Saddened by Queenstown in our rearview mirror, we were not really excited about going to Mt. Cook. We passed the Karawau Bungy, and drove through the wine and fruit region of Cromwell. There was a tug at our heartstrings. Not only had we fallen in love with Queenstown, but we made some wonderful friends.
Our spirits seemed to perk up as we drove through the Lindis Pass. The land became more desolate and the green faded away. It reminded us of a much grander West Texas. There was a feeling of home that somehow made our sadness lessen. We’d seen the beautiful weeds called lupins around Queenstown, but were not prepared for the sheer number of them that erupted out of the brownish landscape. Pops of purple and pink, with the occasional white and yellow, lined the roadside. We felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz emerging from the forest along the yellow brick road to find a sea of poppies.
Lupins look like Texas Hill Country bluebonnets on steroids. They’re easily waist tall and pack a big pollen punch. My husband’s allergies were bothering him ever since we arrived in Queenstown. For a solid week he was sneezing, blowing his nose, and dealing with watery eyes. With this onslaught of lupins, it didn’t take a genius to discover what he was allergic to. Two Benadryl and he was feeling just like Dorothy in those poisonous poppies: sleepy.
I couldn’t stop taking pictures. There were fields of lupins, lupins next to old barns, sheep in the lupins, and cows in the lupins. Each time I stopped, he was smacked in the face with more pollen. The air conditioner sucked the pollen into the car, and his eyes would begin to water. He told me to stop whenever, so he was either being a good sport or was in a drunken Benadryl haze.
Taking a break from lupin spotting, we saw a series of rocks stacked and staggered along the road. For what purpose, we have no idea. It was pretty cool, and we made our own pile.
Since I’ve driven the WHOLE trip, I needed to stretch my legs. The desolate road near the stacked rocks was just as good a place as any to take a break.
As we made our way north on Highway 8 through the Lindis pass and through Omarama and Twizel, we caught our first glimpse of Lake Pukaki and Mt. Cook. I’m not sure which was more spectacular. Immediately the brilliant turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki grabbed our eyes, but the imposing Mt. Cook slapped us in our faces with its grandeur. Highway 80 hugged 20 miles of the picturesque lake’s coastline. With the icy blue to our right, the highest peak in New Zealand straight ahead, and the gale-force winds blowing, I had trouble keeping the Nissan Sunny on the road. Aoraki Mt. Cook, standing 12,316 feet, with 27 of her closest friends, make up the Southern Alps and are also part of the Te Wahipounanu UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s overwhelming to say the least.
Just to touch the windshield made us shiver. We could only imagine the winter winds coming off the glacier, down the valley, and across the already ice-cold lake. Our thoughts went to New Zealand-born, Sir Edmund Hillary, who used these same mountains to train for his accent of Mt. Everest some 58 years before.
As we yielded to other drivers crossing the narrow bridges leading into Mt. Cook Village, the sorrow of leaving Queenstown was faded a bit more. The excitement of discovering the great unknown resonated within us once again.