Looking for paradise?

Adrenalin junkies will tell you that you’ll find it in Queenstown.

But the truth is, in New Zealand, to find the real Paradise, you first have to get on the road to Glenorchy.

Steep and narrow, the road zig-zags along, following the curves of Lake Wakatipu, climbing 500 meters above sea level and then dropping back down to the shoreline. With the crystal clear lake on one side and snow-capped mountains on the other, the road to Glenorchy is, in itself, a little touch of paradise.

But you’re not in Paradise yet.

First you have to get to Glenorchy. Before the arrival of Europeans, this area was the ‘summer camp’ of Maori tribes heading for pounamu (jade) rivers on the West Coast. European settlers arrived in the 1860s, built a small settlement, and started grazing sheep, mining scheelite, and milling timber.

And the small settlement hasn’t grown much since then. There’s a couple of cafes and pubs and a one room library, but not a single designer shop in sight.

Visitors to Glenorchy don’t come to shop. They arrive here to walk the Routeburn Track or take four wheel drive tours or horse treks into the back country.

Mostly, though, they arrive looking for Paradise just another 12 kilometers up the road.

No one knows for sure whether  Paradise was named for its beautiful setting or for its resident paradise ducks.

But local landmarks such as the Garden of Eden and the  Rock of Ages, plus the Jordan River and a coffin-shaped rock called Peter’s Tomb, keep the mythical and biblical nature of Paradise alive.

Most Lord of the Rings fans, however, will most likely recognize it as yet another Middle Earth location, where many classic scenes were shot.

But for those who know the place before it become Middle Earth, it simply is ‘just Paradise’.

(photos @Liz Lewis)

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Liz Lewis is a New Zealand based writer who favors wine tasting and food markets over bungy jumping and mountain climbing.