The Glenorchy tour I had to take into the Rees Valley

Nikki ParkinsonLife, Travel 44 Comments

The road to Glenorchy is one of the most picturesque you’ll ever find yourself on. It winds around the eastern side of Lake Wakitipu, offering staggeringly beautiful vistas at every turn.

I mean, LOOK AT IT … a no-filter required Instagram heaven.

Bennetts Bluff Lookout, road to Glenorchy

Bennetts Bluff Lookout, road to Glenorchy

Lake Wakatipu at sunset | Glenorchy New Zealand

Joel Lamason knows a thing or two about Glenorchy. He and his partner Kate Cruickshank are directors of Pure Glenorchy tours (Pure Glenorchy is recognised as one of NZ’s leading tourism businesses by being licensed to carry the Qualmark New Zealand tourism official mark of quality). Kate and Joel were incredibly supportive when I reached out to them ahead of our trip to Queenstown with an unusual request. A request I’m grateful they didn’t baulk at helping me with. 

Joel Lamason Pure Glenorchy tours

I wanted to make a very long overdue pilgrimage to the site where my mum and step-dad drowned in December 1995. Their friends, lead by Colin MacGillivray, built a memorial at the site in 1996.

I wrote about finding out about their sudden death HERE. Below are two articles about their deaths from The Southland Times and one from The Courier Mail. Click on each to read a pdf of the articles. My parents were residents of Invercargill at the time but my mum had lived in Brisbane for the majority of her life. I’m uploading the articles here as there is no digital footprint for either Margaret Parkinson or Neville Lawrence. In 1995 the Internet was something the world thought wouldn’t take off 😊 and I want my children’s children to be able to find this information long after I’m gone.

My relationship with my Mum was not the stuff of fairytales. It took me a long time to forgive her for leaving us when her marriage to my Dad broke down when I was 6 (my two brothers and I grew up with my Dad and Step-Mum). And then it took me a long time to forgive when she left Australia to be with Neville when I was 14. It’s also taken me a long time to forgive her for dying, for not being with me in the early days of motherhood, for not being here to be a grandparent to my kids. But forgive I have. I’m now older than she was when she died. The gift her premature and sudden death taught me was that we only get one shot at this game called life. We should just live it, with joy, purpose, hope and love.

Margaret Parkinson and Neville Lawrence | drowned near Glenorchy December 1995 | The Southland Times

Margaret Parkinson and Neville Lawrence | drowned near Glenorchy December 1995 | The Southland Times

Margaret Parkinson and Neville Lawrence | drowned near Glenorchy December 1995 | The Courier Mail

Back in December 1995, when my mum and step-dad drove the road to Glenorchy, what was to be their last time in a car, it was gravel and not for the faint of heart. This was a time before this area provided the backdrop to the Narnia and Lord of the Rings movies. Tourists would have been fewer and farther between than they are now. Mum and Neville were on their way to do a “tramp” or trek on the Rees Track before having Christmas with my step-siblings in Christchurch. 

Maybe they stopped in Glenorchy on the way through to the Muddy Creek carpark at the beginning of track. Neville loved taking photos. Maybe they stopped to take photos of the iconic red boat shed or to walk out along the pier. 

Pure Glenorchy tours, Queenstown NZ

Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy, New Zealand

Glenorchy pier, New Zealand

I’d tramped with them before. They would have had all the required equipment and food. Mum would have had her bags of scroggin (trail mix) at the ready. They would have been excited to start another tramp and even more excited to be spending Christmas afterwards with family.

All of these thoughts – and SO many more – filled my head as we drove past the carpark where they would have parked their car before entering the Mt Aspiring National Park on foot. The glacial valley from above looks like a flat grassland, tinged brown from heavy frosts, with huge mountains rising up on either side. When you’re in the valley, specifically driving through it, it’s a very different proposition. The off-road journey may have only been about 6-7km but it wasn’t a case of pointing the 4WD and going in a straight line. Joel expertly navigated the alluvial plains of the Rees River, driving through iced slush and shallow waters to avoid being bogged in quicksand. We felt in very safe hands. Joel had even done a reccie through to the site the afternoon before to see if there were any shifts in the valley that would prevent us from getting through.

Map Rees Valley Pure Glenorchy Tours

Rees Valley from Muddy Creek carpark, New Zealand

Sheep in the Rees Valley, New Zealand

When we arrived at the site, I waited for the tears to flow, for the sadness of the past 23 and a half years to rise up and take over in big, ugly sobs. The opposite happened. A strange calm came over me. A feeling that I was meant to be there. Right then. That it didn’t matter that it had taken so long to work up the courage to make the pilgrimage to the site. What mattered was that I did.

