England’s Lake District is justifiably renowned. For those who have not had the privilege of touring through its gentle slopes and pristine waters, the recent biopic on Beatrix Potter has some gorgeous backdrops from the region. I first visited the area when I was eleven and have been back many times since. It features prominently as the subject of two lovely wedding gifts from my sister.
I have also had the good fortune to see Lake Titicaca in Guatemala, with its sole volcanic mountain as guardian silhouetted against the setting sun. Pam and I have driven around Lake Como and Lago Magiori in northern Italy, and Loch Lomond and Loch Ness in southern Scotland. We have camped beside the Thuner Sea at Interlaken and swam in the oceanic waters of Lake Huron. Great lakes, all of them, and a joy to see. But the ones we have seen in the last two days have been perhaps the most beautiful in our experience.
We had driven from Punakaiki to Haast on Boxing Day, covering most of the West Coast that has a highway. Our target was Queenstown in the heart of the South Island’s Lake District. We were prepared for a stiff drive, having seen what some of these roads are like. What we were not prepared for was the knockout beauty of the trip. The pictures here do not do the views justice. The roads were not a problem. Traffic was light and the roads are well constructed and maintained. Given how tight the space was between mountain and lake there were few safe places to pull over, but we took advantage of the ones that offered a few feet of gravel with a view of the surroundings. The amazing thing to us was how few people are in this part of the world. Villages were non-existent and even farmhouses were extremely rare.
The next day we headed up from Queenstown to Glenorchy, reputed to be one of the ten most scenic drives in the world. We wouldn’t dispute that, having driven both there and back; the vistas were breathtaking. At Glenorchy we took a gravel drive past the hamlet called Paradise to as far as we could go before timidity and the depth of water in the fords we had been crossing caused us to pull over. And there, right where we stopped, was the forest of Lothlorien! I recognized it immediately, without the aid of the guide book; but again, pictures don’t do it justice. We also caught a glimpse of the Misty Mountains used by Peter Jackson in his film.
In has been a fun couple of days in the South Island. Tomorrow we make for the coast at Dunedin before heading up to Christchurch for New Year’s. The weather has held the entire time so far; warm and dry during the day, cool at night. The size of the river beds we crossed over indicate this is not the case during the rainy season; some river gorges are a kilometer wide. That would be a terrifying amount of water crashing down off the mountains!