We hopped across the Tasman Sea (I think, or was it the Southern Ocean, surely not the Pacific yet, as you can tell my Southern hemisphere geography is not great) and we are now in the stunning scenery of New Zealand. People associate the tropical islands with paradise but I would much rather take rugged landscapes like this any day. Just landing at Queenstown airport was like a ‘best of’ the Lake District and Scotland. You are immediately faced with the mountains (The Remarkables) surrounding the lakes around Queenstown. New Zealand was always going to be a highlight of the trip for me (hi, Rich here in case you were in doubt) as it is a place that has been on my bucket list for some time. The first impression was breathtaking and a good omen for things to come.
Sunday 1st March – Queenstown
We are staying in the Central YHA and it really is central. We are right were you want to be, close to bars, restaurants, shops and the wharf area in this very touristy but still charming town. To be honest you are never far from anything in Queenstown. Vicki was expecting a big city but clearly hadn’t read the guidebooks (Vicki – I never said big…I said bigger. Seriously, Queentown makes Surbiton look like a metropolis). New Zealand doesn’t seem to do big in terms of populations except for sheep (they outnumber the people 10:1). As the adventure capital of NZ probably, you can see there are many tourists and a lot of activities to keep them entertained (Vicki – and part them with their cash). I heard somewhere that the place is 40% tourists/visitors. That is a fair chunk but wandering around it seems to be short, all the “locals” seem to be foreigners backpacking and choosing to stay for a year or so.
Our first afternoon (arriving in town at 2pm) consisted of a delicious pie for lunch from Fergbakery then a wander. We thought we might have time to go up the hill but after confirming our coming trips (the first of which was the same day at 6pm) we decided it would be too much of a rush. Instead we settled on mini-golf. As it was a fine afternoon we went outdoor and Rich was victorious by a clear margin (10 shots).
Our evening trip was a ride of the TSS Earnslaw. This is a Twin Screw Steamer (hence TSS) that goes several times a day across the lake to a farm. We opted for their gourmet BBQ dinner cruise. The weather was ideal giving us great views out and a beautiful skies after sunset. We had an excellent meal, the BBQ meat and seafood were delicious and we would have happily eaten for hours. Our only gripe was that with such a large number of people disembarking at once we had quite a wait for food where we could have wandered outside while we waited instead of twiddling our thumbs at the table. In any case we had wine to occupy us. At the end of the meal we found ourselves outside with leftover wine enjoying a sheep dog / sheep shearing display. This was a new way to experience after dinner drinks and an impressive display. No doubt these won’t be the last sheep we see this trip.
We were probably the youngest guests on the boat if you exclude the children who wouldn’t have been given the choice to go. Clearly a dinner cruise isn’t the backpacker trip of choice. We couldn’t turn it down though as we had a discount after booking another trip. In the end we were very glad we didn’t. The boat ride was incredibly scenic and it was fun to be on the old steamer (we did feel sorry for the coal stoker), dinner was first class, and last but not least, the sing along on the way home was great fun. The reason I mentioned the ages is that the sing along wasn’t exactly the current top 40 but more 1940s. It seemed we had the WI singers with us for some songs as a core of ladies took the lead but most of the tour groups with us did seemed to know some of the songs. The one year age difference I have on Vicki is clearly important as I knew a lot more songs and was happy to get stuck in. Perhaps it was just I had a bit more wine as I still don’t believe that she didn’t know the words/tune to Waltzing Matilda. She did however do a fine rendition of Amazing Grace, a leftover from hymns at cathedral school I guess. In any case we happily disembarked singing “It’s a small world” to ourselves.
Monday 2nd March – White-water Rafting on Shotover River
This morning we had very different boat to yesterday. Vicki has been dreading this as I was dragging her out White-water Rafting on the Shotover River. Having done white-water kayaking before this was something I was looking forwards to. In the end Vicki had nothing to worry about, the bus ride out along ledges bordering sheer drops was more frightening that the rafting. Don’t get me wrong, the rafting was very exciting but thanks to a fine guide (Swiss) we felt safe and controlled throughout. We cruised through some great scenery and felt the thrill of descending the rapids. The worst off we came was getting stuck on a rock in a calm section. Basically we beached ourselves which was more embarrassing than scary. We did get wet still with a few voluntary swims and a lot of splashing. The rafting was well worth doing and Vicki even enjoyed it when she realised it wouldn’t be as scary as she first expected. We will have to try something more extreme in the future, maybe a bungee jump or sky diving!
Our afternoon was spent chilling out in the hotel room with a round of golf to break it up. As it had started to rain we headed for the indoor golf. We both agreed that this was the best mini golf we have ever done. Really some pictures are the best way to show what it was like…
Not that anyone is counting but Vicki came out victorious this time with a 2 shot lead. I thought I had her until a disastrous route choice on the second to last hole meant I dropped 3 shots. Poor form from me but at least we both got a free lollypop at the end.
The rain didn’t deter us from going out for an early evening run. It seemed that we stopped the rain as the last few drops fell as we set out and we were left running on a clear crisp evening. Views of the lake were stunning as we ran round the Queenstown gardens and along the lakeside.
Our evening continued with a call to our optometrists (thanks M&D) and a visit to the pharmacy to get Vicki’s gammy eye sorted. A few local craft beers numbed the pain (of listening to Vicki complain ) before a late pie for dinner. The reason for the late pie for tea is that we had a huge burger for lunch. Queenstown’s most famous burger joint is Fergburger. You have to queue and wait a while for your burger at nearly all times of the day but the result is delicious. The burgers are huge, juicy and accompanied by mouth-watering fillings. They are well worth the wait and you can see why they have such a good reputation. Next door to Fergburger is Fergbakery where we had our pies yesterday. Having had a pie for breakfast, burger for lunch and then another pie for dinner I must be one of their best customers. It is safe to say the pies are just as good as the burgers.