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A Very Kiwi South Island Road Trip 

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A Very Kiwi South Island Road Trip 
The South Island offers some of New Zealand's most spectacular driving routes. Photo by Mark Towning

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Driving along the magnificent stretches of New Zealand’s South Island highway between Christchurch and Central Otago without a care in the world, the sun streaming down from the bleached blue summer sky, we encountered some unusual behaviour. It was not, as we had come to expect, the erratic driving behaviour of overseas tourists, but the unaccustomed friendliness of fellow road users.

Every five minutes or so, there were waves, thumbs-ups, beaming smiles, and
 other extraordinarily friendly gestures from people 
passing us on the open road. Slightly puzzled, we reciprocated, feeling even more buoyed (if that were possible) because we were on a long-awaited family road trip to a couple of weddings in
 the Deep South. We were travelling in convoy, the young ones in one vehicle and the parents 
in the other, which enabled them to play their horrible music and deviate from the route to
 visit places of no particular merit. Meanwhile, we played tasteful, melodious
 tunes and stopped — for as long as we wanted — at scenic and historic locations. 
It was one of those eye-wateringly clear, high summer South Island days when 
the lakes sparkle like diamonds and the tussock in the Mackenzie Country
 shimmers in the sun. The country’s highest mountain, Mount Cook — also known as Aoraki or the ‘Cloud Piercer’ — was presiding magnificently
 over her courtiers, the Southern Alps, although there was not a single cloud
 in the sky for her to pierce that day.

I sent a flurry of texts to the youngsters to ensure they stopped 
and took selfies with Mount Cook in all her glory. ‘Yes… hundreds of
 them,’ they replied. I also asked if they were receiving strange yet wonderful greetings from 
passing motorists. ‘Yes… hundreds of them. That’s the JUCY wave, Mum.’
 Ahh, brand bonding on a vast scale. That explained it.

A long straight asphalt road through flat, tussock plains leading to snow tipped mountains in the distance
Driving towards the Southern Alps through the shimmering tussock of the Mackenzie Country. Photo by Kurt McManus

After that startling revelation, we got right into the act and became quite 
inventive with our waves and gestures, being careful to arrange our fingers 
in a non-offensive configuration, of course. We received such enthusiastic 
responses that it inspired us to be even more ingenious and hold up a sign saying ‘Kia Ora’ to foreigners, to welcome them to New Zealand in the native Maori language. After a while, the JRW (JUCY recognition wave) got to a 
ridiculously competitive stage and began distract our attention away from
 the spectacular scenery, which is what the roadie was all about. So we
 admitted defeat and reverted to a boring old thumbs up.

Our trusty JUCY campervans took us to all sorts of fabulous places over the next 12
 days and were seen parked up at some pretty salubrious locations, not to
 mention being packed to the gunwales with elegantly dressed guests sipping 
champagne en route to two ritzy weddings. Driver excluded, of course.
 We drove up the side of Lake Pukaki to the Hermitage whereupon we hiked up
 to the terminal face of the Hooker Glacier. Where else in the world can a person 
stroll through spectacular alpine terrain right to the foot of the country’s
 highest peaks in an hour or so without guides, oxygen and a team of Sherpas
 or yaks carrying a month’s worth of life’s necessities? No matter
 how many times one looks at her, from any angle, Mount Cook is a stunner. 
Gazing at her impressive 3754-metre stature, proud and unchallenged, I had a sense of reverence that Maori talk of when they refer to their maunga, their 
mountain.

Reflection of an orange, sun kissed peak in a rocky blue lake in the foreground
A distant, sun-kissed Mount Cook reflected in Hooker Lake. Photo by Alexander Riek

Another day, we ventured 60 minutes beyond Wanaka to hike the Rob Roy track 
in the Mount Aspiring National Park, part of Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World
Heritage site. The 54-kilometre road skirts Lake Wanaka, passing by iconic Glendu Bay with postcard 
views of Mt Aspiring (Tititea) and the wispy waterfalls of Treble Cone and 
alongside the gin-clear Matukituki River. We’ve climbed to the foot of the
 Rob Roy glacier a dozen times in all seasons but it never ceases to astound
 and delight me. The cold blue gleam of the glacier face is blindingly bright 
and mesmerisingly beautiful. Occasionally, huge slabs of ice on the terminal 
face lose the fight against gravity and thunder down the valley in a white 
cloud, an awesome sight from a safe vantage point.

My holidays as a child were always spent in Arrowtown so I had to inflict 
some reminiscing on our children. We parked the cars by the Arrow River and 
walked up the gorge towards the old gold mining ghost town of Macetown, as I
 did long ago. I wanted them to taste the tart gooseberries and sweet raspberries growing 
wild and dusty on the side of the track, smell the pastel-coloured lupins
 and the cold river water on hot schist, see the play of light on the 
golden tussocked hills, and the dark shadows cast by the high mountain ranges 
and deep gorges.

Hills and brown-coloured mountains surround the small historic Arrowtown
Historic Arrowtown lies northeast of Lake Hayes and the Wakatipu Basin. Photo by Justin McCormack

We drove along the magnificent 46-kilometre lakeside road from Queenstown to 
Glenorchy, rated one of the top ten scenic drives in the world by Conde 
Naste and Lonely Planet. We had a delicious lunch at Queenie’s Dumplings and then hiked
 up the Routeburn Track alongside a river with colours so intense our Australian friend believed me when I said Department of Conservation rangers poured
 turquoise food colouring into the pools to wow the trampers.

While at Glenorchy, we jumped in a Dart River jetboat and thundered up the braided river encircled by craggy peaks with gleaming glaciers and tendril waterfalls that made my heart soar. The landscape is vast, remote and astonishing, terrain Sir Peter Jackson eagerly seized upon as Middle Earth for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Then we drifted dreamily downstream in inflatable kayaks called ’funyaks‘. We  paddled into the dim silent depths of the  Rockburn Chasm, a narrow, steep-sided gash in the side of a mountain, flooded with startlingly crystal clear, aqua-turquoise water.

Two men in a red kayak rowing through incredibly clear blue-green water seeing down to the rocks and riverbed
Floating downstream on sparkling waters, exploring Dart River’s peace and tranquility via inflatable canoes. Photo courtesy of Dart River

Then we parked up the JUCY-mobiles for a few days, crossed Lake Wakatipu on the historic steamer Earnslaw, and went cycling with Kate and Matt from Revolution Tours. On our four-day tour of the Paradise Trail, we skirted the far side of a sparkling  Lake Wakatipu on undulating farm tracks in the shade of ancient beech forests and splashed through clear mountain streams. We pedalled up the silver-shingled, braided river valleys of the Dart and Rees rivers, surrounded by towering snow-capped giants, to a place actually called Paradise. We experienced the closest thing to heaven on earth — a sublime way to end an idyllic family holiday.


Justine travelled courtesy of  JUCY, a New Zealand company specialising in vehicle rental in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. JUCY also offers hotel accommodation, cruise holidays and New Zealand’s first capsule hotel in Christchurch.

Published on December 20, 2016
Country: New Zealand ›
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