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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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