Monday 6 December 2010

Road Trup

Brace yourselves: this (as advertised) is going to be epic. Four days, 1000 km, many hair-raising roads.

Among other things I did after visiting the glacier on Wednesday was to make a couple of cds for the rest of the trip. So you can enter into the spirit of things, here’s the playlist I dubbed Road Trup.

Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell

Birdhouse in Your Soul – They Might be Giants

Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen

Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa – Vampire Weekend

Cruel to be Kind – Letters to Cleo

Dela – Johnny Clegg

Devil Town – Tony Lucca

Distant Sun – Crowded House

For Me, Formidable – Charles Aznavour

Galway Girl – Sharon Shannon & Mundy

Here’s Where the Story Ends – Tin Tin Out

Iko Iko – Cyndi Lauper

Ma’ Cheri – Freshlyground

My Baby Just Cares for Me – Nina Simone

Never Forget You – Noisettes

Stay (Faraway, So Close) – U2

This Kiss – Faith Hill

Tiny Dancer – Elton John

Let the River Run – Carly Simon

10,000 Miles – Mary Chapin Carpenter

This playlist is my uber-road trip soundtrack. Every song on it reminds me of another trip, somewhere else. For example, Distant Sun (besides the fact that I couldn’t have an NZ road trip without Crowded House) reminds me of a trip to France with university friends, driving along the autoroutes in the Bus of Dreams. This Kiss and Here’s Where the Story Ends are both from the Great Australian Adventure of 2001. For Me, Formidable is Greece last year and 10,000 Miles is the song I always think of when I’m on my way home.

So with my playlists ready to go, I got in the little car and headed south. Forests, ferns, palm trees and occasional glimpses of dramatic cliffs and sea, as far as Haast. Filled up with petrol (last petrol station for 100km) and then turned east along the Haast Pass. This is an alpine pass cutting through the Southern Alps south of Mount Cook. Stunning snow-topped mountains and turquoise lakes. Also many cows. Also many twisty-turny ups and downs limiting my ability to take in the views. Also many tour buses defying laws of gravity – how do they get round those roads? How? I pulled over at a place called Cameron Flats to eat my lunch picnic and enjoy the mountains.

Got to beautiful Wanaka at about 2 and had a restorative coffee and a cookie and a little walk around before going a little further south to Cardrona. The boutique B&B where I stayed (I (and my budget) like to mix things up: youth hostel one night, 1000 thread count sheets the next) was in the middle of nowhere, with a pine forest on one side and a paddock full of sheep on the other.

I can recommend Waiorau Homestead unreservedly – friendly hosts who served me afternoon tea in the garden and cracked open a bottle of pinot noir in the evening. They suggested I take the Cardrona road to Queenstown – the highest public road in New Zealand, they announced proudly.

On Friday I discovered what, exactly, this entailed. High, yes. And narrow. And with two types of turn: right angle turns where the ground dropped away to nothing on either side or the hairiest of hair-pin bends. For someone who struggles a bit with a fear of heights (call it discomfort rather than acute fear) and was also trying to work out how best to tackle this kind of road with an automatic transmission the experience was … well, I was very glad when I was safely down the other side, put it that way.

When I saw the sign for Historic Arrowtown I decided it would be a good idea to park the car and explore a little while my nerves calmed down. And look how pretty it is!

I then went on to Queenstown, mostly due to several people having told me I shouldn’t miss it … honestly, I think I could have missed it. It’s very touristy so I didn’t stay long, just to have a coffee. I will admit it was amusing to see (as I sat in the 3rd floor cafĂ©) a paraglider swooping past the window.

Back on the road, this time to a soundtrack of Christmas songs. Loving the surrealism of belting Baby, It’s Cold Outside while driving in hot sunshine. Stopped at Clyde for lunch. This was a Lonely Planet recommendation, and it was a good one. Clyde is perfectly charming and was extremely quiet …

... until the air-raid siren went off. Apparently several fire stations in New Zealand employ WWII sirens because the volunteer firefighters are off-site and need something particularly loud to muster them.

Next leg: Clyde to Milton, where I stopped to buy a coke. Milton is an unremarkable (even ugly) town, but it is notable for one thing: at 46 degrees south, it marks the farthest point south I’ve ever been in my life.

At Milton, the road (Route 1) bends back north to Dunedin. I was staying on the Otago Peninsula, which is beautiful. Though the roads are like roads in Donegal. Steep, narrow, winding. But the views - !

I stayed for two nights at Larnach Castle (more precisely, in the former stables of the castle) a Victorian castle/folly. Try to imagine a Victorian baronial pile transplanted to the South Seas. Have you got a picture in your head? Does it look like this? Castle with verandah and palm trees.

(This is the view from the roof of the castle.)

On Friday evening I went to Portobello, heading towards the tip of the Peninsula and had excellent fish and chips sitting on a bench looking out at the bay. On Saturday, after a tour of the castle (incredible, has to be seen to be believed) I went into Dunedin. The most Scottishest city outside Scotland, though not the most thrilling. After a poke into Octagon Books (voted one of the best ten bookshops in the world) and a great coffee at Mazagran Espresso on Moray Place and a quick chat with Robert Burns, I decided to go back to Larnach and have an afternoon siesta.

In the late afternoon I went to Sandfly Bay to see if I could see some golden eyed penguins but they’re shy and I didn’t.

I did see this guy, though, who gave me quite a shock since I thought he was a pile of smelly driftwood. (My mind was elsewhere.)

Sunday was another long drive – Dunedin to Christchurch. 400km of pleasant but undistinguished scenery, some impressively bad driving (I’m looking at you Miss Black Audi overtaking me and the truck in front of me, blithely disregarding the single yellow DO NOT OVERTAKE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES line and the fact that you were on the incline of a humpback bridge and clearly hadn’t realised that there was a slow moving vintage car in front of the truck) and many cows.

Got to Christchurch in the late afternoon and dropped the car off at the airport. Goodbye little Hyundai. You held up for me, despite the fact that you hated hills and made your protest known by refusing to go faster than 70km when they presented themselves.

So there you have it: my New Zealand odyssey. I will post some Christchurch pictures tomorrow … it’s a very pretty place and I think it deserves it own entry.

Yours full of contrition for prolonged absence,


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