Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Crown Range & Cardrona

Another blog from a couple of weeks ago... While we were in Wanaka with the fifth-wheeler safely parked up at the camp ground we took a drive over the Crown Range, which at 1076m at its summit, is the highest main road in New Zealand. There are two roads between Wanaka & Queenstown, the Crown Range is a lot shorter than the other route through Cromwell and along Lake Dunstan but the Crown Range can be a much more difficult road to travel especially during winter when it is often closed due to snow fall. It also used to have a gravel section but now it is fully sealed and not that difficult to drive providing care is taken on the Queenstown end where there are dozens of short & steep switchbacks.

There are a few free camping areas along the road that we wanted to check out and while we knew that the size of our rig would probably prevent us from crossing the road we wanted to check it out just to be sure. And sure enough the first sign we see tells us that 12.6m is the maximum length including a trailer. Hmmmm……we’re 14 metres, what’s 1.4 metres between friends?


Unfortunately for me the day is overcast but it’s our only free day for awhile and I know that I can’t always have a sunny blue sky day so I’ll have to do my best with the photos. Once again the autumn yellows are stunning against the tussock covered hills and vivid green of crop paddocks.

As we drive up the Cardrona Valley towards the range I spot a popular tourist attraction, the infamous Cardrona Bra Fence, a place where long ago (1999) someone added 4 bras to a rural fence (no one knows by who or why but it was sometime between Christmas & New Year which might explain the why). Then others added more bras until those few had grown into hundreds. Over the years there has been many attempts to have the bras removed and in fact the fence has been cleared a number of times only to have more bras appear within days. I think the opposition have now given up hope of having it gone as it stretched for hundreds of metres with probably more than 1000 bras of all colours shapes & sizes attached.



After the bra fence our next stop was at the much photographed, iconic & historic Cardrona Hotel which has this old car permanently parked outside, an ideal prop! Cardrona was originally a small gold mining settlement on the banks of the nearby Cadrona River and there are a few buildings left from the era along with a lot of new comers. Cardrona settlement is also below the very popular Cardrona skifield and I bet the hotel would be a hive of activity after a good days skiing.



We carried on up the Crown Range until very near the end where we reached the summit. It was by now cold & overcast with low cloud. Not very good to take in the views at all. Although cloud covered the surrounding mountains we could see the netting covered vines of the Gibbston Valley vineyards far below.

And, this looking up towards Queenstown with the Kawarau River winding its way towards the Kawarau Gorge. Chard Farm Winery & its narrow access road can be seen across the hidden river. On a clear day the Queenstown Airport’s runway is a straight line at the head of the valley. Planes often fly past the summit at what would seem eye level as they approach the runway.


And here is where we would be foiled in our attempt to drive the Crown Range with “Out There” on the back. The dozens or so short switchbacks that carry us down from the Crown Terrace to valley floor below. The corners are very tight and we would have to take them wide to get around them using up the otherside of the road. Not a good idea on such a busy road where you can’t see vehicles approaching. David thought at night it wouldn’t be a problem, you would see the other lights approaching & be able to time the corners to suit. We won’t be trying that out any time soon!


Taken out the window from one of the switchbacks; Arrowtown in all its autumn splendour tucked in below the Crown Range to the right and Coronet & Brow Peak away to the left.


After a short drive to check out the Arrow basin and where we might be parked up for the rally we turned around and headed back to Wanaka over the Crown Range again.


Our road trips are starting to mirror out tramping tracks; there and back on the same route. Still it was a pleasant drive and had we wanted to, I’m sure we would have been able to tow the fifth-wheeler in as far as the summit, we just would have had to tow it out the same way afterwards. The few camping areas we could identify weren’t actually that big and in weather like we had, didn’t look that appealing, so it wasn’t a problem in the end either.

Within a few days of our Crown Range road trip there was a solid fall of snow and the road was extremely busy as people made their way up the range to play in the first fall of winter (we drove past the bottom through the gorge).

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