Monday, February 15, 2016

NZ Roadtrip Otago: clay, Cardrona and Crown Range

I can’t imagine ever getting tired of the Lindis Pass. It hasn’t happened yet, despite having driven through there many times already. Those bare, brown rounded hills, that golden tussock, that invariably blue sky… it’s gorgeous. And it was just one of several quite different sorts of scenery on today’s route from the unarguably ugly little town of Twizel (built to house workers on the Benmore Dam back in the 60s and saved from demolition afterwards by the inexplicable enthusiasm of the residents).
First stop was near Omarama at the Clay Cliffs – such a typically factual NZ name – which are high, fluted, wind- and weather-shaped columns of silt and gravel, two million years in the making and every bit as good as anything Utah has to offer, if on a somewhat smaller scale. Then came Lake Wanaka, the town much bigger now than on my last visit, but nicely done, and the lake is still fringed by its iconic willow trees, a fabulous yellow foil in autumn for the deep blue of the lake and the snow on the surrounding mountains. We didn't stop: we'll be coming back for a proper look later.
Next was Cardrona, with its old wooden pub, still authentically weathered-looking, and welcoming inside with good food. Outside, three horses were tethered: now, that would be the way to explore this area, like the girls leading their packhorse back near the Clay Cliffs. Outdoors, connected, but not having to expend as much energy as the many cyclists (the Baby included in their number) toiling along these roads and trails.
The big novelty here is of course the Bra Fence. It changes all the time, sometimes the lingerie completely cleared away, but always soon replaced by more colourful bras. It’s a bit of a mystery, in its small (but sometimes double-D) way, but fun, too.
The Crown Range summit is higher than the Lindis, and gives southern-bound travellers their first glimpse of the tourist hub that is Queenstown. There are some sharp bends to negotiate first, though, and then a gentle drive past vineyards, willows and poplars, and Lake Hayes.
After all that open country, it’s a bit of a shock to get to Queenstown, with its wide roads, roundabouts, signs, chain stores and people. So many people! There’s a huge Chinese element these days, very noticeable not just because of their obvious ethnicity, but also their jostling and noisiness - and, disgustingly, the hoiking and spitting. It very soon becomes quite wearing, so it was a relief when the doors slid shut on the gondola up to Bob’s Peak, when all we could hear was “the gentle fraying of the cable” (joke).
The view from the top is always spectacular (“It’s like Windermere, except more stunning” conceded the Poms) and, even when forced to go down the nursery slope by the jobsworth operator, the Luge is always fun. Tip: just ignore the big yellow signs and don’t use your brakes at all. It all builds appetite for The Cow’s excellent pizzas and pasta, tucked away down its little lane and relatively peaceful, unlike the rest of the town, which was truly buzzing.

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