Friday, November 20, 2009

Wanaka and Queenstown (NZ part 16)

(NZ part 1 here)

"Real travel requires a maximum of unscheduled wandering, for there is no other way of discovering surprises and marvels, which, as I see it, is the only good reason for not staying at home." Alan Watts, The Book

We spent several days hanging around the Wanaka area, from the quick trip out to Aspiring Hut to a day riding single track near town we were told about at the bike shop. The town was one of those wonderful surprises for me, although really every day held surprises and marvels as we really never had much of a plan other than to make it back to Christchurch for our flight home. But I felt very comfortable in Wanaka. But we felt we needed to continue on, and we wanted to continue on. I was so used to the rhythm of being on the bike, and the feeling associated with seeing new country each day. Riding a bike is such a sensual way to experience a place, and I loved it all.

We head south out of town, toward Queenstown, on a back route to the adventure capital of New Zealand. The road follows the Cardrona River valley, climbing through the high foot hills of the Southern Alps. The landscape is dry again, now that we are in the rain shadow of big peaks. The hills are gentle and tan and brown. Eventually we reach the small town of Cardrona, and speak with an older chap outside a shop, who tells us about the times when this was once the main route between Wanaka and Queenstown, and how in the hills, up near he Cordrona Ski Fields, European car manufacturers used to bring their vehicles for rough testing and rally training. He is encouraging about our route over the pass at the head of the valley.

We continue up, the kind of long gradual climb that gives you time, that let your mind wander to fantasies of where you are heading, to longings, to regrets from the past, and to the mild burn in your legs, knowing it is all fleeting in some way. Construction crews work on the road just below the pass, a rugged area where the river has ripped away the gravels and narrowed the surface of the road. And then we have made it. We stop and take in the valley, Lake Wakatipu zig-zagging below, pinched between the arid mountains of southern New Zealand, the flanks of the Richardson Mountains to the north, and the Eyre Mountains in front of us, and the famous jagged peaks of the Remarkables off to our left, providing cover for one arm of Wakatipu. The road snakes along the shoulder of the mountains to our right, and we descend on dirt and gravel ball bearings until we hit asphalt, then switch back and forth happily until we blast out onto the valley floor.

The ride towards Queenstown is busy, there is more energy here than we've seen in quite a while, and it makes Wanaka and the old timer in Cardrona seem even farther away. Queenstown is quite a draw for those looking for an adrenaline rush, so the activity level doesn't fully take me by surprise. We camp on the outskirts of town the first night. It is a low quality affair, with no lights or electricity in the kitchen and trash overflowing the containers. After being out in the backcountry, an abused campsite in a developed area looks all the worse. We won't be here a second night.

On the ride into town, we are able to ride side by side on a path, and it is nice to have a leisurely day ahead of us. The conversation shifts from the spectacular riding we've had thus far, to home and families, and back. Camp is made at a fairly nice (and clean) camp ground just a few minutes from town early in the day. We spend a little time exploring in and around Queenstown, but since we aren't planning any adventure activities, we decide to move on before long. We take rides without our trailers along the lake, and up Ben Lomond, to the top of the gondola, for views that are almost surreal.

There is a passenger ferry, the Earnslaw, that runs from Queenstown across Lake Wakitipu to the old farming outpost of Walter Peak Station. The ferry is used almost exclusively as a round trip from Queenstown for sight seeing, but we see that we can take our bikes along, get dropped at the Station, and have a long ride out through a fairly rural area, so it looks perfect. The boat is an old steam powered ship and we watch the engineer and the two stokers operate the coal fired engines. Each of the two engines have three cylinders, and produce 500 hp. They have been in service for over eighty years, and burned about 1 ton of coal per hour.

Walter Peak Station is very nice and tourist oriented, but we head south on the gravel road toward Te Anau without much deliberation. I feel the freedom of a young child on summer vacation as I ride along one of the most beautiful rural roads I have ever travelled. I look down at the gravel, two packed tire tracks passing under me, and imagine for a second I am young and riding my old dirt bike.

(Dirt track out of Walter Peak Station)

No comments:

Post a Comment