6. Central Otago
Following route 1 west then south out of Dunedin, the city traffic slowly gave way to rural highway. Aware of the dangers of stopping to look at the hundreds of possible interesting sights, I bypassed such interesting possibilities as Scroggs Hills, and my first stop was at the small town of Waihola.
Just over the railway line there was the peaceful Lake Waihola where I stopped under the shade of a tree. Being a warm sunny day there was quite a gathering of people around.
Through my driving in New Zealand, I felt like I regularly going through roadworks. There were first the early warning signs, of 50km/h temporary limits, and then 30, and about that time the road disappears, and is replaced by something more like a bush track, but just with more stones on it. At times I felt they just dumped the stone out the back of the truck, and just let the passing cars roll it into shape. At those times I was feeling rather fortunate that there was already fifty or so stone chips on the front of the hire car, and a few more wasn't going to make too much difference.
Anyhow, this farm at Milburn was the site of one such set of roadworks.
|Farming country, Milburn|
Route 8 to the Centre
After the town of Milton I took the turnoff inland toward my destination that night of Wanaka. For half an hour or so I travelled through fairly nondescript farmland, and largely non-photoed too. At Roxburg, which is about halfway between the coast and the middle of NZ, I could feel things starting to liven up a bit. The hills were getting taller and more distinct.
I spotted a road over to the river and decided to take a look. Beyond that I could see a gravel road snaking up a hill. “That should be a good view up there” So after casing out the area a bit, and a moment of hesitation, I pointed the front of my trusty hired Corolla up into the track. It turned out to be rather steep, and the front wheel drive was struggling a bit on the loose gravel, and once moving I wasn't about to let it stop. Still, as the adage goes, hire cars will go anywhere, at and it succeeded. From up high, it was a great view out over the river valley and township way below.
Continuing further west the countryside became more dramatic with steep eroded hills dominating the landscape. This reaches its peak at around Gorge Creek, after which travelling over a rise sees a transition from the completely barren into green fields on the other side.
After hours of sparsely populated countryside, Alexandra feels a centre of civilisation. The river looks refreshing amid an area that is really quite dry overall. The region reminded me a little of some of the desert areas I visited years ago near Tucson in the USA southwest. Of particular interest is a large clock constructed on the mountain face behind the town. At 11m across it's visible right though the town, and marks out the presence of human habitation.
Not far from Alexandra is the similarly sized Cromwell and the base of Lake Dunstan. Between the two lies a long narrow stretch of lake formed by a dam. On that sunny and lazy afternoon there were plenty of people out experiencing it. In that vast landscape, there was a sense of compression of distance as I looked along the line of road that hugged the side of the mountains by the lake.
Between Cromwell and Queenstown it gets more mountainous as the road follows through the gorge. This is the spectacular mountain scenery the south island is reputed for. Here we have the river as it flows out of the Roaring Meg rapids.
Earlier on, I had planned on staying the night at Queenstown, to give me a chance to take a bit of a look around. Bookings were hard though, so instead it was just going to be a quick visit in the evening.
From my previous trip, I recalled Queenstown as a pretty little tourist town on the edge of the lake against the backdrop of the Remarkables mountains. I'd heard stories of there being a lot of growth though, and I was interested to see what had become of it.
On arrival I could see the same familiar pretty setting, but it was certainly busier. After a bit of a wander around the place it was reminding me more and more of was the Gold Coast in Australia.... a tourist and teenage party capital. My overall feeling was it had grown up too much for its own good, and was starting to drown in its popularity. On a nice day though, it's still a pretty spot.
Queenstown is of course also something of the adventure capital of NZ, with the original bungee jumping, jet-boating and various other ways scaring yourself crazy!
I didn't have time to check out any of those things though, because the evening was quickly marching on and I still had some distance to cover before check-in closed at 8pm. Somehow too I had managed to do some strange mental calculations to convince myself that it was going to easily take less than an hour up to Wanaka. Then on the way out of Queenstown I saw a roadsign showing 104km to Wanaka, and it didn't take too much thought to see that it was going to be tough to do that in one hour with a speed limit of at most 100km/h.
That's just by the main road though. There's also Crown Range Rd that winds up through the mountains via Cardrona, and is only 70km. The fact that the signposts recommend the longer route is an indicator that it isn't exactly a fast road though. The next indicator was some extensive use of 1st gear up the initial set of switchbacks up the mountain to Crown Terrace. But nonetheless, there was very little other traffic on the road, and I made good time through what is very scenic and driveable road.
That put me in Wanaka in the evening, and marked the midpoint in this 4-day trip.