We left Franz Josef just as the weather lifted. Which was in retrospect a good thing as it prevented us from blowing hundred of dollars on a helicopter ride over the snowy mountain passes. We drove South and more South still.
Once again New Zealand surprised us with its deepening sense of grandeur.
“It’s like this is where the Riders of Rohan ACTUALLY live!” enthused our son Oak, as we turned the corner. And certainly it was.
By now the wind had picked up. We battled in our little car Captain Fantastic around twisting and turning and largely empty roads alongside bright blue lakes, and dry, grassy foothills and we came out of the high mountain ranges. Wide, open, bright, blustery, desolate and ….. Tolkeinesque.
A few stops later we heaved up from Wanaka and over another pass and back down into Queenstown. An exciting stop for the Lallys as this is mountain bike heaven - and as Sean had missed the Old Ghost Road he sure as hell wasn’t going to miss the downhill.
First stop Arrowtown however - a quaint little campsite about 30 minutes drive from the main town. We soon noticed that the houses here were different - largely made from stone and older and more characterful.
Arrowtown and Central Otago is a veritable maze of cycle paths too. You may think that this terrain would only suit the seasoned cyclist, but not so. A whole range of family trails and also commuter trails pepper the hills. This pleased Julia a lot - as she is a pottering cyclist, prone to stopping every five minutes and taking pictures of the local wildlife. Like this baby hedgehog. (Cuuuuuuttte.)
We also found the most fantastic campsite in Arrowtown. And also as luck would have it, had positioned ourselves camped next to a whole family of Australian cyclists who had flown over from Sydney to ride the Central Otago Trail. An investment banker and his buddhist wife - by contrast to our messy, Lally-fuelled camping spread - these guys were the epitome of calm and good behaviour. We admired their bike rigs greatly - they were obviously experienced at this. And how they managed to get all five of them, two parents and three children, into really a very very small canvas tent was quite beyond us. All packed up on their bicycles and heading off onto their adventures by the morning. The kids gelled with our kid - as kids do. And by the time they left we were extremely sorry to see them go.
As they were also a shy bunch, we only managed to sneak a photo of their bikes when they weren’t looking. And here they are.
But by now time was marching on.
The weather was rolling in again. Snow had started to appear. And we heard that Bonnie Tyler would descend upon Queenstown by the weekend along with her thousands of Ford Ranger driving, heavy beer drinking, soft rock ballad singing, fanbase. We were fairly keen to hit the downhills and get going.
Before we move onto the exciting stuff however, a few words must be said for Queenstown itself.
It’s a young town. And monied. Quoted as being like the Auckland of the South in terms of property prices (because we all know property prices are THE conversational and cultural barometer nowadays.) It’s full of the kind of twenty somethings who go to where their parents have a ski home and can afford to plane them down for an adventure sport weekend. Architecturally beautiful, open plan stone houses with huge windows and local vineyards. Light that goes on and on. Dropping into gold as it catches the landscape with its magical fire before disappearing behind the nearest mountain. Queenstown is certainly picturesque and beautiful. But culturally? I guess culturally you can expect Bonnie Tyler.
We had found our home in Arrowtown - where the pubs hosted live Traditional Irish sessions. And the pizza was cooked on a proper fire.
Next stop the cable car. And finally - the downhill. Sean is expectant and impatient by now.
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