The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Our plan was to spend 4 nights away, a short holiday in Queenstown. After work on Thursday we would drive a a few hours and camp, then carry on early Friday morning.
We always boast to friends visiting New Zealand, and Americans who are familiar with the strict NO freedom camping laws in the States, about how you can “just pull of the road anywhere” and spend the night in New Zealand. While I stand by this general boast, it turns out that Scott and I are pretty damn picky about where that “just anywhere” is.
After passing up several “way too close to the main road” options, and a few “Tekapo is so lame and touristy that they actually do ban freedom camping” places, we found ourselves tired, grumpy, and well past our intended driving distance. We eventually agreed on a bumpy four-wheel drive track down by Lake Pukaki. We’d both gotten up at 6:30am on Thursday, and it was now the wee early hours of Friday, and we were in a place that was legal and off the road. Good enough. We kicked the biggest rocks out of the way, chucked up the tent, and passed out…
And woke up.
Thats Aoraki (ok, Mount Cook) in the background, being very cooperative in not wearing a giant cloud on top. When the sun hit our wrinkly tent, I practically exploded from the heat, and groggily stepped out. Grumpiness faded into delight as I grabbed my camera, realizing this was an opportunity where nature would naturally fill in the shortcomings I have as a photographer.
So… things don’t always go to plan because sometimes they are better.
We got to Queenstown and went on a slow but enjoyable ride. Unfortunately Scott was feeling a bit under the weather, and I was feeling a little
like a rhinoceros on two wheels off my game as well. Regardless, we rode a new trail and enjoyed beautiful Queenstown.
The thing about riding when you’re off your game is you don’t pay as much attention to the details. Luckily, I pulled it together the next day and rode down some super steep trail. We spent nearly 8 hours in the bike park; me learning, Scott coaching. Unfortunately for Scott, he was still feeling a little under the weather. So while I made progress, he rested and advised, and didn’t get much out of his day. Except for a two very silly, very nasty crashes. And this.
So… things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes they are worse.
As you can imagine, this hunk of plaster (applied a few days after the incident, but we knew it was coming) put a stop to all riding plans. Which for us, put a stop to all plans.
Luckily on the night of the crunch, we ran into a fellow bike buddy of Scott’s who invited us out four wheeling and hiking the next day. That’s one way to make lemons into high-octane lemonade!
Just the drive in to the wheeling spot was epic. I don’t think I’ve properly raved about Skipper’s Canyon before. It is the coolest road. The most scenic, expansive, Lord of the Rings meets Narnia meets Avatar, wild and free landscape. Can you tell I love it?
There’s a bike trail we frequently ride into Skipper’s Canyon, which Scott and I thought was the main bit of road. But it turns out we really had only seen the first third. The stunning scenery just keeps going, past the biking, past jet boats and river rafting companies, finally finishing with a spectacular suspension bridge over a magnificent (and massive) gorge.
When we arrived on the other side of this bridge at a historical school ground (I decided not to think about how long ago that bridge may have been constructed…?!) we met up with Jamie and Elena- friends and now tour guides. This drive out Skippers Canyon was only the beginning.
From here, we took our trusty Subaru (which has been lifted and has modified suspension- do not try this!) down the first 2k of 4WD track. This track was no joke, and I spent my time navigating and advising, not taking photos.
When the track got too gnarly for our bad ass green machine, we hopped in Jamie’s incredibly capable Land Cruiser. This journey lasted at least another 5k, and we drove up and down things I had never imagined possible in a vehicle. The photo quality suffered quite a bit due to the nature of sitting in the back seat and shooting out the window of a land cruiser, so hopefully you get the idea.
(The idea: we’re in a car in a river. Or, we’re in a car in a lupine field. Or, we’re in a car driving up a freaking rock slab!)
Eventually the 4WD “track” petered out and we took on the mission by foot. Not to be outdone by the Land Cruiser, our “hike” was basically a tramp up river. Scott and I joked that we crossed a river more times by car and more times by foot in one day than we have in the rest of our lives. The hike was as much of an adventure as the drive in… almost.
If you know us, you know that we like our trips to be an adventure- even if they deviate from the plan. Maybe these adventures find us.
We hiked a few kilometers, zigzagging across the river. Occasionally we stopped to look for gold (we never found any). But nearly as exciting as gold, we found tiny strawberries! And then gooseberries, both yellow and red. Delicious! We also passed wild marjoram and wild spearmint. We could have made one hell of a cocktail.
The river route eventually turned away from the water, through hip-high bush and along deep crevices, up the hillside and finally to Bullendale Hut. I’ve talked about the phenomenal hut system before, but for newcomers: New Zealand has an amazing system of huts equipped with mattresses, woodturning stoves, maps, and outhouses. They are maintained by DOC and are designed for hunters, hikers, cross-country skiers, etc. Some require reservations, while others (like this one) are so deep in the middle of nowhere that they will never get booked out.
We just checked in, ate lunch, took photos, took it in, and then hiked back out. The synopsis:
If you thought one hike would be enough, you thought wrong.
After seeing the Bullendale Hut, we then headed up a different fork in the river to see the Dynamo Hut. This hut, a few kilometers in a different direction, is built at the site of New Zealand’s first hydroelectric power “plant”.
In addition to the hut itself, the site has rustic relics from circa 1886, which give an impression of what downright treachery went into the first efforts of electricity. The Dynamo site used water flowing 60 meters down a cliff face to power wheels and dynamos at the base. The power generated into electricity was then transported 3 kilometers via copper wire (over a mountain pass!) to Bullendale (the creepy graveyard town). This is one of the last original hydroelectric mines remaining in the world, a cool part of New Zealand history.
After two hikes and all of the food eaten (besides the endless supply of gooseberries!) you’d think our adventure was over. In a way, it was… except we had to drive back out the way we came! Back down the river, back up the rock slabs, and the trusty Subaru back across her own river and up some gnarly track!
Don’t worry. We made it.
Sometimes everything goes according to plan.
(Disclaimer because I come from the land of lawsuits: Jamie is an expert driver. He IS better than you. He’s also a professional mountain biker so he’s better at that too! But in all seriousness, please don’t attempt to drive out here. The photos above are of this guy in control. That’s why I’m behind the camera! Know your place. That is all.)