Defying gravity

My first road trip in New Zealand. Just me and Big Red, a 1994 Toyota Carolla that takes a bit of love and luck to get up those steep mountain ranges.

I’m almost nervous.

The thing is, this short trip from Queenstown to Wanaka is my first adventure in a country I’ve been googling for months. The country I quit my job and left those I love for, the dream I’d been chasing ever since I watched bloody Lord of the Rings at 13 years old. Was it worth it?

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I start early, the sun splitting the mountains as I climb the first mountain to Arrowtown. Frost still glitters up the shadowed valleys, the sheep barely look up as I snap their chilly woolly frames.

Half an hour from Queenstown, and I’ve found myself in a country western set. No, wait, it’s Arrowtown. Bemused, I stumble past a museum displaying black and white Victorian fancy dress photos and old carts abandoned by their horses.

“Waiting for Superman?” a man chuckles at me taking photos of the red phonebox. Even more bemused, I just grin and nod. Maybe it’s time to move on. I grab a coffee from Bonjour! – a french cafe with red checked tables and crepes on the menu, and get back on the road.

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Oh, this view? Pfft. We’re in NZ, it’s standard. (I’m totally kidding, I took 50 versions of this same photo)

I climb higher, on a road with enough hairpin bends to make you feel like you’re going backwards. At the top, you can just see the Remarkables to the far right.

I reach the halfway point – Cardrona, a tiny village on a straight road between two mountains. I stop at the Cardrona Hotel, half expecting to hear the studs of John Wayne’s boots as he waltzes out of the shadowy doorway.

The landscape changes so quickly – I watch in awe as a cloud rolls over the horizon and swallows the road ahead.

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When I arrive in Wanaka, the cloud has shrouded the surrounding mountains. The famous lake is a colourless mirror to a few odd objects; a black duck, a traffic cone, an island.

 

Er… who’s driving that car?

In the time it takes for me to eat a delicious Eggs Florentine at Relish’s Cafe, the cloud lifts, and I walk out to a lake transformed.

 

A quick wander around a now-sunny Wanaka, and I spot Wai Whakapai, a buzzing cafe/bar with great cake and coffee. But I’ve been recommended The Bakery for its desserts. With a choc chip muffin the size of a small bowling ball in my hand, and a quick chat with the Italian behind the counter, I learn there’s a good night to be had at the Fitzpatrick – an Irish Pub that does live music. There’s some nice shops and restaurants here in Wanaka too – the town seems to be a chilled, younger sister of QT.

But it’s time to head home, into the sunset (quite literally).

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And what a sunset.

I park up at my last viewpoint, all around me the grass burns orange. I race up the hill, and survey the shadows of a crinkled, velvety landscape. I put the camera on the ground, flick the 10 second timer, and jump. One lucky shot.

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One lucky shot that for me, shows me everything. It shows me, despite the pain of leaving those I love behind, despite the doubt of quitting a full time career, despite the difficulty of trying to set up a new life in a new country, this one photo for me says:

It was worth it.

If you like this post, check out the photos from my Queenstown Hill walk:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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