A Mountain Baptism at 7000ft

I’m not one for spontaneity – and that’s not exactly a good thing. But when my lovely friend Becky (who you might remember from this stellar interview) suggested we go climb a mountain, who was I to say no?

Let me set the scene for you. During the university break, I escaped the mundanity of urban routine to the wine-soaked town of Cromwell. It just so happened that Becky had traveled to the town over. Naturally, we decided to meet up and go on some good old fashioned adventuring. And so it was that one balmy Saturday morning, Becky and I jumped into my car and set off towards the shadow of the Remarkables, a flask of mulled wine in one hand and a drink bottle in the other (because, y’know, we’re responsible drinkers).

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the New Zealand landscape, the 7000ft Remarkables are an aptly-named mountain range located on the southeastern shore of Lake Wakatipu and a ten minute drive from the adrenaline capital of Queenstown. During the winter months, the Remarkables are blanketed in a powdery layer of snow and transform into a gem of a ski-field. But at this time of the year, travellers are treated to a rustic canvas of alpine undergrowth and jaw-dropping views.

One of the features that lured us to the Remarkables was Lake Alta, a small glacial lake nestled amongst the peaks. Symbolic of new beginnings in the coming months (stay tuned!), Becky had joked that we might baptise ourselves in the water when we reached it. I liked the idea but nevertheless snorted in response. Me, swimming in a glacial lake? Please.

Famous last words.

Under a crisp blue sky, we parked at the base of the deserted ski resort and began our ascent. After the initial revelation that I am embarrassingly unfit, we settled into a comfortable yet spritely pace. I have never really been heavily involved (or even lightly involved, to tell the truth) in any sort of hiking, but could certainly understand the appeal to it. A highlight for me included navigating our way up an almost vertical rockscape and questioning every step of the way why I had made the conscious decision to impose this upon myself.

I don’t think I am likely to forget the sensation of busting my gut to reach the summit – practically crawling on hands and knees – for the stupendous Central Otago landscape to fall into view. Having actually earned the view was unbelievably rewarding, and I had to take a moment at the top just to breathe and take in the sight.

With clothing clinging to our clammy skin (how’s that for an alliteration?) we climbed down from the peak and descended upon Lake Atlas. I don’t think I’d ever laid eyes on water so clear. Sheltered from the wind by the surrounding crags, the surface of the lake was undisturbed and inviting, the water a tremendous tinge of turquoise (blimey, I’m on a roll).

Without further ado – or warning – Becky began stripping off. When she were naked and her clothes crumpled at her feet, she began wading shamelessly into the lake. Apparently this whole re-awakening/baptism business was more than an entertained thought.

“Take the damn photo!” she demanded while I gawked, my camera buried in my pocket. Her voice betrayed the cold. Laughing, I got my act together and began snapping away madly. Unencumbered by expectations, Becky extended her arms and embraced the invigorating mountain air.

I was next. Once Becky had clambered back out of the lake and dressed herself, there was really no excuse I could avail. Surprising even myself, I climbed out of my deliciously cosy clothes and waded tentatively into the depths. The biting, mind-numbing water sucked hungrily at my legs, and the possibility crossed my mind that I might not actually be able to convince my limbs to walk out again. It wasn’t just cold, it was painful. But still, I made myself stay put, and the endorphins that skyrocket afterwards were second to none.

Becky and I rewarded our efforts by opening the flask of mulled wine we had brought. Basking in the sun on a slab of stone lakeside, we sipped away, soaked in the landscape and discussed new beginnings. If hiking up a 7000ft mountain and taking a glacial plunge was what it took to experience such satisfaction… well, maybe I could get used to this.

If these photos have tickled your fancy, then be sure to check out my Central Otago Vlog featuring more footage of the hike – and subscribe to the Ginger Passports YouTube Channel!

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How to Fall in Love with Cromwell (In 5 Easy Steps)

Step One: Take a Step Back in Time…

Cromwell – located deep in the heart of Central Otago – pays tribute to its rich heritage with a precinct called Old Cromwell Town. Here, you’ll find art galleries, cafés and boutique shops all operating out of authentic historic buildings. The heritage precinct – also known as “Central Otago’s best kept secret” – overlooks the stunning Lake Dunstan and hosts the Cromwell Farmer’s Market (catch it every Sunday from 9am-1pm over the warmer months).

Step Two: Save Water, Drink Wine

“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters… but with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.” – Charles Baudelaire

I like to think of Cromwell as the Barossa Valley of New Zealand. It may not be as vast nor as renowned, but does that really matter as far as excellent wine is concerned?

Cromwell is celebrated for it’s orchards and it’s not hard to see why; a patchwork of vineyards cloak the bountiful landscape, and the view is almost as sweet as the taste. My winery loyalties are divided between Mt Difficulty and Scott Base. You’ll find the former perched above Bannockburn whilst the latter is a short walk from ‘the fruit’ (as seen in Step 5).

Step Three: Fall for Cromwell

Hehe – geddit? Fall? Well, you Americans may have caught my embarrassing pun, but us Kiwis might need a ‘lil helping hand.

The best time to visit Cromwell is in autumn. Between the months of March – May, you may miss cooking like a baked potato in the summer heat, but you will be treated to a rustic palette of nutmeg leaves and amber dusks. My favourite time of the day is late afternoon when the sky blushes, the sun sinks low upon the horizon and you would be forgiven for mistaking the mountains to have caught fire.

Step Four: 5 a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

(Okay, so there’s only 4 here, but you catch the gist.)

There is perhaps nothing more iconic about Cromwell than the enormous painted fruit sculpture on the main road. The gigantic pear, apple, orange and – I think nectarine? – welcome you into the town that is famed for it’s abundance of orchards. You haven’t had the full Central Otago experience until you’ve gone cherry picking at Cheeki Cherries, or demolished a blueberry real-fruit ice cream from Freeway Orchard.

Step Five: Say Cheese!

Cheese is one of the best goddamn things on earth and you cannot convince me otherwise.

Nothing goes better with a good old glass of pinot noir than a slab of gorgonzola, and what better place to enjoy a succulent cheese platter than Cromwell? The beauty featured below is from Scott Base Vineyards, which I enjoyed one balmy evening preceding my reluctant journey home.

If you’re keen to see some more of what Cromwell has to offer in action, then check out my Central Otago Travel Vlog – and don’t forget to show the love and subscribe to the Ginger Passport’s YouTube Channel!

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Vlog: Central Otago Edition

If I had to name the one place in New Zealand that I think every traveler (and Kiwi!) should visit, I wouldn’t have to think twice. To me, that place is Central Otago.

I spent the last week and a half exploring this stunning, sun-drenched region for what may very well be the last time for a very long while in light of my upcoming relocation to England (😥). Some of the highlights – as featured in this vlog – include enjoying the prismatic palette of Cromwell, taking in the awe-inspiring views of Lake Dunstan, hiking up the 7000ft Remarkables to swim in a secluded mountain lake and enjoying the delicious offerings of Scott Base Vineyard.

I’ll keep the details to a minimum – I’m saving that for my upcoming blog posts on the experience. But if you’re getting restless in the mean time, check out the interview I held with Becky Finley i.e. the star of this vlog.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Ginger Passport’s YouTube Channel to keep updated with the latest travel videos!

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