Sunday, April 1, 2007

Queenstown

Wednesday March 28 2007

I was in desperate need of wireless internet, so Trevor drove me to Queenstown, about 2 hours away and dropped me off. He had some horse business he could take care of around there, so it wasn't a total waste of his time. He wouldn't hear of me taking the bus anyway.

We were socked in a thick fog until about Lumsden, an hour or so away, and then we drove out of it. All the way we'd been slowly gaining altitude, through sheep farms and more farms, and when we got out of the fog, there were big mountains off to our left, and decent sized ones on our right, that they sometimes did endurance rides in.

We reached the bottom tip of Lake Wakatipu, under which I believe there's a sleeping giant, whose breathing causes a rather strange rising and falling of lake level. We drove along the side of it, hugging it along what used to be an old goat track. It's still just a narrow winding 2-lane road, that sometimes squeezed to one lane with road construction. Pretty steep mountains above us, and across the lake, bigger mountains rising sharply out of the lake, no room for even goat tracks over there. If you wanted to head west, there's that mountain range to cross (by bird wing) before you reach another north-south highway (that only goes north to Milford Sound before stopping), and on the other side of that, nothing but hundreds of miles rugged mountains and lakes and Fiordland National Park, with very few trails through it, before you hit the Ocean. I'm sure it's thoroughly been explored at some point, but there can't be many casual visitors. Oh, wouldn't I like to just be dropped off with map and compass and the right gear on the other side of Lake Wakatipu to hike straight across to the ocean!

But I took the easy way, with Trevor driving me and talking horses on the way. We got to Queenstown and took some time finding an affordable hotel with wireless internet. Didn't find either - not so many rooms available (well, maybe not for the likes of me) with a conference in town, none with wireless at the ones we checked, so I settled on a room in a hostel, with wireless internet at cafe in town.

I had the downstairs of a house, with a bit of a view down over the lake. Gee, I'd like to just move in here for a few months! I only had about 2 hours to wander around town before I had to get to work, but, Queenstown seemed to be a nice town in a lovely setting! It's stacked up around the curve of the lake, with a big forested mountain looming right over it (with a gondola ride to the top), and mountains surrounding the lake everywhere. There's a hill on the left as we drove into Queenstown; Trevor said they worked up on top of that on Lord of the Rings, staying on the backside bottom of it, riding up to the top to work every day. I bet there weren't too many whiners on that shoot!

It was quite a busy town, tourists and backpackers strolling everywhere, sitting in outdoor restaurants, riding in vans taking them to adventures, and ducks swimming the lake and strolling the parks. You can do anything outdoorsy you want there (for a fee): bungi jump (no thanks!) sky dive (no thanks!), paraglide (no thanks!), white water raft (no thanks!), take Lord of the Rings tours, water ski, snow ski, steam in a boat up the lake, take scenic flights, go to numerous restaurants (lots of Indian!) and bars and internet cafes. Plenty of upscale hotels and loads of hostels. I'd love to come back spend time just hiking in the surrounding mountains. And riding of course.

Next morning I took a couple of buses to get back to Gore - all day to get 2 hours down the road, but the bus is a great way to see the countryside. One other girl and I had a whole bus to ourselves, and our bus driver gave us a personalized guided tour of the countryside we were passing through.

I am fascinated by the hedges that are all over the land down here, many of them made from closely planted pine trees that are severely shorn about 12 feet up (by tractors with large spinning blades), then sometimes allowed to grow normally above the trim. They are windbreaks or just impenetrable boundaries between pastures. Sometimes the hedges are other kinds of trees, big yucca-like plants, or even the invasive gorse, through which a snake wouldn't want to try to slither (and New Zealand doesn't have snakes - maybe this is why!)

The driver pointed out the "freezing works" or slaughterhouses where the cattle and sheep are slaughtered (deer are processed in their own plants), the old pulp mill, the big dairy conglomerates that are making a resurge. I said Surely Kiwis didn't consume THAT much milk, he said 97% of the milk products, milk, butter and cheese, are exported.

I also noticed some of the city slogans... If you've noticed, some cities or towns in America have adopted some slogan to put on the sign on the outskirts, such "Winnemucca - City of Paved Streets" (I'm not kidding! Though it may have changed to something more modern by now); Inyokern - Sunshine Capital of the World;" etc - I actually have a little book of them in America. Here, a few of the slogans were "Where Dreams are Possible" and "Northern Southland, Naturally."

I'd say for the whole country: "New Zealand - Come Ride!"

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