Queenstown - September 6-8
Sep 8, 2011
|September 6, 2011
We had an early start today as we had a 2.5hr drive to Auckland airport. We’d packed our cases last night and as the alarm went off at 5am we were glad we had done. I loaded the bags into the car while Elizabeth put the final few things in our hand luggage and checked the room was clear. We’d told reception last night we were leaving early so I posted the key through the cat flap and we headed off. The road was much different driving in the darkness and the narrow, winding road was quite challenging especially with all the big logging trucks heading in the opposite direction. We were soon through Thames and onto more major roads and as we did the sun was rising to our left and the low level brightness made driving difficult for a different reason! We were glad when the sun was up and we were heading in the opposite direction away from it and joining the morning rush hour traffic into Auckland. Fortunately, we were early enough that it wasn’t too heavy and we were at the rental depot just before 8am, dropping the car off and getting the shuttle bus to the airport.
Our flight time had been changed from 10.30 to 11.10 and so when we arrived at the airport just before 8.30, we were not able to check in. We found a café which the guy from the car hire place had recommended to us and we went there and got a coffee, enjoying it with our homemade sandwiches we’d made last night. Even after we had checked in and were waiting at the gate, there was little to do in the airport. I noted that all the Jetstar flights prior to ours had been delayed and just as I was passing this information on to Elizabeth, it was announced that ours would be, too, by about 20 minutes. The domestic terminal at Auckland is not too bad if you fly Air New Zealand but Jetstar are shoved over in a quiet corner with nothing to do! We both sat and listened to music and the time went by pretty quickly and we were soon boarding and on our way.
The conditions during the flight were quite cloudy but even so we got some great views from the plane. As we passed over the southern tip of the North Island we were able to see Mt. Taranaki before crossing the Cook Strait and seeing the South Island come into view. Most of the scenery after that was on the opposite side as we flew down the centre of the South Island although we still had plenty of mountains and snow our side as well as great scenery as we landed in Queenstown itself. The mountains either side of the plane as you approach are almost close enough to touch and the pilot had even warned us not to worry about that when he told us the route earlier in the flight.
At Queenstown I collected our bags while Elizabeth collected a load of tourist information and then we picked up the hire car and drove straight to the hostel. The reception was shut for lunch when we arrived so we went to The Pub on Wharf, the Macs pub we’d enjoyed so much when we were here before. I had the Sassy Red beer and Elizabeth had the Great White. We had food too and my pork sandwich was lovely. Elizabeth ordered sausage roll and we were both expecting a small-ish sausage in pastry but this thing was enormous, with a huge slab of lovely sausage meat! She was struggling to finish it all but thankfully I was on hand to help mop up!
Reception would have been open by this point but we decided to have a walk around town and check out some of the shops. We bought a couple more souvenirs for other people plus we looked around to get a coat for me. We found a Kathmandu store which had a sale on and we decided to have a look around. The great thing here is that winter is just ending so all the winter clothing is reduced. I found a coat which should have been NZ$280 but was reduced to NZ$210. However, this price was only if you were a member and we remembered that we had joined last time we were here to take the most of the discounts. The girl at the counter found our name in the system and as we knew we could get cheap stuff we decided to look around some more. We both bought a fleece jacket and Elizabeth got a fleece scarf, too. A couple of staff members asked if we knew about the “additional discount” and we just assumed they were referring to the extra 10% we got off sale items as members. What they were in fact referring to was that we got 40% off ALL full price items and the sale items were reduced by a further 10% also. The total of everything we bought was under NZ$280 which was amazing – our fleeces should have been about NZ$160 EACH and so we got these four items for about half price. Last time we were here we got 2 suitcases for the price of one by joining the Kathmandu club so we had definitely got value out of that, especially as it is free to join!
Armed with our purchases we headed back to the hostel and checked in. We were in a dorm room for six people but we were pleased to find a nice big room with amazing lake/mountain view and two of the beds were off to the side and were almost private so we grabbed those. I was quite tired from my early morning drive and had a bit of a nap before dinner. Elizabeth had already decided she wanted to go to Fergburger and it was just as good and just as busy as we remembered it. Elizabeth got another falafel “Bun Laden” but I went for the “Sweet Bambi” venison burger. We managed to grab a seat outside under the heat lamps to eat and there we got chatting to a couple of Welsh guys. One of them, Dave, had been here lots of times before but his friend, John, had never been so he had brought him over for the rugby. We ended up bumping into them later on at a bar called Pog Mahones which had an appealing happy hour going on and we ended up sitting and chatting and drinking lots of Speight’s and Isaac’s Cider until the bar staff kicked us out around 12.30am!
