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When my in-laws last visited us in Queenstown as a special treat I took them on the Dart River Wilderness trip. I chose it because I think Glenorchy is a neat spot and the drive along the lake to there is stunning. And the Wilderness trip offered great access to the wilderness of Mt Aspiring National Park without having to work very hard for it.
The bus ride along the lake our driver Rod was really chatty and in addition to telling us all the things he should about the lake and scenery also managed to have a good chat with my Father in law about making souvenir kiwis from possum skins!
Once in Glenorchy it was a quick toilet stop and then off up the valley in a small coach passing through farm scenery heading towards the forest and peaks. Rod was our driver again and had plenty to point out along the way. Many of the mountains have three names, a Māori one used as landmarks when coming up the valley to find Pounamu. A European one bestowed by surveyors, most often associated with the Greek gods. And a third more recent ‘honorary’ Middle Earth title bestowed by Peter Jackson where he has used them to portray either the Misty Mountains or specific peaks in one of his Lord of the Rings movies.
Reaching the base of the mountains you pass by Arcadia homestead. An oasis of Edwardian England in a scenic spot with a controversial story to boot. Then we stop and marvel at the campervan city that is the film crew of the Hobbit on location at Paradise. It will be interesting to see what view the finished film makes of this area once again.
From here Rod tip toes the bus out across the gravel riverbed and takes us up to an area of regenerating forest where he proves he is knowledgeable about native plants as well as movies and love triangles! With the red beech trees towering above us we can stroll at our leisure through what might have been a forest of ancient Gondwanaland. It’s hard to imagine that this is largely unchanged for the past 80 million years! The mosses and ferns are of the most vivid green, standing out strongly where the partial sunlight reaches through the upper branches.
At this point we change, a jet boat pulls up and we pile in and say goodbye to Rod and head up the river with Simon. He certainly enjoys his job! Pulling the boat up onto the side of the river he has tales to tell, mainly about the early pounamu trail and the mountains. But mainly I think he enjoys the increasing mix of exhilaration and trepidation as the river gets smaller and tighter and more prone to have big rocks in the middle of it as he weaves his way further up into the park. And did I mention the bush closing right in and the BIG mountains that almost rise vertically out of the river!
It is a great journey and when we do turn around and swish back down all the way to Glenorchy it’s been a very diverse trip. We had done a lot of things and gone to quite a few places that we couldn’t have any other way.
The jet boating was great and certainly one of the longest trips I’ve ever been on. However the full value is in the journey into the wilderness of the National Park. It’s a lot squeezed into a short space of time and for those without the time or inclination to head further from Queenstown a must do.