This week has been frustrating, particularly the last few days.
It’s been one of those weeks when you start making dinner, reach into the cupboard for potatoes, and find that the potatoes you bought only a week ago have gone from looking fine and fresh to being rotten potato soup which has seeped throughout your entire cupboard and gotten all over everything.
I just sighed, took a deep breath, and remembered last week.
Last Saturday I drove from Geraldine to Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand. For once I had the luxury of a car to myself, and enough time to stop whenever I felt like it to photograph the scenery.
The South Island is often said to have the best scenery in New Zealand, a country noted for its remarkably beautiful scenery, and autumn is a particularly fine time in the South Island. Wellington doesn’t have enough deciduous trees to make autumn anything but damp and unpleasant, but down south the poplars were turning golden yellow in long rows, sycamores were beginning to fade from green to dun, willows drooped pale ochre, and the occasional maple was a splash of red.
Around Geraldine, the land is bucolic, pastoral, farmland, and flat. Plowed fields stretch to the horizon, broken only by stands of trees trimmed into rectangular windbreaks. Huge circular irrigators turn slowly in the fields, trying to keep the crops alive in the nationwide drought we have had this summer.
As I head inland past Fairlie, into the MacKenzie district the landscape changes. Flat gives way to gently rolling foothills, flat pastureland to sheep and cows and the occasional pine forest.
Deeper into MacKenzie, the green fades to overall dun, the lush pastures give way to sparse hills, too rough for cows, but perfect for the merino sheep that give New Zealand such beautiful wool.
The gold hills cradle lakes of impossible blue with exclamation points of craggy mountains at their far end and names like Tekapo and Pukaki. Further on, mirror-like ponds reflect brilliant vermillion rose hips, and families of swans and ducks.
Every piece of ground reveals an autumn surprise: one last flower, bell-like grass sheaves, or a fall puffball.
Past Twizel you leave Mackenzie District and the Canterbury, and head into West Otago, the land of craggy mountains, icy rivers, and frigid lakes.
The land is wild, the road deserted, the air crisp and full of the promise of mountains and approaching winter.
I drive through Omarama, ‘Place of Light’, a commentary on the crystal blue dome of sky that stretches above it, and climb high into the Lindis Pass, stopping to look back at the hills, green and gold and dun and indigo, and the winding road I’ve driven.
Then the road plunges onward, through narrow ravines edged with sheer rock cliffs. The road is spotted with signs that warn of falling rock, and fines for stopping. There is relative civilization and tranquility at Cromwell, where orchards grow stone fruit and pip fruit, and the town commemorates these orchards with enormous fruit sculptures.
After Cromwell the drive becomes trickier, and the narrow winding road skirts sheer gullies that rise steeply on one side and drop away on the other. Far below brilliant turquoise rivers plunge in froths of whitewater over sharp rocks, hurrying to join the lake a Queenstown.
I am in no hurry, and stop to enjoy the turning leaves, and the hardy adventurers who flock to Queenstown to test their nerves on bungy jumps and whitewater rafting, and paddleboarding in ice cold rivers.
Finally, like the river, I move on, to Queenstown and the blue lake there, in the shadow of the truly remarkable Remarkables.
I hope you enjoyed the drive.