The NZ Channel 1 news from North Island was not good. Rainfall has been unprecedented this summer. The new Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, was doing his best to get around, having just taken over from his exhausted predecessor (Jacinda Ardern). Several people lost their lives in the Auckland floods; the airport was underwater – international passengers forced to take refuge on an upper level without loo paper; and both Elton John’s farewell concerts were cancelled because the concert goers would have needed to wear waders. Poor Elton might have ended up with pneumonia again.
Meanwhile, South Island was basking in hit-and-miss sunshine. We set off in the truck on our Sunday adventure on a gorgeous blue sky day. We made for the Rakaia river gorge. Māori legend says that the gorge was created by a Taniwha (river monster) who used to live there. He cultivated crops and hunted for Moa and Weka to eat. But one cold day he went away to find a hot spring in which to warm himself, and while he was away a demon, personified as a nor’west wind, came and flattened his property. When the Taniwha got home he was furious and he went to get huge stones and boulders from the mountains to make the river narrow. These made up the rock walls of the gorge, and the outcrops of stone where the bridges are now. The gorge and the plains are well known for the rattling wind. The Nor’westors have been known to drive people crazy in this part of New Zealand.
We journeyed on along a steep gravel road high over the gorge and headed towards Lake Coleridge. We were on tarmac again as we headed along the valley towards the lake, the winding braids of river water twisting over the wide grey gravel bed, the green pastures on each side filled with grazing cattle and sheep. Then back to dusty gravel as we wound our way towards Lake Coleridge village with its mighty power station and outlet. From there we backtracked and journeyed along the Eastern side of the long lake until we reached the northern tip. The lake itself is mostly hidden between long hills, and road access is limited.
This is Lord of the Rings country and it was easy to imagine Wargs leaping from hills, and heroic riders of Rohan galloping through the grassy tussocks. But all we saw were tractors making silage, and a few determined “trampers” with their shabby rucksacks and floppy sun hats. New Zealand loves to look after its seeking-the-wild visitors. Of course, the trails and tracks are legendary. But perhaps less known is the fact that they position deep compost lavatories in little huts at regular intervals. These monuments to civilisation all now claim to be “accessible” and have a picture of a person in a wheelchair on the door, together with a sign directing parents to supervise children who may be using the toilet (non supervision does not bear thinking about). I was not completely sure how a person in a wheelchair could be expected to get up the gravel hill to the door of one of these noble edifices, but determination is a wonderful thing. At least there is loo paper and hand sanitiser, although no plumbing of course. (Yes, I DID have to go and explore.)
At the North end of Lake Coleridge we went for a walk and admired the late lupins on the shore. A lone Ute was parked on the edge of the lake, it’s owners way out on the water in kayaks. As we watched, a speed boat whined up the still blue length of the lake, making waves that travelled all the way to our feet. It turned and started back, hugging the opposite mountain shore, and then the engine stalled. Hubby laughed. “Flooded engine!” He muttered. The boat was a long way off, bobbing serenely, no longer making waves. They had a long row home.
We stopped at the smaller Lake Selfe for our picnic. This was populated by a couple of paddle boarders, a trout fisherman, one duck, and a cloud of dragonflies. We ate our cheese and tomato rolls and watched the fisherman flicking his long line into the shaded water under the trees. A picnic table had been thoughtfully provided, so we sat for several minutes until the sun began to burn. The fisherman was young, and he had brought his dad along to cook the BBQ while he tried to catch fish. He obviously had not caught any because the smell of beef burgers drifted across the shore. They stopped to chat (everyone does here), and then we headed homewards.