On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

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19 February 2017

On the road. Te Anau to Glenorchy

First step in my discovery of New Zealand on bicycle. I leave the Fiordland region to reach the Otago.
Otago, South Island, New Zealand © Claire Blumenfeld
DISPATCH

Saturday February 11, I embark on the discovery of New Zealand. I leave Te Anau and Fiordland on a bicycle trembling under the weight of my luggage. First step: join Mavora Lakes about 70km from Te Anau. The weather is gray but it is not raining. The kilometers pass by quietly on the little paved road until the intersection indicating Mavora Lakes at forty kilometers. I take a gravel road and I quickly become disillusioned. It is a real hell! Cycling a (loaded) bike on a track full of pebbles is hazardous and a physically painful endeavor. It flinches from all sides and to make things a little more difficult, I now have the headwind. I pass the kilometers with difficulty. The landscape is pretty but a little monotonous and it gets more and more gray. Exhausted, I finally arrive at Mavora Lakes, an hour before sunset. Several scenes from The Lord of the Rings were filmed in the vicinity. In particular the scene where the community docks on a shore after having gone down the Anduin river in the first film of the trilogy. I sit down to bivouac by the river and fall asleep with tired legs.

The next day the weather is still overcast and I leave the lakes slightly disappointed with my visit. Today, I have to cross a long valley to reach the shores of Lake Wakatipu about sixty kilometers away. First big difficult climb and the valley unfolds before me. It is impressive. The Eyre Mountains spread out to the right of me. I go into the valley and hit a wall. The gusts of wind are so strong that they almost prevent me from moving forward! I have four hours of cycling in this direction, again on the gravel track and my mind in my socks. My bicycle trip is starting with difficulty. Fortunately the track does not go up too much. The landscape slowly scrolls to the rhythm of my tired knees. It is raining. Even if the bad weather doesn’t do it any good, the scenery is still superb. The valley is covered with crevices, mountains are filled with grass and cows graze freely. After a good two hours hanging out in the valley, I finally reach the end of the plateau. A big, steep descent takes me to the next valley below. An hour later, the shores of Lake Wakatipu finally appear. Despite the fact that I have come to the region three times already, the bluish reflections and the size of the lake remain impressive. The last hour of cycling along the shore is splendid.

Surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides, I let my gaze wander, amazed by the beauty of the landscape. Lake Wakatipu is the longest lake in New Zealand with a length of eighty kilometers. Queenstown is at one end while Glenorchy, my destination, is on the other side. No matter how I squint, I cannot distinguish the village. The peaks are covered with snow and large clouds are looming on the horizon. I have the felling I am going to get the downpours. The most famous Maori legends associated with the lake say that Manata, the daughter of a chief of a local tribe, was once kidnapped by the giant Matau. Her lover, Matakauri took advantage of the darkness to save her from the clutches of the giant. In order to ensure that Matau would no longer be a threat to his wife, Matakauri set fire to the monster while it was sleeping, on its side, legs folded. The fire dug a hole in the shape of Matau and the heat melted the snow from the mountains which filled the hole with water thus forming the lake. Glenorchy sits today at the head of Matau, Queenstown at his knees and Kingston at his feet. The oscillation of the lake level (about twenty centimeters) is due to the heart of Matau which is still beating, buried at the bottom of the lake.

Walter Peak High Country Farm finally appears and I descend from my mount, my legs a little trembling. I have an hour to wait before taking the TSS Earnslaw steamer which crosses the lake and will drop me off in Queenstown on the other side. The farm is superb with pretty buildings with red tiles roofs. The boat appears and rings its chimneys twice to signal its arrival. Launched in 1912, the boat known as La Dame du Lac, provided an essential link between the isolated farming communities along the lake. Forty-eight meters long, it was the largest boat to have sailed on the lake and capable of transporting passengers, livestock, mail and supplies. The interior is very nice and a pianist plays vintage songs. Barely time to rest my legs that I am already arrived in Queenstown. The day is not over. I still have a dozen kilometers to travel to reach 12 Miles Delta, a DOC campsite (area where it is allowed to camp at reduced cost). The return to the tar is a real pleasure but the road only goes up and down and achieves me completely. I dismount and resolve to push my bike. After liters of sweat spent, the campsite finally appears. The place represents Ithilien in The Two Towers, second film of the Lord of the Rings. This is where Frodo, Sam and Gollum stopping to rest see the appearance of Oliphants. The view of the lake is magnificent.

The next day I wake up in a wet tent. It rained overnight. Only thirty-six kilometers separate me from Glenorchy, my destination, but given the difficulty of the road, it gonna take me the whole day. I start off in magnificent weather, soon replaced by clouds. A whole part of the mountain has burned recently. It still smells of ashes. After two difficult hours and barely a third of the way, the rain starts. But not a little rain. No. A real deluge is falling on me as I stand on a ledge at the highest point of the road. The gusts of wind and rain are so strong that they also send me waltzing beyond the protective barrier. Three hours of cycling in the pouring rain. Not funny. I pedal in automatic mode, hoping to see only one thing: the appearance of Glenorchy at each turn. After hours of suffering, the village finally reveals itself and I almost cry with relief. I am completely soaked from head to toe. Definitely out of luck, the only backpacker hostel in the village is full. I fall back on the tiny campsite and it is always in the rain that I pitch my tent. Everything is soaked, it’s hell. Fortunately a good hot shower and the rain stopping in the early evening cheered me up a bit. Tomorrow is likely to be foggy but the following days are supposed to be magnificent. I am finally at Glenorchy. I have passed the first part of my cycling route!

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