Dunedin Train Station
South Island NZ road trip 3 - Southland and back, 5364 kms. September 2017        image library

Mt Cook is clouded in today but we are returning tomorrow, so hopefully it will be clearer. Turning right onto the Lake Ohau road we are treated to an awe inspiring alpine view towards the top of the lake. This is what we have come for. The ‘Brown House', where we are for the next 2 nights does not have lake views, but it’s location below rising snow-capped peaks is stunning.  With the California temperature indicator sitting at 3C, Tammy’s American made tartan coat will come into its own.  The 'Brown House' has everything you could wish for, with a well-equipped full kitchen, brand new laundry and very well stacked wood house to the back of the property as well as Wi-Fi so we can check emails. Everyone sleeps soundly tonight.


A clear day dawns with some cloud and the promise of good photography. A drive up to The Ohau Alpine Village brings us to the entrance of the Ohau Skifields road. We are not going to attempt this as it zigzags precipitously up the side of the mountain in front of us. Although we are 4 wheel drive this track looks incredibly dangerous.

Along with the steely grey blue lake, giving off a bone chilling aura,  the snow-capped , sunlight tipped surrounding peaks offer some good shots which I take now as the light changes constantly. Sun declining to the west in the afternoon would make these images dull and unattractive.

Now down the Ohau road, back onto 8, then left to Mt Cook. You never know with Mt Cook – it can be quite clouded in, as it appears now, yet as the day goes by the clouds may part, presenting some inspiring photo opportunities.  The Mt Cook Road has tempting scenic vistas in every direction.  Pulling over, even carefully,  is not such a great idea anytime, but especially today with runners and walkers all over the road. We discover later it is a half marathon – an annual event, making a slower than usual drive, getting us up to The Hermitage in time for a late lunch at The Old Mountaineers Café. Last time we visited in 2014 we were the only customers but with today’s race, we are part of a long ordering queue and every table is occupied.  When it’s my turn to order I am asked a question I have never heard before. I ask for "2 glasses of the Roaring Meg Pinot, please". "Excuse me Sir, could you identify the other person you are ordering for?" "Um err yes why"? I'm thinking, is it that she doesn’t think I should be having 2 glasses of wine to myself. But it isn’t that.  She explains some people have been ordering alcohol for under 18s. As I glance over to my wife, she raises her hand – gosh, she doesn’t look much over 18! But she passes the age barrier so there is no further problem and we get our 2 glasses of pinot.

Today, cloud comes and goes across Mt Cook but never clears enough for really crisp shots.  After lunch we decide to drive the 8kms to the Tasman walkway from where there is quite a steep climb to the ridge top, offering a great view of the glacial river complete with lumps of ice and the front of the glacier itself.  With a howling gale, so strong  I can barely stand up, it’s photographically  and physically rewarding, pushing the heart rate up.


A return visit to nearby electricity town,Twizel, has been on our list for a while particularly to Jakes Hardware – one of those old world Hardware shops which has everything and some hard to find good quality small tools. We have success again and leave very happy with our purchases. A short run takes us from here to Lake Benmore to view the small power station and drive alongside the Ohau Channel which feeds the turbines. There are lots of hopeful fishermen trying their hand at the locally farmed salmon. We buy some fresh filleted from the nearby shop instead, a nice promise for dinner tonight. Back to the peace and quiet of the Brown House to enjoy our last Ohau night before probing further south towards Queenstown. 

With the California able to be close by the front door, it doesn’t take long in the morning to be  loaded and underway.  Heading towards Omarama on 8, we drive by Kellands Ponds which are a spectacular wetland on this bright windless day, offering brilliant reflections to catch a photographer’s eye. Omarama arrives in perfect time for morning coffee and we fondly remember The Wrinkly Ram, where we stopped in 2014. It was busy then as it is busy today.