The memorial sits up on a low ridge not far from where Twenty Five Mile Creek meets the Rees River. It’s one of the most naturally beautifully and pristine locations you’ll ever experience. The view up the valley to snow-capped mountains and the Grant Glacier is awe-inspiring. The air is so clean you want to bottle it so you can keep breathing it long after you’ve got back into the car and wound your way back to town. Lichen and moss grows abundantly because the air is that pure. The crystal clear water that flows over flat green and grey schist (glacial rocks) comes from the most beautiful cavern deep inside the mountain. 

Rees Valley Twenty Five Mile Creek New Zealand

Memorial to Neville Lawrence and Margaret Parkinson | Twenty Five Mile Creek, Rees Valley, New Zealand

Twenty Five Mile Creek Rees Valley New Zealand

Twenty Five Mile Creek Rees Valley New Zealand

Moss and lichen grow easily in the pure air of the Rees Valley, New Zealand

It’s believed my parents were swept away while trying to cross a flooded Twenty Five Mile Creek. Mum was found 1.6km downstream in the Rees River with her backpack on (weighing 50kg wet) and Neville a little bit further, his pack off. No-one knows for sure but we think Mum slipped/fell first and then Neville took off his pack to try and rescue her. Mum’s body was pretty beaten up by the fall, whereas Neville’s didn’t show any visible signs of injury.

The irony that there’s now a footbridge across Twenty Five Mile Creek was not lost on me. We don’t know when it was built. It was not there when family visited the site in 10 or more years ago. I didn’t feel any anger at what could have been if that bridge had been in place in 1995. I felt Mum and Neville would have been pleased to see it built to prevent others befall the same fate. They were like that in their careers … thinking, working and championing others.

Footbridge | Twenty Five Mile Creek, Rees Valley, New Zealand

Foot bridge over Twenty Five Mile Creek, Rees Valley, New Zealand

When they weren’t working, they spent pretty much every day of their 14 years as a couple together. As their friend, Sue Ewart, said at their funeral: “they were utterly and completely happy together … and miserable when circumstances separated them, no matter how briefly. The intensity of their love sometimes made me fear for them. I could not see how one could survive without the other. I take some comfort from the fact that they died together doing something they loved, with neither left to face an inconsolable future.”

I too couldn’t have imagined one surviving without the other.

It was while reflecting on this very thought that Joel pointed out the pairs of paradise shelducks flying across the grasslands and landing in the rocky waterways in front of us. He told us these ducks pair up and stay together for life.

The woo-woo in me likes to think that maybe, just maybe, it was a sign and that wherever they are, they’re still flying together.

Highly recommended: Pure Glenorchy tours

More on our Queenstown stay: tips for a snow holiday; where to eat and drink

Comments 44

  1. Hi Nikki,

    Was lovely to read this as I often find myself thinking what Neville and Margaret would have made of the worlds’ advances in technology. I travelled up to the cairn early in 2020 and like you was pleased to see the addition of a bridge. It had been many years since I’d visited and as always I find it moving.

    In 2000 I was with some friends on Stewart Island at the North Arm Hut where we met a Scandinavian couple who told me that the cairn had made them decide not to attempt to cross. I remember thinking that if Neville and Margaret were looking down how pleased they would have been.

    Hope this finds you and your family in good health.

    Kind regards,

    Colin McGillivray

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      Hello Colin … I’m so glad you found your way here. And I’m glad you made the trip back. What a wonderful story to hear from the Scandinavian couple. We are all in good health and know that every day is a gift.

  2. Just found your blog on account of your laundry powder ad. This post is lovely and poignant. I also grew up in Queensland (Toowoomba, Mount Isa), I’m pretty much the same age as you. Love your tone of writing. I’m following you now. Living in Ballarat now, but can’t wait till we can visit Queensland again. Best Wishes.

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  4. What a fabulous way to document & share a piece of your history forever.
    Love that you have created a digital footprint as you call it & how beautifully it is written.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Nikki thank you for sharing your journey with us. I am full of respect for your bravery in going back to that spot but also showing your vulnerability and forgiving nature.
    I believe by sharing our stories and allowing the vulnerable sides of us to be visible that our communities become more connected and your story has the potential to show others that forgiveness is a way of transforming very challenging emotions and events.
    Thank you again.

  6. Nikki you are a wonderful and forgiving woman. Have never met you but feel so proud of you. Your family has a beautiful mother, wife and very successful person to hold dear.

  7. So beautiful Nikki. I’m glad you were finally able to make the trip there and hope forgiveness and acceptance has come easier. xxx

    PS. I don’t think I ever met your mum and only now realise you look so much alike. She has a lovely smile.

