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In the company of gods

Justine Tyerman spends time in Paradise . . .

Pluto, Nox, Amphion, Chaos, Poseidon, Cosmos . . . I was puzzled why mountains deep in Mt Aspiring National Park were named after Greek gods. What’s more, these gods inhabited a place called Paradise. Some early explorers were evidently fascinated by Greek mythology . . . like me. They were mere smudges on the distant horizon as we drove along the shores of Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown to Glenorchy where we planned to spend a few days ebiking and hiking.

As we grew closer, I could see the mountains were as beautiful and powerfully-structured as the gods they were named after, some proud and majestic with crowns upon their heads, others wise and weathered as though sharp nails had scraped deep furrows in their faces.

Despite its remoteness, the magnetism of Paradise has been drawing adventurous travellers since the 1880s when hundreds used to sail up Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown by steamer. From Glenorchy they would travel by dray and coach to Paradise Homestead where the owner, Granny Aitken, used to feed 120 for lunch and host as many as 28 overnight guests.

The spectacular landscape has also attracted the attention of film-makers from all over the world. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit, Mission Impossible, X-men and Vertical Limit were all filmed amid the region’s breath-taking mountains, rivers, lakes and forests.

The dramatic terrain was sculpted by glaciers in the last Ice Age. The deeply-weathered silver schist face of Mt Earnslaw, the tallest mountain in the area at 2830m, dominates the landscape, while wedge-shaped Mt Alfred, 1365m sits right in the centre of the valley, dividing the Dart and Rees rivers. Surrounding the valley are the magnificent Richardson and Humboldt ranges . . . and those omnipresent Greek gods.

We spent much time in the company of these mighty snow-capped giants and became familiar with their many faces — sparkling silver after a heavy frost, rosy pink with the sunrise, glowing gold at sunset or veiled in diaphanous mist just before dawn.

This remote, beautiful land at the head of Lake Wakatipu richly deserves to be called Paradise but I discovered, with some disappointment, that it is so-named not for the heavenly scenery but for the eponymous duck!

We explored the area on the latest model Wisper Wayfarer ebikes courtesy of Electric Bikes NZ. Powerful and responsive with easy-to-master gears, it was such a novelty for me to be able to cycle effortlessly uphill and keep up with my super-fit husband. Needless to say, he stayed in eco mode (the least power assistance) while I favoured turbo (the most power assistance). I loved the handy throttle too . . . for extra oomph uphill.

We biked a wonderful network of trails and country roads splashing through clear mountain streams, pedalling up the braided river valleys of the Rees and Dart, through ancient beech forests deep in ‘Middle Earth’, alongside Lake Wakatipu to the Greenstone Valley and around the 300-acre property belonging to the Paradise Trust.

Freedom and flexibility

The Routeburn is a favourite tramp of ours so we biked to the start of the track and hiked up to the first hut — a gentle but steady climb through a beech forest alongside the crystalline Routeburn stream. We crossed the river on a swing bridge and stopped for lunch on a mossy bank in dappled sunlight beside a deep turquoise pool.

We travelled to the Head of the Lake in a Maui motorhome and stayed at the outstanding Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat (see p5) where we were surrounded by Maui look-a-likes. New Zealanders had heeded the call to explore their own backyard and were out in force, much to the delight of the locals.

Our Maui was fully self-contained and equipped with excellent cooking facilities but we wanted to support the local economy so we dined out at the Glenorchy Hotel. The bar was packed with locals and visitors watching a rugby match — such a warm, welcoming environment. The spare ribs I ordered were delicious but could have fed four. The waitress did warn us!

It was early spring with fresh snow on the mountains but we were always cosy in our abode, thanks to an efficient heating system. On the first night, we lit the gas cooker, boiled water for hot water bottles, left the heating on low and piled on an extra duvet . . . but after five minutes the hotties were tossed out, we turned off the heating, opened a skylight and slept soundly.

Talking of sleep, the bedding arrangement in the 4-berth Cascade was ingenious. At the push of a button, a queen-size bed appeared from the ceiling while another one below could be made up, if needed, from the squabs in the rear lounge. The upper bed recessed into the ceiling when not in use. Clever use of space.

We love the freedom and flexibility of travelling by motorhome — no fixed itinerary, no commitments, no bookings or check-in/check-out times. It’s a simple way of life with fewer choices about what to wear, minimal cleaning, washing and tidying, and no lawns and gardens to tend. When life gets complicated, it’s a joy to escape to a slimmed down version of daily existence where the only decisions to make are where to bike, hike, eat and park-up overnight. Given the beauty of our own Aotearoa, those decisions are hard enough.

This remote and beautiful land is called Paradise . . . not for the heavenly scenery but for the eponymous duck! Picture by Ngai Tahu Tourism
Encircled by mountains . . . Mt Cosmos lauds it over the landscape.
Lake Wakatipu was like a mirror the day we cycled to the Greenstone Valley. Picture by Laurence Belcher, Paradise Pictures
Ebiking under a rainbow in the beech forest on the way to the Greenstone Valley.
‘Let me in — it’s cold out here!’ Justine is keen to warm up after a day’s biking.
The view at dusk from the lounge of our Maui motorhome showing the mountains, Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat buildings, wetlands, and one of our Wisper Wayfarer ebikes.