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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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: