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The Gates of Haast — 2nd Saturday New Zealand

Beware intrepid traveler for you have little time to reach the Gates of Haast before the road is closed. Night is coming and there is the falling of the frost which will make your journey filled with danger and snares.

Our second Saturday, and 14th day in New Zealand started out with bad news. Our loyal steed, Lucy, the car was ailing. Grant had called in AA (New Zealand’s AAA) to check out the car to make sure it could travel on. The verdict — be gentle with it as Lucy will overheat on mountain roads. Really? Guess where we were going today? On mountain roads. In fact, it’s hard to go anywhere in New Zealand without traveling along a mountain road!

We spent the late morning and afternoon in Queenstown. We rode the Skyline gondola up the mountain and watched intrepid souls paragliding over the lake. It was gorgeous and beautiful in spite of a slightly overcast sky. Grant gave me the news that a cyclone (or for us in the US a hurricane) was moving in over Auckland and would move down one of the coasts. We were planning on heading back up the western coast so we prayed for our car and for the weather.

Here are some photos of the view from the Skyline gondola of Queenstown.

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An old cemetery at the base of the gondola. No, I don’t think the paragliders and bungee jumpers end up there.

We spent the day wandering the shops of Queenstown and a local art fair. Queenstown is just a lovely place. The air was crisp and cool. We finally loaded up in the car and headed for Arrowtown. Arrowtown, another quaint little town that once boasted a gold rush was filled with little shops and outdoor cafes. There was this park surrounded by trees just changing to yellows and reds (this is New Zealand’s autumn) and I could have slid into a hammock and read a good book with a cup of their best coffee.

But, we pressed on to Wanaka, a slightly larger town on Lake Wanaka and discovered that the road to our destination on the west coast, Haast, would be closed by 530 PM because of a “frost”. It was already 4 PM and the drive was a little over two hours. We reluctantly put Wanaka in the rear view mirror, said a prayer for our little intrepid Lucy car and headed west toward the coast.

Along the way, we saw mountain and valley after mountain and valley. We drove past two huge lakes, Lake Hawea and back to Lake Wanaka. Both lakes were huge as you will see in these photos taken from the highway of both lakes and the mountains surrounding them.

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Here is the strange thing. These mountains and the hillsides were brown and dotted with low growing flora. But, we passed over the Haas pass and suddenly everything changed. Suddenly, the hillsides were green and filled with lush trees, ferns, and all kinds of green vegetation. Streams were everywhere. Take a look at these trees.

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Is my precious in that cave/

I often wondered where Peter Jackson found the thick forests and huge trees we see in both of the movie trilogies. Well, New Zealand has everything you can imagine. And, finally we reached the Gates of Haas by 530!

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And there, perched on an empty stream bed was Gandalf and the dwarves!

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Now, it was downhill at a leisurely pace with Lucy purring like a kitten toward the west coast. And, just when you thought you had seen everything — all the green and streams and ferns, we literally rounded a curve and saw this:

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IMG 2876We had found the heart of the southern Alps. Imagine along that snowy ridge line is where Frodo dropped the ring into the snow. It is where Boromir retrieved the ring and held it longingly until Frodo, backed by Gandalf took back the burden. There in those high snows is where that scene took place.

We are now in our motel room in one of only two motels in Hass just 7 kilometers from the western beach. Tomorrow, we will visit these snowy mountains and see glaciers. But for now, I can only relax and look at the bruise on my elbow and rejoice that both Lucy and Bruce survived another day in our Kiwi journey.

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My battle scars from defying gravity a strong wind and a large boulder!

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