Sunday, 11 December 2011

Twizel, New Zealand - The three Burkes

“You need an engine” said the morbidly obese motorhome driver when I cycled into the campground at Fairlie. “You need some exercise” I said. No, I didn’t as I’m much too polite. I did point out that I have an engine and gripped my rippling leg muscles to demonstrate. This was met with a vacant look – yet another person who can’t grasp the concept of travel without the internal combustion engine. Burke number one!

Burke number two was a much more agreeable encounter. I cycled out of the plains and up into the high country known here as “MacKenzie Country” after a Scottish sheep rustler called James McKenzie. He first recognised the potential for the area to support sheep farming so stole a few to get his enterprise going! The gateway into MacKenzie Country is Burke’s Pass and the day I cycled over Burke’s Pass will go down as one of the most memorable of this whole adventure. A steep climb took me up into the high tussock grasslands, a beautiful bronze in the morning light, and as I cycled along the quiet road I passed through an avenue of lupins of every shade from white to peach, pink and purple. I turned a corner and in the distance were the snow-capped, glacier-gripped peaks of the Southern Alps. I turned another corner and found myself cycling along the shores of the spectacular Lake Tekapo. Fed by glacier melt, the water is a pretty eggshell blue in one light and a startling aquamarine in a different light.

I wanted to get much closer to the mountains and so a cycle up a very long dead-end took me to the stunning scenery of Mount Cook National Park. Above me were mountains of 3000 metres and more, the highest of course being Mount Cook itself at 3754 metres. It was on the slopes of Mount Cook that Sir Edmund Hillary trained for his successful ascent of Everest and a beautiful bronze sculpture of the climber gazes for eternity up to the mountain. I pitched my tent in a little campground at the foot of Mount Sefton where blue-tinted glaciers formed static cascades over the rocks and the slopes regularly rumbled with avalanches. A walk from the campground took me up the Hooker Valley for a closer look at the Hooker Glacier with Mount Cook above on a day without a cloud in the sky. Then I made a stiff climb up the lower snow-covered slopes of Mount Ollivier with Bart, another cyclist that I’d met up with in Twizel. The views across the sea of snow-covered peaks were spectacular as we soaked up the sun and the high mountain atmosphere.

After three idyllic days in the park it was time to continue south and to Burke number three … that’s my friend, John Burke. Next stop from here, in about ten days, will be his house in Broad Bay near Dunedin … just in time for my second Christmas on the road!

More photos on Flickr.

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