Touchdown in Christchurch! Queues to enter customs, reclaim our suitcase, then hotfoot to buy duty free Gin for our hosts, and a NZ ‘spark’ mobile phone. Taxi to collect our borrowed car: and the first clue of how generous New Zealanders are – we were complete strangers but the householder led us out to Rolleston on the Timaru road, so we should not get lost. The speed limit is a maximum of 70mph on every road: reduced to 30-40 near towns, so speeding is not an option.
A 3-hour drive lay ahead …Ashburton, Geraldine, Fairlie…climbing steadily into Mackenzie Country, the high hills becoming mountains – dry and golden-beige – scattered trees, some singletons, planted in rows as windbreaks. ‘Beautiful Valley’ said the map, and bucketing over a hill we descended into a golden haze punctuated by cypresses and tall poplars.
Climbing again, on wonderfully smooth roads marked with arrows and speeds for corners, and occasional prominent notices showing the Fire Risk – an arrow pointing to ‘High Risk’ due to the prolonged drought, we came through small towns, with houses along a Main Street, and occasional ‘gift shop’ or more rarely ‘accommodation’ signs displayed on front porches. Along the State Highway were infrequent signs like ‘Mossburn Road – no exit’ leading to a sheep station; the distances between habitations were startling to our eyes.
Exhausted, and seriously jet-lagged, we stopped at a Farm Shop for a pot of tea, and alerting our host that we were still well behind schedule, likely to be late for dinner.
And then came the most startling sight – beyond our imagining – Lake Tekapo. The colour of turquoise, yet somehow both milky and brilliant; as we discovered, the grinding action of glaciers deposits a fine dust into the waters, called ‘flour’, which causes this extraordinary colour.
‘Turn right after the Lake’ said our instructions, ‘and after 14 kms there is a sentry-box beside the road, turn onto the track that leads to Irishman Creek’. … In our rear view mirror we could see the dust-cloud hanging over the long, unmetalled road, the ochre colour of the surrounding dry ground, and ahead lay green trees – and the Station itself where our host and (unknown to us) other guests had waited dinner until we arrived.