These are among the most beautiful landscapes on earth, these wide braided shingled valleys, golden miles of tussock, this canvas of mountains. We are meandering across Arthur’s Pass, an almost empty road connecting the coastlines of the South Island, four runners from the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team. Moana comes into view just before sunset, a cluster of holiday baches on the edge of the treacle colored waters; Lake Brunner, tannin-dyed from the earth sap of millennia.
And here, such a commotion of birds, their evening chorus, the rivalry of songsters, of bellbirds, tuis, blackbirds. A weka struts our lawn, a wood pigeon gorges on pollen in the flowering broom tree; all night the signature lapping of this Westland lake, the ancient mantra of its undisturbed silences. Across the darkening lake and beyond the scribble of distant shoreline trees mountains loom, their summits hidden, cloud mantled.
Sukhajata fries canned beans, creates a rudimentary salad, uncorks kombucha – a fire in the open grate gathers us together in the front room of this old railway cottage. A flurry of wood spiders flee the smoke. Meditating together in the quiet night, only the moreporks heard in the lovely stillness.
At dawn a local tells me of local things as he ties a quail feathered fly to his trout rod, mentions the tangle of logs at the bottom of the lake. 100 years ago they towed the giant logs from the milled and ravaged forests by barge across Brunner’s chop, losing many to the lake bottom. They lie there today, 1000 year old monarchs still intact and perfect, swaddled in a balm of mud and leaves, their beautiful flame colored timbers mineralizing in the darkness, awaiting resurrection in some possible future as petrified testament to the sad holocaust of a long gone age.
Keith picks up a greenstone relic on the sand and rock foreshore, an ancient Maori cutting tool, malachite, sharpened unmistakably at both ends. It lies snug in the palm of your hand, perfect, and you feel a sudden kinship across centuries of time – it confers a bond with a vanished people and you close your eyes as though to summon those dead faces of the past.
Later, in pouring rain we climb the steep Carol’s Hut track in the Southern Alps that winds up almost vertically through drenched forest. 2,500 feet above the now distant valley the fog drowns everything from view. How majestic and humbling these stunning mountains – though how unforgiving if you err.