  8. How incredibly moving and emotional to read. How beautiful to find calm and peace in a tragedy. What an incredibly spiritual experience. Thank you for sharing. And how like your Mum your daughter looks!

  9. A sad story. Thank you for sharing. I hope the journey gives you lasting peace. Such a beautiful spot to be remembered.

  10. Nikki, Thank you for sharing – my heart feels for you but what a positive story you have turned it into.

    1. Neville Lawrence was my 6th form English teacher at Riccarton High School in 1970. He sprang to mind tonight so I googled his name as I had fond memories of that year and wondered what had become of my former teacher. I was saddened to learn of his untimely end. I’d rather hoped he might still be around.

      Thank you for your lovely tribute to your mum and your step-dad. I might not be able to visit “Mr Lawrence” in his retirement home as I’d hoped, but through you post I’ve had many questions answered.

      I might even make a wee pilgrimage to the commemorative plaque.

  11. You have written a beautiful tribute to two very special people. You are so brave to have made the journey. Thank you for sharing xx

  12. A beautiful piece Nikki and something that would of been so hard to do, but worth it in the end. I also lost both my parents young. These holidays were embarking on a similar journey putting digital footprints of the time when my husband and I first met. We met whilst working at Ayers Rock Resort in the early noughties. We’re taking our kids back to show them where their mum and dad met.

  13. Nicky, I think from reading the articles you included, your mum has already made her mark in NZ. Obviously you inherited her spirit even though you were separated growing up.
    We are currently up Mt Ruapehu in NZ – think you had more luck snow wise in Queenstown!
    I was moved to tears by your article and think you have created a fabulous tribute by creating a digital footprint online.

  14. Thank you for this beautiful article. I am sorry for your loss but your tribute is a wonderful thing. My grandmother came from Invercargill. I am familiar with the area. As others say, the ducks were a sign. Thank you.

  15. A cathartic journey for you. Thank you for sharing your sad story but also the breathtaking scenery of my home country.

  16. Both journalism and a feminist committed to women’s issues run in your family Nikki. No wonder you landed where you did, leading the way in body positivity in the fashion industry! A beautiful read xx

  17. Beautifully written Nikki, definitely a sign they are still together.
    Thank you for sharing with us, your words of forgiveness will be very inspiring to anyone reading this who feel that cannot forgive.
    Much love Narelle xx

  18. They were definitely ducks who paired up and stayed together. This is a beautifully written piece. I felt like I was there with you and could feel the cold air in my lungs. Bravo for making the pilgrimige and for giving them a digital footprint.

  19. You write so gently, Nikki. I admire you for putting it into words – thank you for sharing. Lots of love x

  20. Absolutely beautifully written and such a personal story and journey to share . You are truly an amazing woman

  21. Thankyou Nikki for sharing your experience. It’s ironic they died so tragically in such a peaceful, beautiful place. I’m glad you got the opportunity to make the pilgrimage. I too lost my mother at a young age (I was 23, she 62) it was devastating and all but destroyed our family; I emphasise with the pain you felt all those years ago. Thanks again xx

  22. Nikki, NZ is such a beautiful country. It must have been very difficult and upsetting for you. My thoughts are with you.

  23. Hi Nikki,

    Thank you for sharing your “full circle” moment with us. I have been following your blog for a number of years now & so glad you were able to finally find some peace with your mum & step-dad at their resting place. Much love to you & your family xxx

  24. Oh Nikki what a beautifully written post. The wonderful fact that you were able to return to this very significant place on that day is something you can treasure always. Your mum would be so proud of you and your achievements and all you strive to do throughout your life. ❤️

  25. Such a beautifully written piece and lovely tribute to your Mum and Step Dad. I particularly liked the fact that you mentioned about not only forgiving your mother but also yourself….so very important. Thank you for being so honest in you sharing xx

  26. You were very courageous to make the trip, thanks for sharing in such a beautiful way the lessons of gratitude and life x

  27. Oh Nikki I remember the photos as you were posting them on IG… and now reading the story & seeing the newspaper articles sure does bring home the tragic end to two amazing people’s lives. Thank you so much for sharing & I send love.. you have a smile very much like your mum’s. Denyse xx

  28. What a beautifully written and moving blog post. Glad you found peace in your pilgrimage. The pair of paradise shelducks flying over we’re absolutely a sign from your Mum and step-Dad xx

  29. Wow Nikki, what an incredible journey! Sad, but so totally complete with their passing of life, together. I hope it has left you feeling in a good place. Thank you for sharing. xxx

  30. A very sad story – it would have been a difficult situation to revisit to write and more so to be at the location. Thank you for sharing it with us all.

  31. That wouldn’t have been and easy journey or an easy piece to write. Thank you for sharing Nikki

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