September 7, 2011
We decided not to do any expensive activities in Queenstown this time as we were doing a couple of other things at other places, including a boat tour at Doubtful Sound and a whale watching flight further north in Kaikoura. We had a trip to Milford Sound planned last time we were here which ended up being cancelled so we wanted to make sure we had enough time to do something similar this time. As a result, we decided to have a couple of days driving around the surrounding areas of Queenstown. The city is surrounded by mountains on most sides and the scenery is stunning. We decided to head to a small town nearby called Arrowtown and along the way we stopped at the Chinese Settlement. When NZ had its gold rush, many of the inhabitants of this region were Chinese although they only came at the late end of the rush. The locals didn’t like the Chinese that much as they seemed to still be finding gold when most of the larger finds had already been exhausted. Equally, they didn’t speak the local language and kept themselves in their own little settlements. The immigrants were mostly young men who had left their families back home and planned to live and save and return when they had enough to buy a farm. Given the reception they received from the locals and the conditions they were forced to live in, things were not all they expected and many of the men spent their spare time smoking opium and most never returned home. Those that did were completely removed from their communities and had little in common and some even returned to New Zealand, some with their families this time. The settlement here had been re-created and was part of a project by the New Zealand government of recognition and apology of the Chinese who had lived and worked in this region and had helped create the towns we now saw through their hard work and dedication despite the adverse conditions they survived in. It was quite a touching story and although the site and reconstructed buildings were not much to look at, it was very interesting.
Within Arrowtown itself, we walked around the small town where the main street is lined with tourist boutiques, all housed in old fashioned buildings. Many of these buildings resembled those we’d seen in Colorado and Alaska around some of the gold rush towns and it certainly looked traditional. The post office even had the old style mailboxes which were really cool and the telephone box looked like something out of the 19th century. We bought some fudge from the Remarkable Sweetshop and then stopped for a quick drink at a café where Elizabeth had spotted they had free internet. Given we’ve had trouble finding internet in many places, my new iPod has been great as we can carry it around with us rather than the laptop and still get connected for a short while. It’s not helping us really keep in touch with everyone, nor for me to upload my travel journal but we can at least check email and ensure that our travel plans haven’t changed or anything been cancelled. For lunch we went to the Arrowtown Bakery which is famous for its pies. I had a lovely lamb and mint pie and Elizabeth went for the mince and cheese again and both came piled with mash and yummy gravy. We are certainly eating well once again in NZ and even though we were now in hostels, it is still so much nicer trying fresh, local food. However, we know from before that eating out every breakfast, lunch and dinner soon becomes a bit much so we’ll try and eat at the hostels a bit more over the next couple of weeks.
From Arrowtown we drove to Wanaka along Highway 6. The GPS was trying to get us to go a different way but we recognized the road and thought better of it. When we came to Queenstown before, we’d been directed off the highway onto a more minor road which took a short cut through the mountains and culminated in a steep, windy road leading down into the city. This time the GPS wanted us to go up that steep, windy road but knowing how annoying and slow it was last time and how sick it made Elizabeth feel, we decided to stick to the highway even though it was a longer route. We saw people paragliding from the top of this road and that is where we had done it last time. I definitely would love to do paragliding again and I’m also very torn on doing a skydive – one day I see the planes taking off from the small airfields and feel like I could and should do it; other days I think those people must be mental for wanting to jump out of a plane at 15,000 feet.
Our main reason for heading towards Wanaka was to stop at the Wanaka Beerworks. We managed to miss it first time around but after a swift U-turn we were soon pulling into the driveway. The lady there was just waiting for a group to arrive before starting the tour and while we waited we tried 3 beers – Cardrona Gold, Brewski and Tall Black. While we sat and tried the beers we chatted to an Aussie couple who were on holiday for a week and were also enjoying the beers. The guy was especially enjoying them as his wife was pregnant and could only try a little bit so he got to finish them all! The Cardrona was a really nice beer and the others were, too, although the dark beer was really coffee flavoured which meant I got to drink Elizabeth’s share! We had a short tour of the brewery and discovered that this woman and her husband were the new owners and as we heard more the woman seemed a bit uncomfortable. They didn’t seem too keen on the three beers they’d inherited from the previous owners although I thought they were very good and they seemed to be trying to justify their qualifications to make beer. It definitely seemed like it was the husband’s initiative and his wife was just part of the family business, seemingly not really wanting to be there or being that knowledgeable about the process. The husband was from Belgium and wanted to do his own beers which made sense but it was quite off-putting and made you not want to buy their three main beers because of the way they talked about them Equally, the woman said they had previously worked in a brewery in Switzerland, close to Zurich, but when we asked about it the woman didn’t seem to want to talk about it much which was a shame as it would have been something we’d have been keen to try in future. On top of all that, the 10 minute tour of the brewery cost $6 each! The beers were good but it is not something I’d recommend especially given we’d driven past about 20 wineries to get here and that we’ve had many more fun and interesting beer experiences elsewhere in NZ.
