Passing the TimeA WANDER DOWN UNDER, CHAPTER 19: IN WHICH WE FIND SHELTER...BELTS
Day 20: Queenstown to Ashburton. Even though we eliminated Mount Cook from our itinerary, we decided to keep today's overnight stay in Ashburton. Doing so would put us back on track and give us the opportunity to drive through Arthur's Pass on our way to the west coast.
Snow flurries were skittering past our window when we arose in Queenstown this morning, and last night's precipitation had significantly lowered the snow line on the mountains surrounding the city. Though inclement weather was not forecast for any of the few towns along our 250-mile route today, we have learned that weather patterns seem to be very localized in this part of New Zealand. With all the mountains around, we have often moved from blue sky sunny in one valley to fog with spitting rain or snow in the next valley. All within the space of ten minutes.
So before leaving Queenstown, we stocked up on groceries, cash and petrol. Following Highway 6 east out of town, we passed the Kawarau Bridge and were tempted to stop when we saw someone on the bungy jumping platform, but we resisted the urge and pressed on to the town of Cromwell, where we turned north onto Highway 8.
Back on the road, we continued northeast, making our way through the mountains. We weren't sure what to expect when we saw Lindis Pass on the map with no designation of its elevation. Our first thoughts were of our experience last November at Wolf Creek Pass, a snow-covered, wind-blinding 10,900-ft. route through the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. But this was another story completely. Any amount of dread for Lindis Pass was misplaced.
Further west on Highway 8, we passed through Omarama, a small village (pop. 230), which acts as a rural service center for the sheep and dairy farmers in the surrounding area. Just outside the town, we passed a sign indicating "Clay Cliffs" 400 meters ahead. Rising to the bait, we made the turn to learn that the Clay Cliffs were another 10 km away. What the heck? We were making good time, so we decided to go for it, soon finding ourselves on a gravel road ('unsealed' in the local parlance).
A few kilometers further we reached the first of two gates, indicating we were entering private property and inviting us to pay NZ$5 (about $4 US) per car to continue. Actually the sign said we should have made payment at Omarama Hot Tubs on Highway 8, but since most of the people who enter there are probably unaware of this nuance and unlikely to drive all the way back to town to do so, a collection box was provided for the purpose. We'd come this far. Why not? In we went.
Back on the highway, a little further north, we stopped for a cup of tea at the bakery in Twizel before continuing east into the Canterbury Plains, a vast area of treeless grasslands which form New Zealand's largest area of flat land. And we do mean flat. Kansas and Oklahoma flat. When English settlers arrived in this area between the Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean in the 1850s, they found no barriers to protect their crops and livestock from the high winds that frequent the area. On average, the wind gusts exceed 40 miles an hour for more than 50 days per year in these plains. So settlers began planting hedges and rows of trees as windbreaks, or shelterbelts, as they are called here.
|Canterbury Plains shelterbelts (photo from http://forums.ski.com.au)|
After searching unsuccessfully for a letterbox in the little town of Geraldine, we arrived at our hotel in Ashburton, a layover more than a destination for us. Tomorrow we will drive across the South Island to Greymouth on the west coast.
- Started in Queenstown, ended in Ashburton
- Mileage - 260 (Trip total: 13,914)
- Weather - 31° to 50°, snow, sun, clouds
- Gas price - $6.95/gallon
- Trees planted on fence rows - 248,290
- Vineyards north of Queenstown - 31
- Fruit stalls - 23
- Sheep - 9,761
MONDAY, 22 SEPTEMBER, 2014
More Photos from Today
|Ken at Clay Cliffs|
|Lots of horses here are still wearing winter attire.|
|Tussocks near Lindis Pass|
|Interesting variety of road scenery|
|Another road view|
|This scene reminded us a bit of Tuscany.|