Crime Scene En Route Waihi Gorge to Lake Tekapo

Three days in, and New Zealand really is ridiculously beautiful. We woke up early this morning to the pattering of Waihi Gorge and looked outside to a trio of sheep dogs (not pigs, I checked) efficiently manoeuvring a herd of sheep across the sun-tipped hillside, watched by a shepherd clutching his staff. A perfect rural English scene.

We fired up Barry in record timing (it’s pretty easy to speed up the morning routine when there’s no shower, hairdryer or mirror in sight) and set off down the windy roads, each turn bringing another spectacular scene into view, as we headed towards snow-tipped mountains in the… THUD.

We would like to take a moment to remember a tiny bird, enthusiastic in spirit, slow in flight, who splatted into our windscreen. His life was short but happy, flitting (indecisively) over beautiful scenery.

We held the wake in the nearby town of Fairlie over coffee and cake, and then got back in the ornithocidal bus to continue our journey.

Just one hitch. We’re so used to driving along the only road in the vicinity, neither of us thought to check the direction as we merrily careered back towards Waihi, where we started the day. A sharp handbrake turn (or more of a gentle seven-point pirouette in unstable Barry), and we were on our way to Lake Tekapo, watching the scenery slowly transform from English countryside to Alpine Austria.

The first glimpse of Lake Tekapo was breathtaking – the kind of silly pretty that makes you laugh because it’s so improbably like a postcard. The lake is vivid turquoise, apparently thanks to ‘rock flour’ suspended in the water (which sounds like a recipe for papier mache if you ask me, but the waves seemed to be flowing normally). The lake is surrounded by hills, including Mount John, famous as one of the best night-sky observatories in the world. As we clambered up, rain drops threatened to disturb the sunshine, but instead we got a full rainbow – nicely reminiscent of our engagement rainbow in the Lake District! But as we hit the summit, we suddenly got battered by incredible winds. It was like being back in stormy Sydney. As we desperately clutched onto everything that could fly away, we had to lean into the gusts to avoid being blown over. My hair was a sight to behold.

Our descent was filled with plans for our night sky adventure (and scheduling our toilet trips so that we could camp for free in the nearby field). But the rain clouds that had been looming behind us eventually caught up with our power-walking pace and the heavens opened. With 90% cloud cover predicted for the night, we abandoned our Patrick Moore fantasies and opted to make progress towards Mount Cook.

We were back in Barry as the rain streamed and fog descended, while the Austrian landscape gradually faded into craggy Scotland. As darkness set in, all we could see were white lines and occasional bunny rabbits bobbing across the road. You’ll be pleased to hear we swerved more successfully for them.