I need to do some paintings of North Canterbury for a local gallery and when I looked back through my photo collection I realised that we usually drive straight over the Lewis Pass making a beeline for somewhere else. We've travelled the Molesworth/Rainbow circuit lots , but have never explored the back roads of Canterbury. This is where my friend Mabel comes in...
Me - "What are you doing next week?"
Mabel (cautiously) - "Nothing , but.."
Me - "Great. Lets go on a road trip"
Mabel is a great travelling companion- she comes equipped with a Thermette , can fit snow chains , is not afraid of gravel roads and most importantly, knows Canterbury well.
So we loaded up my trusty Hilux and headed off over the Lewis Pass for parts unknown. After a cup of tea pause at the St James carpark (watching tourists have snowball fights in the fresh powder snow) we wound our way down to Hanmer, frequently diving off down any likely looking tracks (this is why painters need a 4 wheel drive). We found stunning views of the Boyle ,Hope and Hurunui rivers , were thwarted by bridges that were closed for repairs, climbed over locked gates to check out elusive views , and finally ended up out on the east coast at Amberley Beach. One last cuppa and back to the Hurunui pub for the night. This old hotel has had a license since 1860 , probably one of the oldest continuously licensed pubs in New Zealand. The last time I stayed there was 25 years ago, and nothing has changed since then! A cosy fire, glass or two of wine and a roast dinner then we crawled into bed.
The next day we rose early and headed off to Lake Sumner, up in the foothills of the Southern Alps. This was certainly new country for me. Unfortunately the other visitor was severe northwesterly gales. Now a girl who grew up in Wellington is not afraid of wind , but this was something else. Canterbury windbreaks often consist of ancient pine trees , which in a gale begin to shed their branches. Large branches. I just drove as fast as I could , sometimes in wild zigzags, until we left the plains and began to climb into the foothills. Occasionally I stopped to sketch ,but there was no question of getting out to paint. Remember Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz? As we wound our way to the top of Jack's Saddle I could feel the front of the truck lifting in the wind and my courage failed me at the top corner. On a scale of Wgton winds I would estimate that it was gusting about 130km straight off the top ,across the road and down a steep dropoff into the valley below. There was nowhere to turn , so brave Mabel volunteered (eventually) to walk down behind me to warn any other traffic that I was backing down this narrow gravel road until I could safely turn. We headed back down to Rangiora and and Ashley Gorge for the rest of the day.
Day three and it was still blowing a gale, but this time from the south, as we headed our way up the Kaikoura Coast. We drove down long winding gravel roads to explore sheltered little bays, eroded limestone cliffs and wild waves. The mountains formed a beautiful backdrop. It often frustrates me that the best views are often from the middle of a bridge where you can't stop - there is a stunning view of Mt.Tapuaenuku from the Clarence bridge, but nowhere to stop safely to take a photo - if only Mabel had been awake I could have got her to do it. We tucked ourselves in the shelter of the lovely little Wharenui church for a picnic , then headed home via Blenheim.
It was certainly 1200kms of contrasts - mountains , river , farmlands , sea. I came home , not with any paintings , but with sketches and photos, and plenty of ideas of where I 'd like to revisit. and maybe next time the weather will be kinder.
Thanks Mabel for your friendship - we had a much happier ending than Thelma and Louise.
By the way, what are you doing next week?