Searching for nirvana - heading south on SH1

Paradise may be closer than you think. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Paradise may be closer than you think. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Joss Miller, of Dunedin, searches for paradise. 

Some say paradise or nirvana can only be found in distant lands at the end of long valleys where majestic mountains soar to the roof of the world. That only mystics, swamis and mind-altering substances can open the door to this elusive place.

But it may be closer than we think and even accessible although probably only with regular intakes of caffeine.

An awareness of this gradually emerges on the highway south from Dunedin as it crosses the broad and fertile Taieri Plain below the bulging Maungatua Range on the distant skyline. Past the languid waters and weeping willows of Lake Waihola towards the sleepy township of Milton where a good coffee can be enjoyed.

Then the real journey begins at the fork in the road that leads to Central Otago. The car is propelled upwards through the cavernous and twisting Manuka Gorge on to an undulating countryside where the road slowly wends its way into historic Lawrence. Although gold is long gone the town has reinvented itself and offers a tranquil visit.

Then across the old rickety bridge at Beaumont where the great Clutha River sweeps underneath, sparkling and clear. Beyond lies Roxburgh always welcoming with its wide main street and central boulevard oozing gentle charm. Orchards spread all around the district, burgeoning with fruit, an added attraction for the traveller.

Above and beyond the Roxburgh Dam is a lunar landscape full of rocks and ravines, dry and arid but also where picturesque Alexandra nestles comfortably on the edge of the Clutha and Manuherikia Rivers.

On to the quaint village of Clyde lying in the shadow of a mighty dam. A grand sweeping highway around the side of Lake Dunstan guides the weary traveller into the busy and ever expanding township of Cromwell. From here there is a major crossroads where the sign points left to Queenstown and right to Wanaka.

Paradise may well exist in either direction but I have chosen to turn left towards the rugged and parched Kawarau Gorge where maximum driver concentration is required.

At gorge's end the sky opens again and distant snow-capped mountains beckon. Surely paradise is getting closer. Vineyards (the new gold) spread out gracefully in all directions over rugged hillsides and flats.

Restaurants and tasting rooms abound, a far cry from 150 years ago when gold-miners dreamed of becoming rich on the edge of civilisation.

Queenstown beckons bustling and optimistic on the shores of immense Lake Wakatipu. For some this is paradise but for others paradise has not yet been reached. I am told it can actually be found somewhere not far from Glenorchy.

But this has already been a long day. The shadows of evening are stretching out. Paradise will have to wait.

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