|March 21, 2010
Today was a long driving day which took us along the west coast and inland across the Haast Pass and into Queenstown.
The slow puncture we had on the car was holding up just enough and meant that the drive was nice and easy, if a little long. We stopped at Knight’s Point to get some views over the coastline and even with the dreary weather it was still stunning. The next stop was Haast where we had some lunch at a small café. It wasn’t great but it was a nice break from the picnic type/bread and cheese lunches we’d been having a lot of lately! Haast Pass was a lovely little stretch of road with a few waterfalls right at the roadside. These were even more noticeable given the rain we’d had in the region over the last couple of days.
The drive took around six hours, including stops, and the GPS unit didn’t help. At one point we had a choice of following Route 6 into Queenstown or taking a different route as suggested by the GPS. Having looked at the map and not being able to see much difference, we followed the GPS. What followed was a 30 minute drive doing about 20km/h around a really narrow, windy stretch of road and eventually joined back up with the main highway we could’ve taken. Having already driven for around 5 hours at this I just wanted to get to our destination and I was really frustrated at the stupidity of the GPS route. Apparently it is a shorter route in distance but longer in time. Anyone know how I set my GPS to give me the shortest route, time wise? It did give some nice views winding down the hill but given that I was so annoyed and just wanted some rest I didn’t bother to stop and photograph any of them.
Once at the hostel, we arranged a couple of activities and thought about some others. Whilst Queenstown is the home of the adrenaline rush here in NZ, it is also a place where the $ is king. Unfortunately, we can’t do all we would like to as some things are so expensive. We settled on a jetboat ride and paragliding. The thought of bungee jumping doesn’t interest me and we have decided to save skydiving for another time – that’s something we can do anywhere, especially for a first time. We did look at a couple of other things but decided to stick with what we had and see how we went.
In the afternoon we headed into town and visited the information site and got some groceries. At the info site we found a number of brochures about the region’s wineries and decided that might be a cheaper way to spend an afternoon over the course of our three days here. Walking through the town it was noticeable how touristy it is – almost every other shop is a tour agency and those in between seem to be selling outdoor clothing or food/alcohol.
We had a pretty quiet evening and just lazed around after that.
March 22, 2010
My first task for the morning was to take our car back and change it. The boot was leaking and all our gear was getting soaked. Combined with the almost completely flat tyre, I decided to drive the 10km to the airport and get the car changed. It took a while to sort out as at first they wanted to fix the problems. When I checked back after half an hour they told me it would take a few hours to repair so they had a new car for us.
Back at the hostel we hung out, waiting to head out to the jetboat site for our first activity. We had booked it for around midday as we knew we wanted to change the car and we didn’t want anything holding us up. However, on reaching the jetboat site the overnight rain had meant river levels were much too high and we were given a later time slot. We hung around for a couple of hours not knowing whether to go out or do nothing, eventually choosing the “do nothing” option before calling the jetboat company at 2pm. We were again told it was still on hold so we made another time for tomorrow morning.
With most of the day seemingly wasted, we decided to have a drive around and we headed up the gondola to get some views over the city and surrounding hillsides. It was really chilly at the top with the breeze blowing but we got some good views, including a view of the peak where we were hopefully going paragliding from!
We also stopped at some shops both in town and out near the airport, at a small shopping centre. We didn’t buy anything, for a change, but it at least felt good to be out of the room for a while.
