02/02/11 - Manapouri to Queenstown
The day after Milford Track our legs were incredibly sore. Our calves were as tight as rubber bands. We were literally saying "ouch" when we got off the bed.
We hobbled around making breakfast. Katie took a moment to coax Rebel, one of the hostel's free-range horses, over to the window where she fed him a cracker. He stood there for a while wanting more but we had a schedule to keep. We packed up and bid our friend adieu, saying a final goodbye to Freestone Backpackers as well. It was a lovely place to stay. We shall miss it.
The sky was exceptional that morning. We tried to capture a photo of its wonder as we left. Then, on the road, we continued to snap pictures of those spectacular clouds. I can’t say enough about the sky in New Zealand. It is stunning.
We drove along, only stopping once to take a few pictures of Lake Wakatipu, which was a brilliant blue under the sun. This is the same lake that resides off the shore of Queenstown. We followed its long curves into the city where we checked into Bumbles Backpackers. This hostel was in the perfect location – right next to all the action while not being in it. We quickly saw how close everything was and were thrilled to know we wouldn’t have to drive anywhere in Queenstown; we could walk everywhere we wanted to go. Since we arrived too early to check in, we decided it was a good time for lunch, plus, we were starving. The scent of Indian spices lured us into Bombay Palace. It was delicious, but Katie ended up paying for it long after the bill came, if you know what I mean.
The glorious clouds of the morning had morphed into a thick gray by the time we got back. Rain started pouring down hard. We unloaded our car and hurried our bags inside. Our room was nice and private, and the lounge off the kitchen had a fantastic view of the lake. Bumbles’ clientele seemed, for the most part, young and bombastic. This wasn’t unexpected. After all, this was Queenstown: The Adventure Capital Of The World. Conversations about being awesome were in abundance, not to mention dirty dishes.
That evening we were excited to read in the local newspaper that “traditional Irish music” was going to be performed at a pub called Pag Mahone’s. We’d been wanting to see some fiddle music for ages, so despite being tired and still on the mend from Milford Track, we decided to go out. The kitchen was closed when we got to the pub so we couldn’t buy a meal, but we did manage to purchase a small bag of chips and a cider (the dinner of champions). Then the music started. We sat and stared as two men played covers of pop songs on acoustic guitars. I craned my neck to see if any violins were waiting in the wings. Perhaps still in their cases? Nope. We examined the marquee and didn’t see any other bands slated to perform that evening. Apparently an acoustic version of “Layla” constituted “traditional Irish music.” You learn something new every day in New Zealand!
On the second day the weather turned round and we were able to wear…(drum roll please)…shorts and tank tops!!! Yes, summertime had finally arrived during our summer trip through New Zealand. It was a perfect, pristine day. We slathered on sun block in appreciation.
We attempted to get free internet at the library but found out they charge for it. After that plan failed, we decided to grab a frappacino at Starbucks and use their wifi service (which also wasn’t free, but was blessedly functional). While at Starbucks we happened to run into the Korean group we hiked Milford Track with – what a coincidence! They were going to catch their plane home that day and had just walked through the Queenstown gardens. We talked to YS briefly and wished them well.
Deciding not to squander the good weather, we chose to go up the gondola and ride the luge. Before that, though, a Ferg burger was in order. Ferg Burger is a restaurant of local repute. We’d walked by it before and found the place packed, so had to give it a try. Our mouths delighted in their beef burger with a side of fries (they don’t call them chips here). It was a good thing we split the meal because that burger was monstrous! I think big burly men must love this place – finally, a burger to match their appetite!
On we went to the gondola. We passed by a bungee platform on the ride up and I have to admit, if I were to bungee jump I don’t think I’d want to do it there. It wasn’t a very exciting location. Just dirt and trees? A ravine over rushing water sounded much more appealing. Anyway, the ride up was nice. We caught some cool views while a refreshing breeze blew in. From the viewing platform at the top we could see the whole city below with the Remarkable Mountains standing guard in the distance. It was a gorgeous vista. We could even zoom in with our camera and see our hostel from all the way up there.
Then we hopped onto the chairlift and went higher up so that we could ride the luge. It was awesome! Better than an alpine slide, for sure. For one, the track was wide and flat, so you could pass people if they were going too slow. For two, you could steer, which allowed you to increase your speed and have more control. We loved it! We purchased five rides each, so we just kept going up and racing back down. As it says on their helmets: Once is never enough!
On the third day our legs were finally recovering from Milford Track. Some minor pain remained, but we were no longer cringing when we got out of bed. Our plan was to go to Arrowtown, a nearby gold mining town that now thrives on tourism. Also, the Arrow River is home to a scene from “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring” – when Arwen saves Frodo by crossing the river and sending the water crashing over the Nazgul riders. We planned on finding that spot, if possible.
Arrowtown wasn’t anything special. It certainly didn’t have the old west appeal that many American southwestern tourist towns strive for. It didn’t feel old. It felt like a newly created gold mining town. There were a lot of gift shops, and restaurants, and…well, that’s about it. We walked past main street and onto the river bank where the filming site was supposed to be. There was only one area that looked like it could’ve been the spot used in the scene. We took a picture, so you can see for yourself. Of course, you have to imagine the additional CGI used to get the full effect.
Either way, it was fun to play in the water and look at the amazing rocks. Those rocks! I wanted to take them all home with me! There were so many variations of color, texture, and shape. This far into our trip we’d already collected several rocks to bring back home with us (as long as customs doesn’t have a problem with it). Now I was in a fix. There were so many stunning rocks to choose from! Katie and I kept finding cool ones and then tossing them aside for even cooler ones. (Mary Lou, you would have been in heaven)
We finally settled on a green one with a giant white X running through it, and orange and black and white rock that could stand on end, like a statue. And maybe a few more that I won’t mention... I have a sickness! Lord knows when the end of this trip comes some tough decisions are going to have to be made. We have a weight limit to consider, after all.
