The marginal strip, the rotted bridge, the perfect town


Lake Hayes is a mirror lake, known for its reflections and trout, a perfectly positioned lake, just a stones throw from Arrowtown. I pushed along its edge, through long grass and willow. A track had once run alongside the lake - not now.

I came up to a little bay. Boats were hauled up there and a local woman was out walking - Could I continue around the lake?

"Yes. You'll find the remains of an old track in the grass. Follow it along. You will come to the lawn of Mr Howard Paterson, sometimes called the South Island's richest man. Eggs is it? Bio-tech? Student flats? You may walk across Mr Paterson's lawn. You will then come to the lawn of Mr Jim Boult, well-known for Shotover Jets and Baycorp. You may walk across Mr Boult's lawn also, and that will take you through to the outlet."

I went on through the long grasses, across a park, then down through bush. I came up to a lawn. It was nicely landscaped. The willow thickets I'd pushed through were single nicely trimmed trees here and the lake edge was marked out with big flat stones. If you'd come across it unknowing, you'd have hesitated, fearing trespass, but I'd quizzed the woman. In the 1990s these properties had been landscaped to the water's edge. Locals objected and the marginal strip was then surveyed. The survey marks remained - small stakes with yellow-painted tops. I walked across the landscaped lawn, gazing curiously up past the sloping terraces of grass and shrubs to the long horizontals of picture glass and decking that overlooked the lake. A millionaire house above a million dollar lake. I walked carefully between the stakes and the lake.

I'd talked also to DoC and the Queenstown Lakes District Council and this was the route that would become in time the pedestrian and possibly bike connector between Arrowtown and Queenstown. The route was planned to go past the old Lower Shotover Pub, and over the Shotover River on an old road bridge. That bridge was presently unsafe. I came up to it. Big red notices warned you off. It was gated and locked and wound about with barbed wire. As with barriers in general though, you simply go round them. My mission excused me, and I climbed the pediments beyond the gate.

Many of the old hardwood planks had simply rotted out, and the river slid by maybe 40 metres below. Every board was a possible shrieking trapdoor and I tested each footfall on the way across. The southern end was gated too, but the hurricane wire had simply been cut, and I squeezed through.

Then along the broad walkway that borders the Frankton Arm of Lake Wakatipu. Joggers went by, a cyclist or two, a walker or four and I sauntered a pleasant track, looking up to lakefront architecture from pole houses to posh on one side, and on the other out to the Remarkables, white with new snow.

The Frankton Walkway led onto to the Botanical Gardens and a huge and solemn memorial to Captain Robert Falcon Scott. The Antarctic hero's last diary entries of 1913 were quoted here in black text on marble. Time had gone by. Here and there the lead letters had dropped out and the text was a ghostly but still sharply defined white shadow of itself.

Other memorials mourned Queenstown heroes. Bruce Grant, said a plaque on a boulder. You achieved your life vision to stand on the summit of K2. Succumbed to the wrath of nature on descent 13 August 1995. Aged 31

Andy Harris - Mountain Guide and Friend said another plaque. During the Everest storm of May 10, 1996 Rob Hall had died refusing to abandon a less skilled climbing companion and the 31 year-old Harris, a guide with Hall's company, had been as brave - last seen returning upwards to assist others in a gathering storm, said the plaque. It was inset into a boulder, and on that slight shelf, someone had placed a single newly-picked red rose.

And there, around a corner, was Queenstown, pocket-sized and perfect. The War Memorial Arch on the waterfront. The bronze statue of founding father William Rees and his bronze dog. Lake Wakatipu. The Earnslaw's dignity upon it and the jetboat's excitement. The buskers. The street sellers of dream catchers. The petanque. The shops that sold opals, and jewellery, and sculpture and adrenaline. The cafes, the sports and camping shops, the casino. The crowds of fit youth. The steady procession of gondolas up to Bob's Peak, and the pure purple and yellow and red and green gussets of the parapenting canopies that came off the peak and hung and swung above the town. It was a tourist town cached in the mountains, entirely beautiful. It was a town that fostered its walks and bike tracks.

I met with the mayor, Clive Geddes. The Queenstown Lakes District Council, DoC and other groups had just formed a Wakatipu Community Trails Trust. The new trust would plan and finance new trails, and the route between Arrowtown and Queenstown up the side of Lake Hayes would be one of its first projects.

"I personally think it's a great idea," said Clive as we talked through Te Araroa. "It was brought up at the last Mayors Taskforce for Jobs meeting and it has a lot of support. We should look too at making it a bike route in some parts." Later also the DoC area manager Chris Eden welcomed me into his office -

"We've been waiting for you," he said.

"See that guy?" murmured Stu Dever as we stood on the wharf and the latest load of passengers filed off his launch Chinook. "Absolute dead ringer of Tony Blair."

Stu was an ex-detective. He'd spotted villains most of his life, gathered hard facts for the court cases, and now he'd cut loose - he ran his own fishing charter business, spotted the celebs and thrived on the gossip that was currency in this star-studded and miraculous part of the world.

"The police chiefs from around the world were at Millbrook recently," said Stu as we burbled across Lake Wakatipu. "And Bill Clinton was seen there. The weekend before he'd been at Sydney. If it wasn't him it was someone very like him - the word is he's bought property near Puketapu lodge."

Queenstown's potent mix of real estate and wilderness fell away behind - almost. Stu gestured across to the foot of the Remarkables, where a new block of million dollar apartments was going in. I heard Miriam groan, and Stu said -

"Well, it's natural stone. They won't be painted bright red or anything."

Sam Neill. Michael Hill. Dick Smith came often. More New Zealanders holidayed in Queenstown now - their dollar was worth a dollar here, not 40cents or 30p. More overseas tourists - the Japanese in particular. They came out on Chinook to a world strangely silent to them -

"Excuse me," said Stu, mimicking polite bewilderment, and pointing uncertainly with his finger across the lake "but where are the other boats?"

"They just can't fathom it," said Stu, and pointed at the hills. "Excuse me. Why are there no houses? Can't fathom it. These mountains, these lakes, 900,000 people in the whole of the South Island, and what ? Ten times as many as that in Tokyo alone."

Chinook nosed up to a rudimentary wharf and Stu handed us up onto Te Araroa's next leg. DoC had asked particularly that this track be on our through route. It was a three or four day tramp, directly north-south, with good huts - the Mavora Lakes Walkway.