Christchurch to Wanaka

October 31, 2008 – Christchurch to Wanaka, New Zealand

Today was a traveling day. Other than knowing we were heading toward Queenstown, we had no certain itinerary in mind.

We took Gordon’s suggestion and turned off the main highway just past the huge salmon (what is this human need for outsized icons?) at Rakaia. That made the road to Geraldine a big longer but took us through a bucolic landscape far more interesting than the main route.

Geraldine and Fairlie are both worth longer stops for their artisanal offerings, but we wanted to be closer to Queenstown for the night so made only cursory visits on this trip.

Base of Mount Cook, with clouds rolling over the peak
Base of Mount Cook, with clouds rolling over the peak

When we reached Lake Pukaki, we opted to drive up the valley that ends with a full view of Aoraki (Mount Cook). In five drives up the valley, Robin has seen the peak once. This drive was on the majority side, though we did see some of its base and glaciers beneath the rolling cloud cover.

As with all of New Zealand’s glacier-fed lakes, Pukaki turns an impossible shade of turquoise under a sunny sky. [Robin notes: the colour comes from the rock flour, small bits of rock ground up by the glacier.] This photo looks the opposite direction of the Mount Cook photo, heading south along Lake Pukaki.

Turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki
Turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki

The weather was fine so we headed through Omarama and down to Tarras. The latter has the distinction of being perhaps the only golf course in the world maintained by sheep. The tees are fenced so that woolies can’t get to them. I wonder if woolies understand the word “fore”.

We stopped at a small food market to pick up dinner supplies and ask about the destination of a sign pointing down a rural road to a backpacker hostel. The woman behind the counter couldn’t – or at any rate didn’t – give us any details about the place, but we headed that way anyway.

The place looked a bit on the seedy side of backpackers accommodations, but the view across farm fields to the mountains beyond made up for it. Unfortunately, no one answered the door.

Wanaka Bakpaka
Wanaka Bakpaka

We continued on the gravel road, which turned out to be a shortcut to the road leading into Wanaka anyway. There we tried the Wanaka Bakpaka, which proved a gem of a hostel.

Our comfy double room was newly painted, with ensuite and a comfortable king-sized bed. Everything about the place was grand, from the bright, well appointed kitchen to the large, welcoming lounge, good Internet access, laundry facilities, garden, and – best of all – the view of Lake Wanaka.

Lounge at Wanaka Bakpaka
Lounge at Wanaka Bakpaka

Rain lulled us to sleep, though fierce winds awakened me several times in the night. One bonus of these cold New Zealand nights: snuggling is heavenly.

Today was my first experience driving on the left side of the road. The open road is easy. Traffic is coming the other direction. Hard to beat that as a clue that left-side driving is important.

The challenge comes at intersections, where my natural tendency to turn into the right-hand lane has to be curbed. Back home driving is automatic. Start the car. Pull into the right lane. Turn right on red. Overtake on the left. Here I feel as if I’m driving into a mirror, from the reflection side. When I approach an intersection or enter a roundabout, I have to chant to myself, “Keep left! Keep left! Yield to the right!”


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