God’s backyard

Rumour has it that during the March 2020 lockdown God was discovered chilling out here in New Zealand. When asked, “What’re you doing here?” He replied, “Working from home”. On this particular weekend, God was on the South Island.

NZTV1 was unusually gloomy. Daniel the newscaster tried to keep upbeat, but every time the weathercaster appeared wearing her shiny red polyester pleated skirt and yellow top his face took on a “oh well, we will have to make the best of it” look. North Island was under water. The winds blew and the rain came down. Bedraggled holiday makers clad in rain ponchos gave evidence of wrecked tents. The inter island ferry was still attempting journeys across the Cook Straight but warning passengers not to travel if they were prone to sea sickness. Tugs were employed to pull the ferries containing vomiting passengers into port.

January is the school summer holiday season here, so amid this Armageddon, when families were forced to abandon the beach for indoor aquariums, the sun rose pleasantly over South Island. We gathered our hats and climbed into the truck amid bits of field and empty disposable coffee cups. We headed out on Highway 72 and drove along the foothills of the Southern Alps towards Geraldine. But we never got there because we turned off towards Peel forest and then onto the Rangitata Gorge road. The sign informed us that this was a dead end, so we went along for the ride, expecting to bump into a mountain before too long.


We drove and drove. From empty sealed road to rumbling gravel track we followed the river valley up towards Cloudy Mountain, drinking in the glory of God’s backyard under the blue sky. The great velvet slopes, the wide braids of blue water, the green green paddocks and fields of wildflowers and willows. The sheep grumbled at us, the paddocks of deer lifted startled heads and then ignored us, the Aberdeens and Herefords grazed contentedly, and the mighty muscled Charolais bulls sunbathed in the grass. Every now and then we came across a narrow bridge, a ford, or a lonely ship-lapped house with a view to die for. There were regular signs that told us this was a school bus route, and finally there was a silent fire station. The sun was high over the cloud topped peaks and we had still not reached the end of the road. Any time now it seemed that we would fall over the top and land on the West Coast – although we knew this was impossible without tramping. So close. We turned back, stopping for photos that would never be able to tell the true story of our senses.

Green pastures

It seemed a lot quicker on the way back. Always the case. We drove back through the gorge, and stopped at a small cafe with umbrellas, black sun sails and stools made out of old tractor seats. Sausage rolls and coffee were consumed gratefully, the little woodland sparrows being charmingly preferable to the pirate seagulls of Christchurch. Then a walk uphill through Peel Forest to admire The Big Tree. Originally titled, this is a huge Totara tree that seeded before the Norman Conquest, and has a trunk girth that defied the family of five who asked us to take a photo of them trying to reach round it. They only got half way.

The Giant Totara Tree

On the return journey we stopped at Staveley Store. This is probably one of the best places in the world to eat a double Tip Top ice cream cone. We sat under the gnarled old tree outside, watching a coach load of weary tourists admiring a small wooden shack (the Staveley geological museum). We wondered along to look at the little Presbyterian church (a suitable activity for a Sunday afternoon) and drove home for a cup of tea.

Staveley Store

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