Southern lakes & snowy scapes
Over our last two full days down south we tiki toured through some of our favourite parts of Central Otago before reluctantly pointing the car north.
We started in Wanaka where the day dawned crisp under still blue skies. Seeing the amazing lake views out the window of our motel unit started my trigger finger twitching so I shot out the door for a walk with trusty compact camera to snap a few pictures.
Both of us were hobbling a little from the previous day’s exercise and happy with the decision to have an indulgent day of sightseeing. After a cafe breakfast and short walk around the shops and lakefront we were off.
Not far away, past the flourishing Albertown, we found the small township of Lake Hawea more pleasant than our previous visit there in an icy gale. The lake level seemed low and it was quite a downhill scramble to reach the waterline.
The next driving stint brought us to Cromwell via a picturesque drive along Lake Dunstan and its perfect reflections. We paid a quick visit to Old Cromwell, the part of town that became compromised by the hydro development resulting in the creation of Lake Dunstan. I walked along the lakefront to see the demolished remains of buildings which I hadn’t done before. I love old ruins!
That night we were catching up with friends for dinner in Queenstown so as we were about to drive through the Bannockburn wine region it seemed a fine idea to make a cellar door purchase. We went to the Mt Difficulty winery. Central O is renowned for pinot noir and white varietals and after the red wine drinker among us did a small tasting, a purchase was duly made.
Along the road a little further is the DOC-managed Bannockburn Sluicing Historic Reserve. We’ll do the longer loop walk another day but did venture in a quarter hour or so to the striking landscape left behind by gold sluicing over 100 years ago. You get an appreciation of how extensive those activities were.
The road to Queenstown goes through the Kawarau Gorge, a fascinating place for spotting remains of old miners huts on the opposite riverbank. There is a visitor centre from where you can go exploring which I haven’t done yet. Beyond the Roaring Meg power station we crossed a bridge and suddenly the snow left behind after the storm in the preceding days began to appear. It continued the rest of the way.
The road goes on through the Gibbston Valley, another prominent wine area, and then past the Crown Range Road turnoff that could take us back to Cardrona and Wanaka… but we continued on, detouring into Arrowtown for a late lunch. I did contemplate the bakery but by that time they really only had pies and I was pretty pied out. The flats down by the Arrow River we walked across a few days before were now beautifully white.
In Qtown the roads were clear but there was still loads of snow around. From our very comfy hotel in Fernhill it was a 10 minute drive to the friends in Arthur’s Point, over the Shotover River, where we enjoyed a homecooked meal and swapped photo viewings of our respective trips to Europe. Can’t believe it’s a year ago since ours.
The next day it was time to leave Otago, but not without some meandering along the way. From Queenstown it was back to Cromwell, then taking highway 8 south. We drove past Clyde, the starting point for our rail trail cycling holiday 2 ½ years ago, and stopped briefly at the visitor centre in Alexandra. Always interesting stuff to look through there.
Heading north again along highway 85 we jumped off for the short detour into the very small and quiet Ophir, location of the second coldest recorded temperature in NZ. (Ranfurly, not far away, takes first place.) From there we took some quieter roads through the Ida Valley, looking absolutely stunning with snow and fabulous ranges in all directions.
The small community of Oturehua is home to the Idaburn Dam, famous for hosting bonspiels if winter conditions permit, and the brass monkey rally each June. I’ll do a separate post on our visit there.
Wedderburn was the next stop, another blink-and-you-miss-it place but famous for the old railway buildings.
We turned off for the short drive to Naseby, keen for lunch and to see the remains of the snow that had cut off the town a couple of days earlier. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it is a bit surprising that Naseby has the southern hemisphere’s premier indoor curling facility. The Winter Games curling tournament was happening when we passed through but we didn’t have time to linger. Lunch at the Black Forest Cafe was excellent.
Snow had closed Dansey’s Pass, the rather isolated and unsealed road that we had planned to take. So we headed back to highway 85 and followed that, the snow petering out as we got nearer to the coast and highway 1.
A couple of hours later we crossed the Waitaki River, putting Otago behind us. It remains my favourite part of NZ. Who knows when it will have that much snow again but hopefully I’ll be down there to enjoy it when it does.