Because Dave and Jen are the most incredible hosts, they arranged an overnight adventure to Makarora for us yesterday. Jen found a gorgeous little dog friendly place called Wild Earth Lodge about two hours away in the valley of Mount Aspiring National Park, and after a much appreciated lunch in Wanaka – warmed by an outside heater with dogs lazing under our table and sparrows helping themselves to my veggie-burger – we headed north. The growing dark clouds turned into heavy cold rain lashing the windscreen as Dave drove along the immense Lakes Hawea and Wanaka. Mini waterfalls gushed rain-swollen torrents between rocky edges of mountain and the grey slopes on the far side of the lake disappeared into the thick mists of dense rainfall.
We arrived just before dark, grinning at the owner Pete as we pulled up.
‘What are you doing?!’ he shouted through the window, ‘coming out here on a night like this!’
‘It’s just rain,’ we laughed.’ We’ve got coats.’
He shook his head disbelieving at us. ‘We’re going to get our asses kicked tonight!’
He led us to the most amazing little lodge, already toasty warm with the log burner, overlooking the immense valley slopes just visable in the growing darkness. As we gratefully carried our bags in he showed us how everything worked. ‘Logs and kindling here, and you’ll want to boil the jug already for when the power goes out!’
‘Not a problem,’ we grinned.
We were ready for a cosy night in playing cards and drinking wine, but we had not expected the most terrific four hour mountain-echoing thunderstorm. It rolled and rumbled all night with great flashes of pink lightning that floodlit the immense valley around us. The power stayed on, but we turned out the lights so we could enjoy the spectacular light show.
The dogs were not fans, and after each dazzling flash, I reached for Haki to hold her close in anticipation of the booming rumble to follow. She was a little shaky, and stayed very close, but didn’t complain for the four hours of meteorological ass-kicking we were dazzled by.
The next morning, as I emerged from my room to see the glorious valley shining green and blue in the morning sun, Haki leapt off the sofa and came straight to me, pressing herself close against my legs.
‘You alright love?’ I said.
She stayed there quietly, calmly, pushing her whole weight against me.
‘Yes, we all survived the night darling, we’re all still here.’
I am not a dog person at all, but I have grown incredibly fond of this one.
With two more stunning walks added to my Strava – one along the sparkling Makarora River and one through the drippy dense jungle of the Blue Pools – we headed back to Queenstown, elated and rejuvenated from our gorgeous Mount Aspiring adventures.
The lakes were pristine blue on our return journey, and the mountians lush green with trees and ferns. I gazed out of the window in awe of the magnificence of New Zealand, grateful for the many mountains, rivers and forests I have explored in my short time here. It’s been such an easy and relaxed trip, and while I have had some great time for reflection and planning, there hasn’t really been any real challenges. I haven’t done much in the way of personal growth or mental clarity, and I’m leaving on Sunday.
‘Are there any plans for tomorrow?’ I asked as we sailed past another breathtakingly blue view of Lake Hawea.
‘Not really,’ said Dave.
‘Well I’m thinking of jumping out of a plane or something,’ I said breezily, just to see what they’d say.
‘Yeah, do it,’ said Dave.
‘Yeah if there’s space,’ said Jen.
‘Well I don’t have reception here so I’ll have a look when we get home and then maybe…’
‘There’s spaces on the 11am, 1pm and 2pm,’ said Jen, on her phone.
‘What, you’re already…? ‘
‘Yeah, just book it.’
And that was that. Dave gave me his card, they suggested we pay the full $399 for the higher altitude – there’s much more free fall – but not the $170 for the camera package because it’s ridiculous money and I don’t need to prove this to anyone except myself.
And so if the weather stays like this I will be skydiving from 12,000 feet tomorrow.
*New Zealand is just as stunning in rainstorms as well as pristine sunshine
*Even when the bridge at the Blue Pools is closed, the walk through the sun-dappled jungle to get to the closed bridge is truly gorgeous, do that anyway
*On walking adventures, carry sanitiser and loo roll for the numerous well-maintained long-drop public toilets
*The annual rainfall in the South Island decreases one inch per mile the further you travel from the west coast, because the western mountains drink all the rain out of the clouds as they arrive
*The further west you go the more lush and green the jungly forests are, which Dave prefers to the brown ‘tussocky shit’ of Wanaka
*There is a fence covered in a mass of colourful bras near Cardrona (called Bradrona, naturally) where a donation can be made to New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation. If you’re organised you might even have a spare bra to add to it
*You can skydive in Queenstown from any age over 6, if you weigh more than 115kg they will do their best but might be tricky, and you can wear your glasses under the goggles!
*The dread fear about skydiving will start when you get the confirmation email telling you how brave you are.