New Zealand: High Moutain Pass

Written by Harold McNeill on January 31st, 2012. Posted in Travelogue


This shot provides a view of the road on the opposite side of the valley as we proceed around a band. In many places the road clings to the cliff anywhere from 500 to 2000 feet above the Shotover River.  Link here for full set of photos.

To the Shotover River Gold Mines

In Queenstown Lynn and I booked for a trip to the Shotover River. This was listed as a “Jet Boat River Ride” but, as it turned out, the real adrenaline rush was the one hour and fifteen minute four wheel drive to reach the river launch site.
For the trip our driver and guide, Craig, a young man who has made this trip dozens of times, was one of those people that truly make a trip special.

I managed to snag the “shot-gun” seat but fifteen minutes after leaving the secondary for the gravel mountain road I was not so sure it was the seat I wanted. Lynn was right behind me in a single seat and if she had a choice I am sure she would have abandoned the trip.

Although I took dozens of pictures (it kept my mind off the drop) it was hard to capture this road in two dimension. I wish I had used the video feature on my camera.

As we wound our way into the moutains we climbed from 500 to 2000 feet on a single lane gravel road that was barely wide enough to negotiate with our four wheel drive bus. In many areas Lynn and I were on the cliff side and you could not see the road below our window. The river would be our first stop if the side suddenly caved away or the driver made a misstep.

You must also remember this is a two way regulard NZ highway (see the road sign photo) with the usual rules – speed 80 km – you’ve got to be kidding. If you meet another vehicle, in most places you cannot pass as the road is only one narrow lane, therefore one vehicle must back up until you reach a section that will allow the pass. As you pass, one vehicle pulls to the cliff edge and the other squeezes by on the cliff side.

Anyone, even a new driver, can take to this road and we heard that on a few occasions drivers simply abandoned the trip as it would take (I am sure) nerves of steel or the fearlessness of youth) to actually drive on this road.

The road continues for what seems forever until we finally wind down into a valley to catch the jet boat for a further ride up the river. The boat ride at high speeds through screaming turns seems positively tame compared to the road trip. On the river we pass the location of the river flood scene in the “Lord of the Rings” and do several high speed 360 degree turns along the route.

Returning from the jet boat, Lynn and I seriously considered catching a “chopper” ride out as it provides regular service for those bus riders who might choose an alternative route out but opted for the bus as we did not want to bail on Craig. Several people from our bus waited for the chopper.

Not wanting to be a seat hog, I checked to see if anyone else might wish to ride shotgun but there were no takers.

Lynn and a couple of the passengers asked me not to talk to the driver (a nervous reaction on my part) as he always choose to look at me when he answered and I suppose they figured he should be watching the road.

Craig tells me that for years he has wanted to become a pilot and while I encouraged him to live his dream, I cannot imagine how flying would provide any greater thrill than taking this bus through that mountain road several times a week.

When we finally reached the paved road the muscles in my legs ached after compressing the floorboards for over an hour.

Lynn was still in a state of shock but I suspect she will now consider a normal paved mountain pass switchback road, like those in Canada, to be rather mundane. I also think she might even consider a parchute jump to be OK as it would be over in less than five minutes.

Shotover River
Queenstown, NZ


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  • Harold McNeill

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Rick,
    Great to hear from you and trust all is going well. Our family members are all doing well but it must be pretty tough for a lot of people. I had once heard you were going to do some writing but never heard anything further. I would be most interested, but do you think the OB News have archives back to that time. Any link or information you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Did you keep copies? Regards, Harold

  • Rick Gonder

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Harold
    About 22 years ago I spent several weeks going through the OBPD archives. I wrote several stories that were published in the OB News. Feel free to use if they are of value to what you are doing.
    Keep this up, I’m enjoying it and it brings back memories.

  • Harold McNeill

    April 12, 2020 |

    Hi Susan,

    Glad you had a chance to read. I decided to update these stories by proofreading as there were several grammatical errors in many. Hopefully, many of those glaring errors have been removed.

    Many of the stories carry a considerable amount of social comment regarding the way the criminal justice system is selectively applied. Next up involves a young woman from near Cold Lake, Alberta, who was abducted by an older male from Edmonton. Her story is the story of hundreds of young men and woman who have found themselves alone and without help when being prayed upon unscrupulous predators.

    Cheers, Harold

  • Susan

    April 8, 2020 |

    Great read, Harold!…and really not surprising, sad as that may sound.
    Keep the stories coming, it is fascinating to hear them.
    Love from us out here in the “sticks”, and stay safe from this unknown predator called Covid.

  • Harold McNeill

    February 17, 2020 |

    Update:  Times Colonist, February 16, 2020, articles by Louise Dickson, She got her gun back, then she killed herself,” and,  Mounties decision to return gun to PTSD victim haunts her brother. 

    Summary: I don’t know how many read the above articles, but they contained the tragic details about young woman, Krista Carle’, who took her own life after suffering for years with PTSD. While tragedies such as this play out across Canada every week, the reason this story resonates so profoundly is that the final, tragic, conclusion took place here in Victoria. Continued in the article.

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    February 15, 2020 |

    Testing the comments section after changes made. Updated: February 10, 2020

    Further to the update below (February 1, 2020), I note that since the government announced a “No-Fault” insurance plan for BC, Robert Mulligan is taking a slightly different tack, suggesting that no-fault will only increase the problems by taking away the right of an injured party to sue.

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    Statements like this appear to be simple fear-mongering. As was the case in the past, people who commit criminal offences, as well as other forms of negligence while driving, may well lose their insurance coverage and in all likelihood would be sued by ICBC to recover costs of the claim. (Link here to Mulligan’s full conversation on CFAX radio)

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    September 18, 2019 |

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