Monday, April 09, 2007

Paradise: Not Lost, Definitely Not Found

Queenstown is beautiful. It's nestled in the Remarkables (they are pretty remarkable) right on the shores of Lake Wakitipu. Here's the view outside my window when I woke up. Not too shabby, eh?

However, Queenstown is a bit touristy for my tastes, so I set off toward Glenorchy, an area where much of Lord of the Rings was filmed. My Lonely Planet mentioned that just past Glenorchy is a town called Paradise, so obviously I had to find it. Outside Glenorchy, I found a sign that said "Paradise, 12km," so I checked my odometer and set off down the unsealed road. My car is somewhat of a rock star and handles unsealed roads with finesse, but I was still a little unsettled by a sign just after entering Mount Aspiring National Park--the first of its kind I've seen--saying "Proceed at your own risk."

Then I came to a small stream. It wasn't that big, but I didn't really want to risk getting stuck so far out in the middle of nowhere. My odometer told me that I was pretty close, and since it was a beautiful day there was no reason not to park and walk the remaining 2kms. I strolled along the road, passing farmland with sheep grazing in front of the snow-capped mountains. The sun was shining, but since it's just turning to autumn (they do not call it fall here, and give me funny looks when I do) it was an ideal temperature. Highly picturesque, highly pastoral, and highly New Zealand.

However, even beautiful scenery can get a little old when you feel like you've been walking longer than planned. Unfortunately I hadn't taken note of the time when I set off, but I definitely felt like I'd been walking for more than 2kms. I decided to give up and go back to the car. When I got back to the little stream, I reassessed and decided it would be possible to ford without any damage.

So I tried again, and fortunately my car made it successfully over the creek. It turned out that I not only had gone more than 2 kms on foot; I actually had gone about 5. Which means that I should have reached and passed Paradise. But I kept driving. I soon hit another stream, which I crossed nervously. And then another, and then another. When I finally reached a fifth, very large stream, I weighed the awesomeness of a photo in front of a Paradise sign with the potential disaster of a broken down car. I decided there are probably other Paradise signs in other towns called Paradise (Google Maps now tells me there are 10 in the USA alone) and that I'd rather visit one of those than have to take the bus around the rest of New Zealand.

The next day I ran into a British guy I'd met in Doubtful Sound. We'd talked about how we both wanted to go to Paradise, so he was curious to know if I'd made the trip. He had gone as well, and when I told him about my ordeal he looked at me like I was an idiot. "You know there's no Paradise sign, right?" It turns out that my little hike had taken me right into the heart of Paradise and I hadn't even known it. A metaphor for something deeper? Perhaps. Although I'm not sure what to make of the idea that paradise might be nothing more than a sheep paddock.

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