Sunday, November 8, 2009


Today we spent most of our day in the "Adventure Capital of the World" known as Queenstown. After spending the night on the lakeside, we continued our drive south to Wanaka. We stopped in to the visitors center and went into an outdoor gear shop. The girl working at the counter happened to be from Ventura, CA but had been living here for four years. Apparently, it isn't all the hard to get a New Zealand visa and then a passport if you have a "partner" who is a Kiwi. All you have to do is open a joint bank account, no marriage required, and you're in. We had thought they were far more restrictive. She sounded really homesick and was anxious to go back to visit her family in Ventura next summer.

Continuing on, we drove along the beautiful deep green of the Shotover river and past half a dozen vineyards into the town of Queenstown. It's located right on a clear blue lake that is so big it almost feels like the town is on the ocean, yet surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The downtown area was full of activity with people out shopping, sitting in the outdoor cafes and walking around town. We finally found a parking spot suitable for the enormous camper van and set out to get some lunch and information about the area. Unfortunately, we had just missed the last white water rafting trip by about ten minutes, and although we had tried to book the trip for the following morning, they ended up not having enough people to fill up the boat. Erich was fine with jumping on the class 4 and 5 river rapids, but after our kayaking experience, I felt far more comfortable with the class 2 and 3 river that we had hoped to join.

That said, we walked around town and sat at the outdoor patio of the Red Rock Bar and Grill and enjoyed some burgers (one veggie) and people watching. The town is really young, with adrenaline junkies all over booking their next bungy jump or just hanging out with some friends and beers. There were also a huge number of Asian tourists, all arriving on tour buses, and several stores even catered to them with bi-lingual salespeople.

We took a nice walk through the Queenstown Botanical Gardens which was gorgeous. There were flower beds tucked in between huge old pines, little stone bridges crossing creeks and ponds, and croquet and tennis courts in the center. The most unusual part was a version of frisbee golf that wound it's way through the park and garden. There were small metal stands with a chain link sort of basket on top. Each "hole" was numbered an had a starting (or tee off) spot where all the players began tossing their frisbees toward the basket things. It looked pretty fun but it seemed like you had to bring your own frisbees and scorecard!

After walking along the water and beach and past the quaint little shops and restaurants, we hiked up the hill on the edge of town to the start of the gondola. You get your own little gondola to enjoy up 1200 ft to a fabulous view of the entire Queenstown area.


The views from the top of mountain were outstanding. You could see all of Queenstown, the lake, and the Remarkable Mountains as well as many other peaks around us from the viewing deck.

Like any good kiwi venture there has to be some element of adventure. There was a luge track running down the top portion of the gondola area, The Ledge, the highest bungy jumping stop in the world, and various other forms of throwing yourself off the side of a mountain like the "Flying Swing" or paragliding. Anything for a quick rush of adrenaline (and while you hang upside down 3000 feet up, dollars can fall out of your pockets).

I was tempted at the bungy jumping, but decided the $170 price tag was not really worth the trouble so we chose to do the short hike that ran from the top of another short ski lift stye ride that moved the luge track enthusiasts to the top of their run. This smaller ski lift only ran another 500' or so up the mountain, but it produced even better views than were had already as you got away from the handful of tourists that were milling about the observation deck and gift shop at the end of the gondola ride below.

The trail wound through some of most dense pine forest we have ever seen. It was clear and sunny on the outside and nearly dark walking around inside the tree line. These pine trees must have stood almost 200' tall and completely filtered out the light below. Apparently these are starting to be invasive as they grow so quickly and shade out the native forests below. The highlight of the trail was a view up to the Ben Lamond peak and start of the Lamond trail. Another gold miners trail that hikes out into the mountains and to a hut some 8 hours or so away.

We departed our "ultimate" gondola experience for an "extreme" walk down the hill back to the campervan. It was an adrenaline rush for sure as we had to cross a 2-lane road with no crosswalk! We did not even get charged for it. We drove back down to the town center and stopped into the white water rafting shop to see if there were now enough signed up for trip, but unfortunately it was not full and we figured there were plenty more rafting experiences down the road.

Off to Te Anau we went, about a 2 hours drive away. The scenery change was amazing as we drove by the Remarkable Mountains and lake heading South into the foothills and a more pastoral farmland and rolling foothills. The area starting to become more of rolling grassland and tussock which is common on the leeward side of mountain ranges, but even this "flat" land was far from flat and as we drove into the setting sun over the next two hours you could see the undulating hills one after the other go on for ever.

This area seemed to have had a more recent "lambing" as there were hundreds and hundreds of tiny baby lambs hugging close to their mother or springing about the fields. Coco would have been in heaven either playing with the lambs, barking at them, or sitting and staring trying to figure out why the all looked like her.

We finally reach the Te Anau town area at the last light of the day. Somewhat frustrating was the search for an area to park the campervan as it was dark and once you're near the largest tourist destinations they attempt to control the parking of motor homes and vans everywhere. Luckily we knew if we kept looking we would find a nice spot off the road above the lake with the Fjordland's mountain ranges off in the background.

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