Saturday, April 12

Welcome to Middle Earth

It’s been more than twenty years since I last visited Queenstown, New Zealand.  It’s a magic place, surrounded by breath-taking scenery.  Here, the epic landscapes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings triology were brought to life.   The town itself sits on the shores of picturesque Lake Wakatipu, framed by the soaring granite peaks of the Remarkables.

I was fortunate enough to relive my memories of Queenstown in late-March.  I attended a three-day business conference at Millbrook Resort, ten minutes from the town.  The excursion began with a stunning afternoon flight from Wellington that took us down the eastern coast of the South Island

I’d booked myself a window seat in anticipation of good weather.  As luck would have it, the day dawned bright and sunny, a perfect day for flying.  For more than an hour I sat glued to the window watching the Southern Alps glide by.  I could see how each meandering, braided river had been forged from the melt water of gleaming white glaciers and snow-capped peaks.
While the conference itself was intense, we did enjoy an afternoon respite on the second day.  My company surprised us with a helicopter excursion into Mount Aspiring National Park.  We flew along Skippers Canyon, home to the Shotover River.  Our track followed the winding Skippers Canyon road, before branching off to fly past Lochnagar.  This small lake was formed in the aftermath of giant landslide that swept across a narrow river valley.  The scar of the cataclysmic event is still visible today.

The climax of our flight saw us fly up the slumping icy ramparts of an isolated glacier before sweeping back across a neighbouring valley where we landed on the summit of a slopping ice field in the Forbes Mountains.  The view was spectacular.  It truly was New Zealand at its finest.

The remainder of my “afternoon at leisure” was spent walking into Arrowtown.  The main street of turn of this century gold mining outpost has been beautifully restored in recent years.  It’s just as I recall it from the pictorial calendar images of my childhood.  Tiny miner’s cottages nestled among towering Autumn-coloured Popular trees.   I spent almost an hour wandering along a new walking trail that follows the banks of the Arrow River.

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