There’s one way in which New Zealand is not really working out for me: it’s making me feel like a failure as a writer. I search for adjectives and come up bankrupt. “Stunning”? Used it two sentences ago. “Beautiful”? How bland. “Breathtaking”? Well, yes, but now I sound like a Visit Scotland PR puff piece.
So, the hell with it. I present to you Queenstown, New Zealand, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu:
The drive there had its non-ugly moments as well. Here’s a sample of the kind of road we found ourselves rolling down:
We’d planned to pull over at Wanaka on the drive to Queenstown to have coffee and trade places, and as we reached the outskirts we saw a sign for “Puzzling World”. We exchanged glances and threw the car into the car park. We started with the outdoor maze, where you have to find your way to each of four corner towers, then went inside for the rooms of optical illusions. Unfortunately, the “tilted room” where water seems to flow uphill made me so dizzy Loz had to keep on driving for the rest of the afternoon.
The glorious weather didn’t hold completely; our first day in Queenstown was grey and rain-spattered. We had booked a Lord of the Rings location tour, and were picked up in a battered jeep by Cameron. A lot of the locations used are actually composite, where several, sometimes miles apart, were combined by computer into one place, but nevertheless, he was able to drive us to the tiny town of Glenorchy at the top of the lake, and also to the plain that became Isengard and the woods where Boromir was shot. Cameron pulled out a couple of blunt swords and grey elven-cloaks for photographic posing at the latter. In between stops, he told us funny stories of the filming; of his boss getting hired to play one of the Rangers of Ithilien as an extra, but then knocking himself out on a take and ending up as an orc, the generous fees paid by Weta to farmers for use of their paddocks and their donation of barely-used machinery afterwards. Evidently, the Weta crew are highly popular around the area. I also had to laugh when I got out of the jeep and spotted its licence plate: BOMBUR. Cameron’s boss had taken the initiative to buy up licence plates of all Tolkien’s character names before the films came out, and now uses them for his tour vehicles.
On our second day, we had booked a tour out into the glorious Fiordland of the west coast. Rather than the more famous Milford Sound, we opted for Doubtful Sound, which is quiet and untrafficked. (It was named by our old friend James Cook on one of his voyages around the region; he was doubtful whether, if he sailed in, he’d ever be able to get out.) Getting there took some doing – a two-hour bus journey was followed by a catamaran across Lake Manapouri, then another ninety-minute coach trip over the Wilmot Pass to get to the cruising boat. Along the way, the tour takes in the hydroelectric power station burrowed deep into the mountain above Deep Cove. The fiords are serene and uninhabited, other than by a rich variety of wildlife, and are spectacularly carved by glaciers, with waterfalls, steep green peaks, and hanging valleys. The environment is unique; the fresh water that pours into the Sound is stained brown with tannins, and sits on top of the seawater because it’s less dense. This means that the waters of the Sound are unusually dark, and many creatures who normally live in very deep waters survive here close to the surface. For an area where it usually rains two days out of three, the weather held sunny, with hardly any cloud.
On our last day in Queenstown, the weather was utterly flawless, and we felt like some activity after twelve hours of near-motionlessness the previous day. We hired mountain bikes and set off around the Queenstown trail, an exhilaratingly hilly walking and cycling trail along the lake. We saw the day in drinking some New Zealand craft beer at a rooftop bar, well satisfied.