Hours of idleness

Not all of New Zealand is meant for adventurers as one can just slow down, breathe, and soak in the glacier experience, writes Amrita Das

New Zealand. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

Slow down, whispered the late morning breeze as I sat swinging my feet over Lake Mapourika in New Zealand’s Westland National Park. The lake has been formed by the retreating Franz Josef Glacier about 14,000 years ago.

It was my third day in the country’s South Island and I found myself struggling to live in the present. Travelling to New Zealand was an actualised dream but did that mean I had to invest every waking hour being active? That is always affirmative for the over-committed traveller in me. Perhaps punting on River Avon and a short exploration of Christchurch in the heritage tram had regulated my pace?

Crossing the Waimakariri river bridge at Bealey
Crossing the Waimakariri river bridge at Bealey

 

I was particularly put to test in the three-hour journey on TranzAlpine train to West Coast’s Greymouth. Onboard I found myself shuttling among the audio commentary, jumping window-to-window for photographs of the changing landscape and scribbling notes.

After an hour of this animated, exhausting behaviour, I got myself a cup of cocoa from the onboard cafe and restrained myself to stay focussed in the moment.

I failed miserably until the following morning in the rainforest’s mirror-like Lake Mapourika. After kayaking leisurely on this lake, I decided to stare at the changing weather as it reflected on the surface. By now, my guide, Sue Hawkins, had shared the news of my sky dive and glacier hiking experiences being cancelled (owing to West Coast’s erratic weather). I had ample time to do nothing. So I did nothing until I felt afternoon hunger take me back to Franz Josef Glacier Township, where I stayed for two nights.

TranzAlpine waiting on the platform.
TranzAlpine waiting waiting at Springfield.

 

Retreating glaciers

The glacier town was buzzing with tourists who came to explore the two retreating glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. But my itinerary was drafted differently.

I sampled West Coast’s famed whitebait patties in the cosy Landing Bar. From August to November, fishing these small, local fish, whitebait, is a ritual. The local delicacy is made by mixing the catch with beaten eggs and flour (to hold it together) and served like an omelette, or patty, as they call it).

I tried my luck with the scheduled skydive and glacier hike after lunch. But the universe’s conspiracy against my active travel was too strong.

Returning to my rainforest stay, I sat in my balcony with a book as it drizzled in front of me.

In a few hours, I geared up in a robe and walked a few steps to the adjoining Glacier Hot Pools. Its cloudy blue water with vapour rising above, invited me. I greeted my companions and dipped myself in the therapeutic water. The only thing I missed — my book.

Nothing seemed to change in the next few days, except the landscape.

Central Otago was nothing like West Coast. The rainforest with tall manuka, rimu (red pine) and kahikatea (white pine) trees gave way to barren, rugged mountains lined with either fruit orchards or vines in the valley, flaunting the long Lake Dunstan.

My hours of idleness in Central Otago was also different from those in the West Coast. Here I had long lunches at Mt Difficulty — a premier winery in the region. I was kept company by the panoramic lookout from their Winery Restaurant.

Walking around Clyde
Walking around Clyde

 

Heritage town

And then Clyde stole my heart. My brief infatuation with this heritage town, about 25 kilometres from Cromwell, grew as I walked around its stone houses which dated back to the early 1860s.

Whether it was the first double-storied house called Dunstan House of 1899, the 1865 post office-turned-bar on Blyth Street, the non-operational railway station, or the charming kitchen and rooms of Olivers and the adjoining restaurant (which has remained intact since the original Benjamin Naylor’s Store of 1870) — resisting a love affair with Clyde is futile.

The next day, I decided to revive my muscles’ memory, which by now had lost their purpose.

Kitchen at Olivers in Clyde
Kitchen at Olivers in Clyde.

 

A short, scenic cycling trail on Clyde’s old rail trail awaited me. Sue, Simon Stevens of Trail Journeys and I docked our bikes out at Ophir, 30 kilometres from Clyde, and pedalled to Lauder, tracing the old 152-kilometre Otago Central Rail Trail — now transformed into a beautiful cycling trail.

The Poolburn Viaduct (unlike Europe, viaducts in New Zealand are bridges made of timber), two tunnels with remarkable brickwork panels, the impressive Manuherikia No 1 Bridge, many farmlands, yellow gorse (rampant weeds growing) filled hills and River Manuherikia accompanied our quiet sojourn.

Once we reached Lauder, I realised we cycled only 11 km in two hours! Clearly, I had settled into my slow travel mode. Or as Simon said in the beginning of the trail, “The idea is to enjoy the ride and this,” gesturing Central Otago’s undulating green-brown panorama.

Consequentially, flying above Lake Wakatipu, Southern Alps and glaciers with Air Milford to Milford Sound felt like meditation, with my eyes open.

Everything I saw was white and blue. White clouds hanging above crystallised sea coast. White peaks with steep fjords cut by glacial waters. And then we landed on Milford Sound’s runway only to cruise on these waters.

During the two-and-a-half-hour cruise, I mostly sat outside on the deck, allowing the cold spring winds to chisel my face. I lifted my camera to photograph occasionally. Doing anything but admiring these dramatic fjords — opening up to hidden waterfalls and widening into the Tasman Sea — was inconvenient.

As we turned from Harrison Cove to return to the cruise terminal, I sat with a cup of hot tea in the closed deck and pressed my nose on the clear glass, hoping to freeze in time. How could I return to my life before I met New Zealand?

 

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