Queenstown Stories and Tips

The road to Paradise

Photo of Queenstown, New Zealand

Our second day in Queenstown and the weather couldn't be different from the crystal beauty of yesterday. It's raining, and the sky is thick with uniform darkness of grey clouds. The opposite shore of the lake is hardly visible.

But we only have two days here, so we do need to get out and see things. This is, after all, travellers' duty: to go out and see things.

Into the car it is, then, with our host waiting at home for the news of snow situation on the ski slopes, we set off for Glenorchy. 45 km from Queenstown, Glenorchy sits at the tip of the Wakatipu lake, near the borders of Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park.

In the straight line, Glenorchy is less than 50 km from Milford Sound – but the wall of mountains stands between us and the Fiords and the only road connection is via the incredibly round-about route through Te Anau. Hikers (or trampers, as hill walkers are known here) can do the 32km Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand's great walks which takes the walkers from Glenorchy to Te Anau road across the hills. The mountains are covered in snow, though, so doing any high levels walks is out of question.

We drive along the mist-hidden lake, stopping on the way to look at rain-filled waterfalls tumbling off the rocks at the roadside (we will see hundreds of those later on the route through the West Coast).

It's still raining as we park the car and get out for a wee walk and a look. Even in the rain, though, the lake is wonderful: moody,misty, subdued and yet powerful. The boat shed is empty, and there is only a few cars in the car park, but as we venture into the shop and a cafe, we find people and warmth, and information on local walks and places to go.
We have a cup of tea and then venture out, contemplating a walk up a hill or around the lagoon. Lagoon it is, as it's a gentle and easy walk and we still have plans to drive on - to Paradise.

The lagoon walk has good paths (although the Younger Child still manages to fall into the water on a little detour across a plank-bridge to a sandbank opposite) and further in, a boardwalk that takes us a few inches above the water. There are reeds, willows and lovely reflections in the still waters, but what draws all the eyes and all the oohs and aaahs is the grand, craggy massif emerging from behind the mist and clouds. It's Mount Earnslaw, but I can't help but think of it as Caradhras, the peak that defeated the Fellowship on their way across the Misty Mountains, the mountain raising above the Redhorn Pass and the gates of Moria. I do wonder how much Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand's tourism, and how much New Zealand's beauty did for the popularity of Peter Jackson's film version of Tolkien's epic.

The Glenorchy viewpoint provides the right angle (at least from the Lord of the Rings perspective) to look at Mt Earnslaw, because it's this side of the mountain that featured in the film.

Caradhras is only one of the Lord of the Rings locations that can be found in this part of Otago. A short drive on a gravel road towards the hills from Glenorchy and we enter the broad valley that marks the confluence of the lake Wakatipu and Rivers Dart and Rees.
This is the way to Paradise, a mountain-surrounded, broad and flat valley; idyllic pasture land, apparently named after Paradise shelducks that are common in the locality (though the romantic etymology, seeing the origins of the name in the beauty of the area, also has its supporters).

Paradise represented Parth Galen in the Rings' film, and the thick and misty beech forest on the way to Paradise stood for, quite appropriately in the scheme of things, the woods of Lothlorien.

The gravel road becomes a very much a dirt track, and all the traffic we pass (the whole two cars of it) on our way into the valley consists of four by four jet boating tour vehicles whose inhabitants eye our normal car with a look of incredulity. Still, we are not doing too badly when we come across what seems to me plainly impassable mountain stream.

The Other Adult, though, has different ideas, and clearly encouraged by my rather hysterical protestations, decides to ford the waterway. We are herded out of the car, cross the stream on foot as to reduce the vehicle's load. Quite amazingly, by a stroke of luck or an instance of great skill, the Other Adult makes it to the other side so we can drive further in.

We turn back when it starts to rain again (I have visions of the ford becoming a veritable rapid but it's nothing of the sort) and drive back to Queenstown for dinner and sleep.

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