In my previous instalment, our Wellness Walkers Queenstown road trip group had embarked upon the ambitious Lake Rere loop walk. We had set off along the Greenstone River, encountered birds and butterflies and passed waterfalls along the way. I paused my tale just as we reached the bridge over the Greenstone that would take us across the valley toward the lake.
From our viewpoint on the bridge straddling the river we had a clear line of sight toward some of the Ailsa Mountain peaks, part of the lands of tears which we learned of earlier in our journey. Closer by, a forest of dead trees on the wide stony river bed piqued our curiosity.
My research indicates that a suspension bridge was built across the Greenstone in 1912 to enable Rere Lake day-trippers to take in more of the valley during their brief visits – before that, the river had been an impassible barrier.
Could this be the same bridge, I wonder, or is it of a more recent vintage?
Having crossed into the haunt of the pleasure-seekers, we climbed steeply, soon spying the Greenstone in the gorge below. Our next obstacle was a perilous scree slope, remnant of some massive landslide, though not quite as massive as the one that may have formed the Hillocks.
Cautiously we picked our way across the loose rock, not wishing to take an unplanned dip in the river regardless of how inviting it looked under the hot sun.
We were on the final slog over the saddle up to the lake. Above us loomed the serrated blade of Tooth Peak while below we observed the grassy valley floor.
We were starting to feel the burn – while the walk seemed much less strenuous than I remembered, it was still a long way. After fording a small stream we collapsed in the grass for much needed refreshments while another friendly toutouwai chirped encouragement at us.
Revitalised, we shouldered our packs once again and crested the saddle, bringing us finally in view of our long-anticipated goal.
We hurried through the last of the scrub, tottered over the final bridge across the outlet stream, stopping only briefly to marvel at the tiny fish camouflaged against the muddy bottom, and finally found a shaded log upon which to enjoy our view.
The name “rere” sounds Maori, and old newspaper reports state that it translates to “angry”, though all the definitions I found upon looking it up myself related to flying, flowing, or moving quickly. The matter may be moot anyway, as apparently the name is derived not from the Maori language, but the name of the surveyor who “discovered” the lake sometime in the 1860s (since the Maori had long used the Greenstone Valley as a route over to the West Coast, I suspect it may actually have been discovered sometime earlier).
I was unfortunately unable to verify the existence of any surveyor named Rere, so the man whose name was allegedly immortalised here shall remain a stranger.
A man whose name we do know, however, is James Richardson, a one-time town clerk of Queenstown who is credited with popularising this lake as a tourist spot and for campaigning to have it officially protected as a public domain.
But what could threaten this remote piece of paradise? Believe it or not, this was at one time a proposed route for the road to Milford Sound. Lucky for Lake Rere, the idea was abandoned due to the instability of the Greenstone Valley – I’m getting flashbacks to that landslide we traversed – and the impossibility of getting a road over the Homer Saddle (a problem which we later solved by building one under it).
Think of how different things would be if that had come to fruition – we might have been able to drive straight from Queenstown to Milford Sound instead of going all the way around via Te Anau. It would certainly make for a more efficient – and doubtless very attractive – means of ferrying our tourists about…but would it have been worth the sacrifice of the secluded beauty of Rere Lake and the Greenstone Valley?
As an aside, James Richardson apparently had little love for another lake – as he is also credited with the reclamation of Lake Logan in Dunedin, now Logan Park.
I can certainly see why this place was considered such an attractive picnic spot, for as we sat munching our victuals we observed both dragon and damsel-flies darting about in the reeds at the water’s edge. Soon we were also joined by another friendly toutouwai, which – before we could react – snatched up one of our napkins and flew away. That was (needless to say) the only piece of litter we left behind, and only because we weren’t able to get it back.
We were alerted to the presence of other local life by the occasional splash of leaping trout. James Richardson is credited also with releasing the first trout into Lake Wakatipu, but I’m not sure who is responsible for Lake Rere’s unique strain of golden brown trout.
Once we’d had our fill of both victuals and scenery, we prepared to move on. The path left the lake at its southern extremity and brought us along a valley path much lauded by turn-of-last-century picnickers and once described as:
a forest of stately birches, whose lace-like leaves of green
filter the dazzling sunbeams, as through an emerald screen
I couldn’t have said it better myself!
Our experience, however, also included a great deal of tangled and fallen trees strewn about the place, as if some sort of great disaster had occurred.
We continued alternately through hot sun and patches of shade until we finally burst upon our first view of Lake Wakitipu since we’d embarked on this journey four hours ago. The sight cheered us and reminded us that we were on the home stretch.
Continuing down the wide gentle track (cutting for the proposed road apparently got this far before the idea was abandoned) we eventually hove into view of the second lauded gem of this walk – Elfin Bay, azure waters lapping against the stony shore.
This was once the landing place for day trippers, who for four shillings could purchase a return passage on the steamer Mountaineer for a day complete with deck games, hiking and picnicking. The trips would take place in all kinds of weather, and due to the lack of a pier the act of ferrying the passengers to and from shore could occasionally get dicey.
“Elfin Bay” is a strangely poetic name, and replaced the cove’s original moniker of “Sandfly Bay”, which was considered too off-putting for the tourists (although it doesn’t seem to worry Dunedin’s tourists!).
We passed by the bay, encountering neither sandflies nor fairy folk, and our path now cut across fields dotted by sheep and matagouri. We were longing for the sight of our journey’s end, for although the walk had been good to us, by this time we were becoming quite tired.
We soon drew up alongside the flat swathe of land that carried the Greenstone on its last stretch to Lake Wakitipu. Craning our necks every few steps, we eventually spotted the tell-tale glint of sunshine-on-windscreen.
Buoyed by this sight, we strode along the grassy ridge until we reached the Greenstone River stock bridge. Then it only remained for us to cross over the glittering waters and stagger into the car park. We made it! Those of us who had walk tracking devices reported that we’d covered 20km, and impressive feat for even the fittest of us.
After some rest and congratulations all round, we all piled back into the vehicle and began the winding way back around the lake to Queenstown – we did not have the shillings for the steamer.