I slowed into the first curve and began to smile. Within a few short kilometres, the smile had widened to a grin that would remain for nearly two hours.
I will never tire of the drive up and over the Southern Alps. Especially the homeward drive, from Kumara on the West Coast to Springfield on the Canterbury Plains. The first time I made the trip was at night under a full moon that sparkled off the river below and made the snowy peaks shine. How could I not fall in love with it?
I love the first half of the drive, up Otira Valley—the belted galloways grazing in the paddocks on the lower slopes, the rainforest crowding in on the road, the long vistas up-valley to snowy peaks in the distance.
And then, when the road becomes steep and the valley closes in, the craggy peaks loom so close, you have to press your face to the window to see the tops.
And the water! Impossibly long falls coursing down forested slopes, spurting from every little dip and fissure along the roadside, and even soaring out over the road on a concrete sluice.
And then there is the road itself—steep, and as curvy as ribbon candy. There’s the cantilevered half-bridge, and the viaduct that soars out into space over an enormous landslide.
There is the lookout at Death’s Corner, where you can stop and be fleeced by a gang of endangered alpine parrots.
And when you reach the top and plunge down the other side, a whole new set of marvels awaits in the dry, brown, tussock-covered mountains of the eastern ranges.
There are the mountains of scree that look like they’ve been dumped by some enormous gravel truck. There are the limestone outcrops standing like a geologic Stonehenge. There are more snowy peaks, rising out of mounds of alpine tussock. There are lakes hemmed in by massive landslides.
Coming home from the West Coast yesterday afternoon, I was still grinning as I drove through the last of the hills. When I glanced in the rear view mirror, I couldn’t help laughing out loud at the sun glinting off a rank of snow-laden peaks behind me.
Even after nearly twelve years here, I continue to live in wonder at my luck—that I am permitted to call this incredible land home.