Still suitably bored, we headed out really early for dinner and started off at The Bar on the Wharf. This served the Mac’s beers we’d tried elsewhere and had a really cool, friendly atmosphere. After a couple of beers, trying to muster up an appetite, we headed towards Monty’s for some dinner. Unbeknown to us, today was Otago Day – the region’s anniversary – which meant many shops were shut for the day and, surprisingly, the bar we had hoped to have dinner at. Thankfully we had a backup plan and we headed for the ridiculously named Fergburger. The small burger place was packed and we were lucky to get a seat. The range of burgers here covers the regular beef offerings, lamb, veggie options and all combined with a range of sauces a bit away from your usual ketchup and mustard. I went for a Mr Big Stuff (a double beef burger with cheese, bacon, salad) and Elizabeth had the Bun Laden (falafel burger). Both were huge and really, REALLY good. I don’t know how I got through all of mine but I just about managed and still had room for more beer…
We headed back to the first bar we’d been in and were amusing ourselves looking at the people milling around the bar in fancy dress. We eventually got talking to a group of them and it turned out they had been at a party with a 70’s/80’s fancy dress theme. One NZ girl was dressed in a 70’s disco outfit but the other three (an English guy and two Scots) were dressed as characters from Thundercats. I recognised it immediately but Elizabeth didn’t have a clue what they were supposed to be. It was really funny watching the two guys trying to demonstrate what they were, including a cat fight on the nearby grass area! I have to say, that isn’t an everyday occurrence even here in NZ!
March 23, 2010
We had arranged our jetboat tour with the Shotover Jet for 9.30 this morning but before heading out Elizabeth called to check we were good to go. With no rain last night, the river levels had fallen and we were off. We got to the river and watched some of the other boats zipping up and down and it looked really fun. We were kitted out with a rain coat and a life jacket and before long it was our turn to go. By the time we were off, the rain had returned and we were warned the rain might feel like pin pricks on our faces.
We loaded up the jetboat and we were off, almost immediately feeling the rain battering our faces. Our driver was obviously enjoying himself as he threw us close to the rocks and around in 360 degree spins. Even wearing my sunglasses to protect my eyes, there were parts were I couldn’t look out properly due to the rain but thankfully as we returned back along the river it slowed and we were really able to enjoy it. The boat goes at over 80km/h and sometimes the water is less than 10cm deep. It was really good fun and as our hostel had given us some vouchers we decided to get the picture packages. They were a bit tacky but it was a fun morning and it was good to finally actually do something.
After a quick (and quite early) warm-up lunch, we headed out to Gibbston Valley where we sampled a few of the local wineries. The first few we stopped at were really good fun and the guys doing the tastings were really fun. The first stop, Brennan’s, was nice and the young guy there was really chatty and friendly, giving us advice on good places to stop along the way. He also told us about a character in the neighbouring winery who swore a lot and was really laid back, often asking customers if they’d come to try some of his piss! Needless to say, when we got to the next place, Mt Rosa, the afore-mentioned guy was working there and he welcomed us in. He was hosting a large group from a nearby restaurant who were being taken around to get to know some of the local wines. I couldn’t resist and I told him we were here to try some of his piss and whilst he laughed and some of the others did, most of the group looked at me really strangely! Nevertheless, the guy (Jeremy) was really friendly, chatty and knowledgeable about his wines and those in the valley and it was great just chatting and trying some lovely wines. At the end, we told Jeremy we’d been living in Bermuda and he said he had been trying to get a contact there to ship wine. We tried to help by giving him some names and he even told us he had family there (distant cousins).
The remaining wineries were not quite as good as the first two but it was a good afternoon anyway. It also included a short stop at a cheesery to try some lovely cheeses and even buy some. We obviously weren’t content with all the cheese we’ve had for lunches of late so we bought some more!
Back at the hostel we both crashed before finally waking up ready for some dinner. We cooked a spicy Thai curry and with it we tried one of the wines we had bought in Marlborough. The lady who sold it to us had said it was really good with spicy food. I’d said to Elizabeth earlier in the day I thought it was going to be too sweet and when we finally cracked it open it was exactly that. I’m not sure what convinced us to buy it really given how bad it was. I guess it shows you how persuasive some salespeople can be. Thankfully, my cooking came up to scratch (as always!) and the curry was excellent! :)
March 24, 2010
Today we were going paragliding. After a weather check at 9.30 we were told we were good to go although the destination had been changed slightly. Due to some heavy overnight rain, a number of the higher peaks were either snow covered or expecting snow during the day. As a result, we headed to a site a little away from where we expected. Neither of us were bothered as we were both looking forward to just experiencing the flight. Elizabeth had done a paraglide before but it was a first time for me. I was really excited and not at all nervous.