From there we headed back to Queenstown, stopping at a point along the river called Roaring Meg, a small rapids section in the river which appeared to be partially artificially made by two “waterfalls” cascading into the water. Back at the hostel Elizabeth had a nap while I did some of my travel journal and read some of the World Cup magazines and newspapers I’ve picked up along the way.
For dinner we had the traditional NZ dish of curry, choosing the locally named Bombay Palace as our eatery of choice! Wednesday nights were cheap curry nights and consequently the place was packed although to be fair it had been busy last night when we’d walked past, too. Despite being so busy, the service was great and when the food arrived it was lovely and spicy! After starting with vegetable samosas, Elizabeth had Chicken Madras and I had Handi Lamb. The food was so good and the portions were massive and we left tons of rice and plenty of Elizabeth’s madras, too. Given how much we like the food, I’m running out of excuses for not going to India, but for now we enjoyed the NZ/Western version and wobbled our way back to our hotel, stopping at the massive souvenir shop on the way so Elizabeth could stroke all the cuddly toy sheep!
September 8, 2011
Today we woke up earlier than some of our previous days, a crazy 9am! Looking out the window, it seemed we’d finally found some bad weather as the rain fell quite heavily. We had planned to have a stroll around the city and then drive to some wineries after lunch but given the weather we decided we’d do the wineries earlier and see whether it cleared up later. In fact, the weather cleared up as we drove out to a town called Cromwell on the side of Lake Dunstan and by the time we arrived at the first winery the sky was completely clear and it was even quite warm!
Our first stop was a winery called Aurum. The lady there was really friendly and chatty and we got to try a nice variety of wines. We tried a Pinot Gris, Riesling, a slightly oaked Chardonnay and a couple of Pinot Noirs. The Riesling wasn’t to my liking but the others were all good and we eventually decided to buy a bottle of Pinot Gris. Going to wineries independently has both a good and bad element to it. The good element is that you don’t have crowds around you and you get a personal service. The bad element is that you are on your own, having had free wine and you almost feel bad if you don’t buy a bottle. Thankfully, there is usually one wine we like (I say “we” although it is generally I who picks the wine as Elizabeth’s opinion usually extends to “whatever one you want” or “I don’t mind”) and the only downside is often that we don’t want to buy too many as we don’t have time to drink them. At the moment though, we have about two weeks before we leave the South Island and almost three weeks before we fly again so we have plenty of time to drink a few!
Back on the main road we decided to stop at one of the many fruit stalls along the way, picking up nectarines, mandarins, dried pineapple and sun-dried tomatoes to accompany our dinner tonight. After all, you can’t have just wine for dinner…
The second stop was Rockburn, a much larger and more commercial winery with many more variations and brands. Here we tried the Devil’s Staircase Pinot Gris, a very earthy Sauvignon Blanc (Elizabeth said it smelt like vegetable soup!), a rosé called Stolen Kiss and then three Pinot Noirs called Devil’s Staircase, Rockburn and 12 Barrels Reserve. None of these wines were as good as the ones we had tried previously although they had all won awards and for the first time in a long while I found myself pouring wine away!
The third winery was in a town called Bannockburn and had been recommended to us by both the previous places as a good place to get some food as well as try some wine. The winery was called Mt Difficulty and it was set up in the hills with amazing views down into the valley. Here we tried a dry Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and two Pinot Noirs. The Sauvignon Blanc was much more traditional than the one we had tried at Rockburn and all the other wines were better, too. In fact, the Pinot Noir at Rockburn had just won a bronze medal but one of the wines that had beaten it was the cheap Pinot Noir made by Mt Difficulty. The woman giving us the tasting said the winemaker from Rockburn had visited only yesterday as he wanted to try their wine to see why it was considered better! We decided to get a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc so even though the region is known for Pinot Noir we’d currently bought two bottles of white wine!
We were going to have lunch here but on reading the menus we saw that they only had really big dishes and they were expensive so instead we drove into the town and stopped at the Bannockburn café and had toasted sandwiches.
The next stop was still in Bannockburn and was called Gate 20 Two. The driveway here led away from the road up to a gorgeous little house. It was owned by a couple who had originally bought the land just for them to live on but had decided to try using the land to grow grapes and make wine. The “tasting room” was basically the entrance way to their house and there we tried the two wines they make – one Pinot Gris and one Pinot Noir. Whilst trying the wine, I could see through the house into the front room and the massive windows opened up onto the most stunning view down into the valley and across to the snow-covered mountains in the distance. Talk about an idyllic location! To top it off, the two wines we tried were the best we had sampled of both types and it was hard not to buy one of each. When we told the gentleman his Pinot Gris was the best we’d tried today he thanked us and seemed very humble. Many times the person doing the tastings with you is a little removed from the process but this man had been involved in the whole thing and was obviously proud of his wines. He even told us we had to try the 2010 Pinot Noir as the 2009 had sold out. He hadn’t planned on releasing it quite so early but he didn’t have a choice! I was tempted to get a bottle of each but I’d thought we’d try and get two whites and two reds today and having already got two whites, we went for the Pinot Noir. I didn’t want to but too many now in case we wanted to keep trying.
