Fall fantasy: NZ from coast to mountains to coast

When I last wrote, we were leaving Dunedin, on the east coast of the South Island.

Central Otago

After days along the water, we now drove inland, swapping cliffs and seascapes for the rolling hills and tussock country of Central Otago. It’s a very sparsely populated region — 1.5 people per square kilometer! — and accordingly we saw few cars and even fewer settlements along the way.



After a while we started to see snow on the distant mountaintops.




For lunch, we stopped at one of the larger towns (Ranfurly, population 1,060) and had battered blue cod at Freddy’s Pie Cart and fantastic chocolate layer cake from the next-door café, Ewes & Moos.


Autumn colors were still in evidence — as on this deer farm. I’ve never seen farmed venison anywhere else, but we’ve passed many such farms on the South Island. Not as many as the sheep or dairy farms, but still a good number.



Outside Clyde (population 918), we stopped for a stretch at an overlook by a dam. Like everyplace else, we were the only ones there; we joked, “there’s no one else here but Clyde.”


Wild thyme grew all over the hillside, scenting the air.


The highway continued along the river, so we had gorgeous (and late-afternoon blinding) views.


Another scenic point, looking upon the town of Cromwell (population about 4,000). We stopped at a produce store there and bought fresh eggs and sparkling elderflower rosé cordial.



Much of the rest of our drive passed through Kawarau Gorge. The landscape reminded me of Taroko in Taiwan.


We passed many wineries and a cheesery, all offering tastings, but the sun was dropping and we wanted to get to our lodgings. We did stop at the bungy centre to see where my sister and brother-in-law did their bungy jump two years ago.

Late in the afternoon, we pulled into our cottage in Arrowtown (one of the most expensive places we’ve stayed on our travels, but very much worth it). Our host had left us some home-baked orange and chocolate chip muffins (delicious), and soon after, came over to offer her welcome. We were pretty tired from the drive, so we made a dinner off the Cromwell-bought eggs and some rice we found in the cupboard. Then peace and quiet and bed.


Originally we’d planned to stay in Queenstown (population 16,600), but three things drew us instead to Arrowtown (population 2,400, not counting seasonal residents). First, our Auckland hosts and their friends told us there was a Chinese mining settlement in Arrowtown. Of course I wanted to see that. Second, our Oamaru host opined that Queenstown and the nearby town of Wanaka are mostly tourist traps, and suggested Arrowtown as an alternative. Third, when I hunted through Queenstown AirBnB listings, most of the places were very expensive and obviously catering to a well-heeled tourist market (mostly devotees of winter sports). We ended up booking a non-AirBnB accommodation, but we’re so glad we stayed in this place, even though (in fact, because) it’s outside of Arrowtown proper. It felt so secluded. This is the view down the driveway:


And a hasty sketch from another vantage point, outside the cottage:


On our first morning we went for a walk and could not stop exclaiming over the views. Those mountains are called The Remarkables.


We had lunch at a café a short distance from the house. The food and tea were extremely tasty (and we were quite surprised to see gado-gado on the menu!). After our seafood chowder and lamb shank pie, we left with a box of takeaway baked goods.



Then we went to the Chinese settlement just off the main road in town. Arrowtown was a gold mining town in the 1860s, not long after the California Gold Rush. Having grown up near California gold country (and studied it for my college thesis), Arrowtown’s history felt quite familiar. Though the restored/maintained miners’ huts were in good condition, they are small, chilly, stone-floored; it’s not hard to imagine just how lonely and lost the men must have felt.







In the modern day, though, with every comfort at our disposal, Arrowtown in autumn is breathtaking.


We had a walk behind town, eventually following the river for a short ways.










It’s funny, but we saved the town itself for last; we didn’t go into it until we’d seen the Chinese settlement and the trails behind it.




We visited the bakery and some shops, and then settled into the museum for a couple of hours. It was delightfully eclectic and hands-on.



I amused myself sketching some of the exhibits.



Behind the museum, I spotted a photo studio offering costume sessions. A chalkboard informed me that the studio was closed for the winter, but offered a number to call for bookings. I got in touch with the photographer and made an appointment for the next day.

After we left town, we made a quick stop at a grocery store for some ingredients, then went home and cooked dinner. More peace, more quiet, and then letter-writing. And outdoors: rain.

Around Arrowtown/Queenstown: snowy mountaincaps

In the morning the cottage looked much the same, but the mountaintops gleamed with a fresh fall of snow.



We returned to Arrowtown for our photo session, which was over and done in a highly efficient 20-odd minutes. I am in love with the result. Not historically accurate I’m sure, but so much fun.



Outside the studio, we encountered a family who asked us — in Mandarin — for details about the session and cost, which I was able to give (they did look at me a bit oddly, so maybe my grammar was off or something). I was so thrilled with our photos that I totally forgot to visit the post office as I’d intended.

We drove to Queenstown.


We decided Queenstown was much as Michael had said, full of backpackers and skiers, shops selling “adventure tours” and sheepskin bedspreads. It’s not a big city, but after the total small-town calm of the past couple of weeks, it felt like Las Vegas. We ate a so-so lunch at an international food court in a shopping centre, but mostly just stuck by the lake.



We spent the rest of the afternoon at the cottage, doing laundry, visiting with our kind hosts. I attempted to make a painting — a mad idea in the cold, really, and I didn’t quite realize the water-absorbing properties of my Japanese sketchbook. But at least I tried, and that was what I wanted: not a good picture necessarily, but a shot at capturing that wintry landscape.

Back to the North Island: Wellington

We’re down now to our last four days in the country. Today we flew back north — a very scenic flight, going over the mountains by Queenstown — and landed in Wellington, where there was a giant Gollum in the airport:


Dinner was random: Malaysian food. We were happy with it.


Since we’re leaving tomorrow morning, we won’t be seeing much of the city, but our hosts (Californians, funnily enough, and a writer and musician to boot!) have a gorgeous view.