When we got to the site the wind hadn’t been too good early on so the guys before us were getting a second flight. The up winds along the bank had been poor which meant they hadn’t had much flight time first time around and they got another go. This meant we had some waiting around but it was really fun watching the other people and made me feel more comfortable, watching them glide around before safely plopping down.
My pilot was called Swanny and he was originally from England. He’d been out in NZ for about 10 years now and he was really friendly. By the time we were ready to go the wind had picked up and we needed some assistance to get straight up. Elizabeth had gone before me and her pilot hadn’t had any help and so they got blown backwards a bit and Elizabeth ended up on her arse but the wind soon caught the parachute and they were away. Just after, I was next and the pull of the wind as the chute came up was really strong but once we were off the ground I got settled into the seat and enjoyed the amazing views. Swanny told me a bit about the capabilities of the chute and took some pictures of me sitting up there as the wind took us higher than the take off point. After a while, I was given the brakes to hold and this meant I was in complete control of the glider – just by pulling one brake up and the other down I was able to move us around in circles. It was really cool getting to control it and even better that Swanny got videos of me doing it, too!
After Swanny took the controls back he asked if I wanted to see some aerobatics. I expected a few swings and turns and obviously agreed. After getting me to lean to the left I was then told to lean hard the other way and before I knew it the glider was almost horizontal as we were being whizzed around in circles. It was really exhilarating and a little scary, especially as the winds had picked up! Elizabeth was watching from the landing spot having finished her ride and even her pilot said that it looked a bit scary up there! Nevertheless, we came down easily enough and I really enjoyed the whole experience. I wanted to buy my pictures as I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to do something like that again. We bought the pictures for both of us – it wasn’t that much really and it is cool to have a momento of stuff like that.
Back at the hostel we grabbed some lunch before heading into town for a walk around. We had planned to go for a drive but the weather was quite overcast higher up the peaks and I didn’t want to drive up the mountain and then not see anything! Whilst in town we bought a t-shirt for Elizabeth which demonstrated her favourite Kiwi saying – “Sweet As” – and got a box and some packing material. I finally decided that I couldn’t carry the souvenirs any longer and that rather than lug them around South America for 5 or 6 weeks before we get back to Texas, it would be better to box them up and send them home before we leave NZ. We’ve got some really cool things from Australia and NZ and I’ve collected a few beer mugs along the way as well as a clock made out of a beer bottle. The hands on the clock are quite fragile though and I’m really worried about it breaking so I’d rather have it safely boxed than in my bag getting battered around and squashed even more.
Thankfully this afternoon I also checked my email as our trip tomorrow from Milford Sound has been cancelled due to the road leading there having been shut due to a landslide. We only had one day spare as this was a last minute decision so we have had to cancel and get a refund. As a result our hostel for tomorrow night was useless – it isn’t on the closed section of road but it is the opposite direction to where we ultimately want to be. So, another YHA cancelled and a different one booked, this time down on the very south-east tip of the island in The Catlins. The good part about this means that we haven’t got to leave quite so early tomorrow as we have no boat to catch! Still, I’d rather have done the trip but if we can’t get there then there is no point stressing over it.
For dinner we headed out to a bar called Monty’s, making use of our free drink tokens for Monteith’s beer. Unlike the one in New Plymouth, this one was not so generous with the beers, not allowing us a cider as our freebie as it is more than the regular beers and then only serving us small beers rather than pints. Considering I got two pints in New Plymouth, this seemed like a bum deal! However, the food was good. For the first time in NZ really, I had lamb and the lamb shank I had was really lovely. I’ve had lamb burgers and we had lamb at the hangi at the Maori show but this was the first proper bit of meat! Given how many sheep we’ve seen, it was only a matter of time before I ate one!