Dreams stay with you in a big country

It’s a big country, in places – New Zealand. Quintessential Middle Earth, to some. And suddenly my wife and I find ourselves in this part of it:

I took this one with full polarisation.

Open road, big country and big sky. To me, my SLR and polariser, irresistible.

Not planned, though we’ve been planning this road trip for a while: a wander through New Zealand’s South Island, over Haast Pass into Westland – a spectacular bush-clad landscape that looks like a downstream slice of the Jurassic. Mainly because it is. But we never get there.

The view towards Glenorchy at the top of Lake Wakitipu. Fog rolled in as I took this one. Of course...

The view towards Glenorchy at the top of Lake Wakitipu. Fog rolled in as I took this one. Of course…

Our plan rests on good weather, not too big a gamble in January, except for my astonishing capacity as a rain god. Clouds roll in as we look around Glenorchy, home to a branch railway line that, at 50 metres, is regarded as New Zealand’s shortest. By the time we reach Wanaka the district is sodden and the information centre jammed with annoyed tourists.

TSS Earnslaw, 101 years old now and an icon of the lake. An old family friend was steam engineer on board until his recent retirement. You'd never guess, but I took this picture with just two hours to go before rain socked in.

TSS Earnslaw, 101 years old now and a New Zealand icon.  An old family friend of ours was the engineer on board this classic triple-expansion steamer until his recent retirement. You’d never guess, but I took this picture of the Earnslaw berthing at Queenstown, on Lake Wakitipu, with just two hours to go before rain socked in.

The pass is closed by a slip. Come back at noon. We dash through pelting rain to find brunch. An hour later nothing has changed, except the information board which tells us to come back at 3.00 pm for more news. The tourists fume: ‘Sie Kiwis! Ist Ihr Wetter so völlig undiszipliniert und ohne Ordnung!’

Quite. We have family to meet in Westport in two days, and Haast Pass is the direct route.

‘Let’s go up the east coast,’ I suggest. She Who Must Be Obeyed agrees. We set out for the Lindis Pass – the road to north Otago and the MacKenzie country, better known to the world as ‘Rohan’.

A few minutes later we break out into bright sunshine. Of course.

And we enter a gigantic landscape with a big sky and rolling ochre hills that defies the imagination. It is the antithesis of Westland; a vast land of vast form that leaves us breathless with its beauty.

We keep stopping. I am on a photography jag. What’s the point in lugging  a camera that weighs over 1kg with a lens that looks like a ½ scale Saturn V rocket, if you don’t use it?

These days anyone can create a perfect panorama. I still prefer the old collage effect with hand-held SLR. I took these shots of the Lindis Pass, deliberately moving the camera to create that jigsaw look, and pasted the results together manually.

These days anyone can create a perfect panorama. For reasons associated with ‘the emotion of art as a dada concept’, I still prefer the old collage effect with hand-held SLR. I took these shots of the Lindis Pass, deliberately moving the camera to create that jigsaw look, and pasted the results together manually.

Besides, this landscape is not to be missed. It is not just a big country. It is a huge country. It unfolds around us in a vast carpet of tussock and rolling yellow-brown, mythically gigantic when beheld from the puny scale of mere mortals. I find myself thinking not of the fantasy riders who pounded across it in Jackson’s ‘The Two Towers’, but of the hardy Scots and English folk who took it on for real in the 1850s, throwing sheep across Crown leasehold with enthusiastic abandon and reaping financial rewards that made them rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Tussock and Echium - Patterson's Curse, in the top of Lindis Pass.

Tussock and Echium – Patterson’s Curse - in the top of Lindis Pass.

Otago tussock. Distinctive - and means the disbelief, for me, isn't entirely suspended in 'The Two Towers'.

Otago tussock. Distinctive – and means the disbelief, for me, isn’t entirely suspended in ‘The Two Towers’.

It's a big, big country down here.

It’s a big, big country down here.

Not to mention James MacKenzie, the alleged sheep-rustler who, legend goes, hid a stolen flock in the midst of this enormous landscape – a land that, today, bears his name.

It is a fantastic place, a land of legends, a land of history, an inspiration – and a place for dreams.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

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9 comments on “Dreams stay with you in a big country

  1. Lemuel says:

    Beautiful photos and a beautiful part of the country! Just after the Two Towers film came out I went on a road trip with a few of my friends to the location where they filmed Edoras, the capital city of Rohan. The view was spectacular and you really could imagine the riders of Rohan riding across the terrain, in fact I found what I swear was part of a chain-mail costume. Other than that there was only a few nails and a little bit of plaster left of the set. It felt a little weird looking for “archaeological evidence” of a fantasy world…

    • Thanks. A fabulous landscape indeed – and one, I suspect, that is not often seen internationally. I have to say that looking for those relics sounds pretty cool. You’re talking to a total Tolkien fan here! And the making of those films is also very much a part of New Zealand’s real history. Wonderful stuff.

  2. Team Oyeniyi says:

    I’m definitely homesick now!!!

    • Understandable – this is a fantastic place (pix of the west coast to come, we have family strewn from Greymouth to Westport). Apart from a quick trip to Queenstown a decade ago, I’d last been in Central in 1985, as a student – and was on a complete nostalgia trip as we drove through it again..

  3. KM Huber says:

    Your photos remind me of the high plains desert that is Wyoming, which also has its mountains, lakes and streams. As you say, it is a landscape not often seen internationally, and just for a moment it was wonderful not only to visit a bit of New Zealand but my own beloved Wyoming as well. Thanks, Matthew!

    Karen

    • My pleasure. It’s not entirely coincidental, either, that this placei s like Wyoming; very similar climate and fauna. Actually, NZ is very similar to mid-west US in most ways – not so much the geography but particularly the urban street layouts, the look and the feel of the towns and so forth. It flows from a common 19th century origin, both frontiers were being opened up at the same time by people with the same ideals, hopes and dreams. Sometimes – certainly in Otago – it was even the same people, the gold miners who rushed from California to Victoria to the South Island. Our ‘wild west’ era was indistinguishable, style-wise, from that of the US at the same time – the photos reveal identical townscapes. Even speech and spelling was American English, not British English (it’s changed now, of course). Historians lately have been writing on the phenomenon, the ‘Pacific Rim’ cultural explosion. It’s fascinating stuff & to me highlghts the human reality – the world is a small place. And was, I think, even in the nineteenth century.

  4. Great photos! Definitely somewhere I want to visit one day (to be honest, I want to spend a lot of time wandering and exploring all of New Zealand, when I have the time to spare, though anything Tolkien related is an absolute must for me).

  5. As always, outstanding pics. The last three remind me of the front range of Colorado. I see KM Huber agrees with me there. The others have a very Alaska/NW Territory feel to them. I am amazed at the diverse landscapes NZ offers.

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