Glenorchy road, which was just as beautiful as the other direction, making a stop at Wilson’s Bay for granola bars and more views–and get bitten by pesky sandflies! The tour boats went back and forth in the distance below Walter Peak, one of the most prominent peaks in the Queenstown area.
Back in Queenstown, we decided to walk the botanic gardens, which is located on one of the two main Queenstown peninsulas.
Queenstown, it must be noted, smells like a campfire. We had to guess that it had to do, perhaps, with some way the buildings and homes are heated. We noticed a lot of smoke or steam coming out of chimneys everywhere, which gave the town a camp-like feel. It might have something to do with the fact that Queenstown is a relatively large resort town with a coal-mining history, so maybe burning fuel or fires or whatever makes sense. Whatever it really was, it smells so good!
Queenstown Botanic Gardens
The walk around the botanic gardens was wonderful, and it gave us more angles of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu to enjoy that we hadn’t seen yet. It also introduced us to some interesting foliage and flora–not all native–like monkey puzzle trees and a giant sequoia.
We got pretty hungry after a very full day of driving and walking, so we looked for some food in downtown Queenstown. We dined in Hell—the pizza place, that is—we found in a back alley. We ordered the “Mordor” double pizza and potato wedges. The pizza had delicious sauce on it, kind of like the sauce on the Fergburgers. Maybe it was kind of taboo that we ordered two American foods in the last two days—burgers and pizza—but both had interesting NZ twists to them.
Afterward we headed back to our campervan. The air was getting quite chilly; though the days were spring-like, the nights still had the bite of winter. On our way back, we stopped at an ATM to draw out some New Zealand dollars and sat in an information center to briefly use the Wi-Fi and update our parents via Viber about our first full day in New Zealand. Philip and William went out to try taking photos of the stars for a bit while Jessica set up the campervan for sleeping. Even though we hadn’t quite mastered the art of taking star photos manually with our cameras yet, never in our lives had we seen stars so clear with our naked eyes. Astrophotography would become our almost nightly ritual for the entire trip.