Of course, we did keep going and our fifth and final stop was Olssens. Here we tried another dry Riesling, Pinot Gris, two Pinot Noirs which were branded Nipple Hill and Olssens, and finally a red wine which was a mix of Cabernet, Syrah and Pinotage. It was a lovely wine and very drinkable even though the lady suggested it needed to be aged a bit longer. However, it was really expensive and we decided to go for the cheaper Nipple Hill which was made specifically for drinking sooner rather than later. One of the tastings we’d done had suggested that wine would be perfect if it was aged 5-7 years. I said that wine in our house rarely lasts 5-7 days and she made a comment about “maybe 5-7 days when it is open”. That person really didn’t know us very well and I don’t think I know a single person who takes 5-7 days to drink a bottle of wine! Maybe one day I’ll invest in some wines to keep but when you are travelling, having a wine you’re just saving for a special occasion isn’t really practical.
We decided that with four bottles purchased that we would call it a day. As I mentioned above, it is difficult going into a winery to try knowing you aren’t going to buy and we already had the wine that we needed and wanted. Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t bought anything that I didn’t like or didn’t think I wanted but there have been occasions in the past where we’ve bought the best of a bad bunch just because we felt like we had to. Thankfully, I’m a much tougher bastard now and I’m happy taking my free wine. Mostly. We made a quick stop at another fruit stall and there we found some lovely looking jams and chutneys. As we had decided to try and eat in a bit more, we chose some raspberry jam for breakfasts and some tomato relish to liven up our cheese sandwiches!
Our final stop for the day along the wine route was at the Gibbston Cheesery. We’d visited here last year and had tried some nice cheeses so we thought we’d grab a couple for dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow. At the Beerworks yesterday they’d given us some cheeses from here and Elizabeth wanted to try and get one of the peppered cheeses we’d had. We saw a Pepper Gouda which we asked if we could try and strangely the woman said they didn’t have any more of that, despite their being at least 30 blocks in the fridge! We bought some anyway as we were sure it was the one we had yesterday and we got to try a few other cheeses, including a blue cheese called Kawarau Blue, Gibbston Gold, a Havarti style cheese and some type of soft cheese which was disgusting. To accompany the Pepper Gouda I bought some of the Kawarau Blue and some chorizo.
On the way back into Queenstown, the weather was still lovely and clear so I suggested we drive up to one of the local mountain ranges, called the Remarkables. The Remarkables has quite a large ski area and so we headed for that, turning off the main road onto a 13.5km dirt track which was winding, bumpy, rocky and was tough to drive on at anything above about 30km/h without finding yourself sliding sideways on the rocks. With some sheer drops, the sliding was not as much fun as it sounds! We had some great views both sides of the mountain as we drove up with other mountain ranges on one side and the city of Queenstown, the airport and the large lake on the other. At the top, there were lots of people skiing and snowboarding. It was quite weird as the drive up had been completely snow free and even at the car park it seemed to be nowhere near to anything cold enough to snow on. However, just a few feet away the snow started and we got to stand on snow. In early September. Bet you guys in Texas find that hard to believe, right?! As we came back down, marginally faster thanks to gravity and skidding every time I hit the brakes, we got more views of the city and even saw a couple of planes taking off and landing at the airport.
Back in the city we stopped at the Fresh Choice supermarket for some bread, crisps and drinks for dinner tonight with our wine and we bought some Monteith’s Cider for later in the next few days. Given the wine we’ve bought, this might seem a bit extravagant but this cider costs about $7-8 in the bars for a glass (not even a pint) and when you can buy a 4-pack in the supermarket for $12 it is hard to turn down! We got back to the hostel and lugged all our purchases back to the room and I took the chance to get caught up with my travel journal as well as to capture some pictures of the view from our room. An old steamboat, the TSS Earnslaw, does trips on the lake four or five times a day and I was lucky enough to see it just heading out as I took my pictures – the snowy mountains in the background and the TSS Earnslaw cruising the lake in the foreground. Even if you don’t like your adrenalin fixes like they serve you in Queenstown and bungee jumping and skydiving and jet-boating aren’t for you, there is still so much to do and see and even just a couple of days driving around, taking in the scenery and sampling the food and wine makes it a very relaxing, enjoyable place to visit.
Our wine and mixed cheeses and dips and tomato relish and nice crusty bread were just perfect for dinner and with another day on the road tomorrow we finished our wine in the dorm room watching an episode of CSI on the laptop!