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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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