We have a very pleasant detour planned to visit old friends living in Wanaka which is not so far off our route south. Wanaka itself is always a delight and with the added pleasure of spring blossom trees, not to be missed. After a happy, relaxing couple of hours we are on 6 driving down the western shore of man-made Lake Dunstan, calling briefly at the quite contrived lakeside heritage area of Cromwell. Tammy needs a walk and we are thinking maybe a quick coffee but no luck as customers are a bit thin on the ground with places closing too early in the afternoon. Another hour on the road and we arrive at our home for the next 3 nights – Pagan Vines, centrally located in the Gibbston Valley, famous for its vineyards.  Jonny and Suzy have an absolutely delightful spot here with a modern 2 bedroom cottage, separate from the main house, set up attractively with every convenience.  Plenty of grass around about leading up to the small vineyard suits Tammy perfectly. With short driving distances, this is to be our base for visiting Arrowtown and Queenstown.

The valley is quite narrow with mountains looming on either side.  On our second night a  thunderstorm starts up with flashes of lightening throwing  an eerie greenish glow into the bedroom every few seconds along with thunder seeming to come right into the room, rolling about in large lumps – as  Lewis Carroll coined in ‘Alice in Wonderland’.  Tammy is very frightened by even distant thunder, and this fierce storm lasting for several hours makes her pant and sweat so much, we are worried she might have a heart attack.  We sit up in the living room with her in our arms for most of the night until eventually dawn breaks, the thunder dies away and we all sneak off to bed for an hour or so of much needed sleep. Tammy is happy again and makes herself comfortable in her own snug bed.


On our first Pagan Vines day we drive into Arrowtown which although somewhat contrived, exudes an old world charm.  Tammy is loved by everyone. Lunch at Bonjour, a small French restaurant at the back of the main street, is a very happy occasion. Buckwheat galettes accompanied by Brouilly Beaujolais – perfect.  In the afternoon Queenstown beckons.  We don’t spend long in the city area  which is very crowded and congested, the streets mainly lined with bars and restaurants. This is probably a great place for the overseas tourist, however not so great for the local road traveller looking for unspoilt New Zealand. We know it is somewhere but not here. Linda does buy a very useful warm jacket so there’s a plus!

On Pagan Vines day 3, after no more overnight thunder, thankfully for Tammy’s sake, we are driving the length of Lake Wakatipu, all the way up to Glenorchy, then across the tip to Kinloch. We are so pleased we make this decision, the scenery is beautiful.   A Country lunch at The Billy Jean Hotel,  Glenorchy where cool but sunny weather tempts us to an outside table where Tammy can contentedly stretch out on the deck. The only negative in the pristine Glenorchy environment is a tourist flying a drone off the end of the short wharf. Ordinary photography yes, but the high pitched loud mosquito whine of the drone is very invasive.

We drive around the top of the lake to Kinloch where we discover excellent coffee and a sweet treat at Kinloch Lodge, tranquilly set in natural surroundings of heartland Southern Alpine country, where the past seems to linger.  It’s no wonder while walking alongside the nearby lake, we spot something that will make a great story for our young grandson. An object lying half submerged on the foreshore looks exactly as one might imagine a dinosaur poo would look. I photograph the evidence to share with him when we return as I tell him, “This is from the place where dinosaurs gather nocturnally in early spring before they retreat back to the high alpine country beyond the glaciers. Although they’ve probably never been seen, they do leave evidence like this about from time to time”. A great 'HaHa' story to share for some years.

On the way back to Pagan Vines we stop at Kawerau Gorge to take a look at the original Hackett Bungy venue.  We watch a young, brave Chinese Girl take the jump from the bridge, hurtling way down towards the river then being pulled sharply up by the bungy cord before bouncing 2/3rds of the way back up again. There is a real gale howling through the Gorge right now which blows the jumper well back from the bridge.  It’s not something we will ever do. 

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 with our destination Dunedin by way of Te Anau.Thanking and taking ou