After river crossing and rock hunting we got some gelato at a place called Patagonia. Katie knew right away what she wanted: Pistachio and fig. I, of course, took eons to decide. I tasted quite a few before settling on the yummy, the scrumptious, the absolutely to-die-for banana split flavor! Every bite was a mini banana split in my mouth! (Sarah, you would have devoured it)
While eating our delicious desserts we strolled through the old Chinese village in Arrowtown. The gold rush of 1862 created high demand for labor and Chinese immigrants answered that call. Some of their original homesteads were recreated and stories of their lives told along the pathway. As we left the Chinese Village we ran into another pair of hikers from the Milford Track. Again, what a coincidence! I guess New Zealand is a small world, not only for its people but for its tourists.
On the fourth day our plan was to go to Deer Park, which was out on the peninsula and visible from Queenstown proper. We’d read that for a $20 vehicle charge we could explore the park and see six different locations used in “The Lord of the Rings.” We meandered out there, following the map as far as it could take us, but for some reason we couldn’t find the entrance to this place! Up and down residential streets we traveled until we finally found a pathway that led into a park. We thought we were on the right track, but sadly it quickly brought us to a dead end. At that point we gave up. In truth, we weren’t really that disappointed because none of the “The Lord of the Rings” locations were anything very exciting. Instead, we decided to park the car and go for the Lakeside walk. Since we were already there why not make the most of it?
About five minutes in my whole world turned upside down! There, underneath the tall pine trees, sat the most astonishing mushrooms I’d ever seen. They were straight out of the Smurfs but these were real! Living red mushrooms with white trunks and white spots all over the top. We were meant to go on this hike! If for anything than to see these extraordinarily mushrooms!
After exiting the trees, we walked along the ridge above the lake. Lake Wakatipu is huge, and the bluff we were on was steep, dropping down to a driftwood beach. It felt like being on the edge of the ocean except without the scent of the sea. We sat on a bench in the warm breeze and watched cloud shadows dance across the mountains. Later on we wandered through a brief stretch of dark trees where a few North Island Fantails were flying around. These were the same birds we saw on Milford Track. They were a bit calmer, and Katie got a decent picture of one of their tails, but none of them landed on my finger. Drat!
For a while the sun was shining down boldly from above, but then the wind swept through, spraying us with some brief sun showers. The weather in New Zealand is rather erratic. I’m sure you’ve noticed at this point how often I’ve mentioned the conditions changing, sometimes before our very eyes. Queenstown was the perfect example of this: Rain, sun, rain and sun simultaneously, hot and humid, wet and cold – it can’t make up its mind. At least on this day it was thankfully warm, even when wet.
That evening we were excited to eat at none other than Dux De Lux. If you remember, this was the restaurant where we had that fabulous dinner in Christchurch at the beginning of our trip. It has a sister restaurant in Queenstown with the same ginger beer! Upon arrival, though, we quickly realized this wasn’t the Dux De Lux we were familiar with. For one, the menu was pared down to salads and pizzas. Only bottled ginger beer was available, and we got some, but it didn’t have the same zing it had on tap. Also, the atmosphere was entirely different – fewer tables and a bar-like vibe. We ended up splitting a salad with garlic bread. Both were very tasty.
What wasn’t tasty, however, were the drunk Kiwi men hitting on us. They were sitting at the next table. One came up to us growling. I’m serious. He growled at us with his hands twisted like claws. We were a little too perplexed to respond with anything other than concern in our eyes. His buddy then drifted over and asked if his friend’s pick-up technique had been successful. Emphatically, no. He then asked what our reaction was. I answered annoyance. He wondered what percentage of women would go for this pick-up line? I answered 0%, while Katie was a bit kinder, saying maybe 2%. She’s probably right. It’s possible that 2% of the female population, if utterly desperate and alone, would find a growling drunkard appealing. Needless to say, these men were barking up the wrong tree. (By the way, for those of you who watch “Flight of the Concords,” the Kiwi talking to us looked like a less attractive version of Jemaine – now scruffier and with body odor! Sexy!)
The next morning we weren’t ready to leave Queenstown just yet. We wanted another day to relax. When I asked if we could stay on another night at Bumbles I found they were all booked up, so we had to check out. We puttered over to another hostel called Southern Laughter and managed to nab their last room. It was slightly less desirable than Bumbles, to say the least. Uglier, messier, no view, and our room was a box in the back of the parking lot. You think I’m kidding? Check out the picture!
With rainy cold weather looming above, the prospect of staying for another day just to sit at Starbucks had Katie suddenly questioning our logic. But it was a done deal. We were staying put. Happily, what started out as doubt transitioned into relaxed enthusiasm for the day. By the time my blogging was finished the sun had come out, and we were ready for a stroll through the Queenstown gardens. That stroll was followed by a picnic lunch on the grass beside the lake. We played cards and ate salad with crackers and cheese. And then… what should appear before my very eyes but Patagonia! Yes, that amazing gelato place from Arrowtown had another location right next to our picnic! I struggled once more picking a flavor, but had to go with my beloved banana split. Katie got apple/berry gelato and it was divine. My indulgence seemingly knew no bounds, because after I finished my ice cream I got a ginger hot chocolate. Fantastic! I swear, if I worked at this place I’d be the happiest 300 pound woman in the world.
Tomorrow we were finally going to leave Queenstown and head up the west coast. Puzzling World and the Franz Josef Glacier awaited us. It was a good thing we were leaving because if I stayed much longer I was going to spend all our money on sweets!