One of the poems in my book, Feeding the Dogs, mentions how highly I regard mountains (pun intended) and I had reason to remember that line last weekend on a drive from Queenstown through to Glenorchy, situated at the top of Lake Wakatipu. Once again I was ‘eye-struck’ by the gathering of mountains shouldering their way into view. Is there a collective noun for a group of mountains?
looking across Lake Wakatipu towards Kinloch
Start as you mean to go on. With this in mind, I did warn Robert and his mother that I’d be asking for the car to pull over, often, in order to take photos. The photo above was taken before the first turn into the back of Wakatipu’s chair-shape. (Or according to the Maori legend, the top part of the sleeping giant’s body). I wanted to take this picture of the western end of the Remarkables mountain range as it’s a scene Robert’s late father (the artist and teacher, Alan D. Cooke) often painted; minus the house and flax. Back when he would leave his Queenstown home (and no doubt sleeping family) at dawn on Saturdays and holidays, driving his two-tone 1957 Chevrolet, easel and paints on board (the paint-splattered dashboard testament to the car being used as a mobile studio) the countryside was a lot barer. There would be only mountains, honey-coloured grass and eucalyptus (gum) trees in any painting of this view.
The trip we made on Saturday with Robert’s nearly-eighty-seven year old mother (still living in Robert’s home town of Queenstown and, we believe, now the person who has lived there the longest; surely worthy of a street named after her?) was a trip down memory lane. Her father lived and worked in a sawmill at Paradise; a small settlement situated (over the River Jordan – I kid you not) farther in from Glenorchy. Newly emigrated from Scotland, Adam McLeod did his bit for New Zealand in the First World War. Being of a strapping build, he had the surely unenviable duty of stretcher bearer; a job requiring him to recover the dead and wounded knee-deep in Belgium’s blood-soaked mud.
After his return from those dark battlefields, Adam went back to Scotland and while there, married. Eventually Adam and his Scottish bride moved to New Zealand, where Adam again worked as a shepherd in Paradise, before buying a farm in Kingston at the southern end of the lake.
looking towards the Pig and Pigeon Islands you can see to the right of the photo
Back in these days when Robert’s grandparents lived at the top of the lake, there was no sealed road merrily running alongside the lake. Journeys back then were made by boat; the Earnslaw steamer being one of the boats that plied the lake. And she is still going, this hundred-year old (or more) Lady of the Lake. These days though, her cargo isn’t miners, farmers and millers, or sheep, cattle, farm machinery and hay; but tourists singing along to rollicking songs being played on a piano.
By the time Robert’s father went in his Chevvy studio to a spot on the side of the lake, there was a road. A winding gravel (some would call it metal or shingle) road, notorious for slippery shingle and rugged corrugations that juddered the steering wheel and along with clogging dust, brought on severe cases of car sickness. Hellish. I remember it well because by the late seventies (long before the road was tar sealed) I had joined the Cooke clan and discovered, to my horror, that they loved to go for rides (or runs as they call them) to Glenorchy. How I dreaded that road.
top of the lake
hard to get a photo without people. It never used to be that hard. Lots of tourists and visitors these days. And it’s not even summer tourist season yet!
When you are in the small town of Glenorchy, the looming mountains enter your consciousness like silent, mindless monitors. The glacier that formed them, also gouged out the deep, deep, reclining-figure shaped valley that is now Lake Wakatipu. The Dart and the Rees rivers flow into it at the Glenorchy end. Other rivers also contribute to the level of the lake. Only one river, the Kawarau at the Frankton end, takes water away from the lake. My dull brain wondered how mere rivers and streams can fill such a massively deep expanse? Robert’s sharper brain informed my slower brain that it was originally filled with melted ice and the rivers in these more modern times, merely keep it topped up.
We may not have a long human history in this country, but we do have an amazing and ancient geological history. Our mountains continually testify to that.
This photo shows where the south-eastern end of the Humboldt Mountain Range drops into Lake Wakatipu, at Glenorchy. The Humboldt Range forms part of the Southern Alps and was named by the Scottish surveyor, James McKerrow, after the German nature researcher and explorer, Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt was born in Berlin, which for me right now is a rather pertinent connection, because in three days I am heading to Berlin to visit my son and his partner and family there.