Crown Rangers . . . the long commute
In a special summer series reporter Marjorie Cook explores the lengths some Central Otago people take to get to work. Today she introduces us to the Crown Rangers who commute from Wanaka to Queenstown every day – no matter what the weather.
Russell Lewthwaite is an original Crown Ranger.
The Repco employee has commuted from Wanaka to Queenstown for years and when Lake Hawea journalist Celia Williams formed the car pool group in 2007, he joined up.
At least 30 Crown Rangers have come and gone since then and these days Lewthwaite usually shares the daily trip with three Queenstown Lakes District Council employees: Laura Rawlings, Barbara East and David Sherwin.
‘‘All have offered their own uniqueness, making the journey most interesting at times. This last year, one of the guys produced a book of 10,000 random questions and we all rated ourselves so much we entered a team in the local quiz night.
‘‘To get a Crown Rangers badge, the only requirement is competency and confidence, because the ice and snow days can be very challenging,’’ Lewthwaite said.
Fortunately, the ice and snow days seem few and far between. They used chains once during the 2014 winter and diverted twice the ‘‘long way’’ via Cromwell.
Another Cromwell diversion was necessary recently to avoid the aftermath of a fatal truck accident.
At 1076m above sea level, the Crown Range is New Zealand’s highest sealed mountain pass. It takes about 50-60 minutes one way to negotiate the winding route through tussock-filled high country, depending on conditions and the other traffic.
East said the chat on Mondays is usually vivacious but by Friday, the Crown Rangers are quiet, tired and some sleep rather than talk.
She estimates the commuters spend up to 21⁄ hours a day in each other’s company which can be more time than they get to spend with their partners.
Early starts are par for the course with commuters struggling to find time for their daily exercise before leaving for work.
‘‘Usually, the morning is a bit rushed. I am up at 6am and have two diabetic cats to inject and feed before we meet at 7.20am,’’ East said.
Finding car parks in Queenstown can be a nightmare, and commuters can burn oil at the other end of the day just getting in their exercise and preparing for the next day.
In the winter, they never see their homes in daylight.
Rawlings is the newbie, she’s only been commuting five weeks, and has marvelled at spectacular sunrises and snow on the first day of summer.
She’s also marvelled at other people’s ‘‘dicky driving’’.
If the rangers are concerned about what they see, they are not shy about reporting it.
Sherwin used to commute for one hour and 40 minutes each way, by train, when he worked in Sydney, so finds the Crown Range ‘‘not that bad’’.
They all agree on the benefits of the long commute – cost saving, taking turns at driving, having helpers if chains are needed, and most importantly, forging strong, reliable friendships. ◗ Next week we meet Queenstown businessman Jim Boult.
On the road: Some of Wanaka’s Crown Rangers who commute daily to Queenstown are, from left, Laura Rawlings, Barbara East, Russell Lewthwaite and David Sherwin. Photo: MARJORIE COOK/ FAIRFAX NZ 630259345