This is a description of the Queenstown trip, as sent out to my mailing list… I hope you enjoy the photos included with this.
Friday 25th August
Woke up, went to work. Left work half an hour early (4pm), in order to be at the ferry terminal by 4:30pm. Michelle and I waited in the car for an hour, waiting to drive onto the ferry to Picton (South Island). After getting onto the ferry and parking the car, we went up to the top and front of the ship and looked out the window over the bow as it left the Wellington harbour. (And it *was* a ship… it had 8 decks, including the vehicle decks. There was a cinema onboard, as well as a bar, souvenir shop, restaurant, tv viewing areas, video game arcade, and children’s play areas. There was also a relaxation area on the top deck at the front, which is where we were.) Michelle and I were watching the view from the front window, and had quite an exciting time of it too! We picked out our house as the ferry went past Lyall Bay (where we live), and we got a thrill when the ferry left the sheltered waters and entered the ocean. It was like a cool amusement ride! The sea was relatively calm, but due to the swell and our speed, the ferry was going up the swells and down into the troughs – but with a huge thud that shook the ship, and then the next wave of the swell came crashing over the bow and spray hit our window! It was all really exciting, but only lasted about 20 mins before we got out into the calmer depths of the ocean. We watched the coast go past for about another 20 mins, but then it got too dark to see anything, so we went to the bar and had a drink before returning to the lounge area to try and get some sleep. But it didn’t work… too much noise from giggling and squealing schoolgirls on the other side of the room.
At 9:30pm we got into Picton and, after filling up with petrol, set off on our journey to Queenstown. We planned that our first stop would be Christchurch, which was about a 5-hour drive from Picton, where we’d stop and sleep. As we headed off into the darkness of South Island we knew that we were surrounded by snow-covered mountains, ’cause we had seen them from Wellington, but the darkness prevented us from seeing them and the foothills that were visible in the headlights as we passed them certainly didn’t have any snow on them. We were a little disappointed…
As you all probably know, I’ve complained about the stupid road conditions and laws here in NZ. Well, after an hour or so of driving, we came upon a single-lane bridge. We were supposed to give way to oncoming traffic, but due to the terrain and the sides of the bridge, we weren’t able to determine if there was any oncoming traffic. So I drove around the sharp corner and onto the bridge, and was halfway across it when the headlights of a bus came around an opposite corner and onto the other side of the bridge. Now here’s the fucked up part. Even though we were halfway across, and this bus was just entering the bridge, we had to stop and reverse backwards in order to ‘give way to oncoming traffic’. There were two cars behind me, so there’s us three cars reversing backwards with this big bus sitting almost on my front bumper with the driver grinning wildly. Talk about fucked! Bridges are single-lane here, and traffic lights associated with bridges just don’t exist… And so we continued on.
Saturday 26th August
About 12:30am, we judged that we were about an hour from Christchurch. We had planned on getting there and sleeping in the car just outside of town. However, I decided I was too tired to drive, so we stopped at this small town and parked behind an ambulance station and went to sleep (we’d brought doona’s with us). After settling into the seat and doing a lot of tossing and turning trying to find a comfortable position, we fell asleep and got a good 6 hours sleep before we were woken up by a train going past around 7am. We drove into Christchurch and found a McDonald’s, where we had breakfast and freshened ourselves up. Christchurch was pretty disappointing… Its’ city centre wasn’t as pretty as the brochures, and at 8 in the morning, nothing was open and the streets were bare. So we only had ourselves to blame, but still… it didn’t look as if it would be that exciting even in the middle of the day. The McDonald’s we found was on the outskirts of town, on the other side of it. That was the best part of Christchurch.
After breakfast, we continued on towards Queenstown. For about 2-3 hours, there was mostly farm country, and it was overcast and raining, so we couldn’t see any mountains. This was a little disconcerting to us, ’cause we had been convinced that the entire south island was covered in snow-covered mountain ranges. Unfortunately, we had driven about 7-8 hours so far, and were yet to see any of it!
It was sometime before lunch when we were driving along that it started raining. At the same time, we discovered that we had come around a corner and these mountains rose up around us. Cool! We found some mountains! But the cloud cover was low, and we couldn’t see anything except for maybe a hundred feet of foothills. So we’re driving along in the rain, looking around at the pretty scenery – the trees that became a forest, with the mountains rising out of the forest, all visible through the misty rain, and everything disappearing up into the clouds. It was quite pretty. Suddenly the rain started getting ‘harder’ and we realised it was turning into sleet. Then we noticed snow on the sides of the road, and amongst the trees, and our excitement started to build. Then the sleet turned to snow, and it was gently floating in the air and rushing towards us as we drove into it. The landscape became covered with snow, and the trees were barely showing through the snow that covered them. Still with the cloud cover, it was truly a magical landscape. I was curious about the huge chunks of snow on the sides of the road, but then realised that it was because snow graders had come along earlier and cleared the road of snow. This was a good thing, ’cause if the snow by the sides of the road were anything to judge, then it was obvious that without the graders, we wouldn’t have been able to get through. In places it was over 2 feet thick.
We came around a corner in the road, and there before us was this bright blue lake (http://www.mtcook.org.nz/tekapo.html), surrounded by snow, with a huge snow-covered mountain range surrounding it. We were behind a tourist bus, and when it turned into this small village on the side of the lake, we followed it in. Michelle and I got out and ran around in the snow by the side of this spectacularly coloured lake, and then took some photos of the beauty of it all. The snow falling in Canberra recently was nothing like this. This snow didn’t melt as soon as it touched you… it stuck to your skin and sat there before slowly melting away. It spotted your clothes and made you realise you’re in a snowfall. This was my first experience with something like this, and it was awesome!
After having a bit of fun for about 20 mins, we got back in the car and continued our journey. Another lake, more snow, more incredible mountain ranges later… and then we left it behind, and we found some plains again. We stopped at a small town called Twizel, where we stopped for petrol and had a coffee before continuing.
Not far out of Twizel, we encountered an accident site. Obviously it was relatively recent, ’cause they hadn’t taken away the bodies yet. Three cars were involved, with two of them an absolute write-off (one of them was in three pieces), and the third with only minor front-end damage. There were tarps covering three bodies on the ground. I didn’t look as we drove past… I only saw them as we approached. I didn’t look ’cause I didn’t want to see anything that would make me ill. The bodies were on the side of the road, and were about 10′ from us as we drove past. It put a little bit of a dampener on the afternoon for a short while, and I drove a little slower because of it. But when the next lot of spectacular scenery rose up around us, we soon forgot it.
After lots more of the spectacular views (we didn’t get into any more snowfalls, but we sure saw lots of incredible snow-covered mountains and forests and lakes), we finally ended up entering Queenstown at around 4pm. Right from the start, we were impressed. It was surrounded by incredible mountains, and on most of them was snow. The views were spectacular. As we drove into the town, we realised that almost the very first hotel we came upon was the one we were looking for! We pulled in and parked the car around the back.
We were supposed to be meeting my friend Melanie here, who was flying in from Canberra for a week of fun in Queenstown (it was because of her invite that we ended up there). Her flight was supposed to get in at 3:35pm, so we hoped that she’d be there at the hotel already. After quizzing reception, we found that she hadn’t booked in yet, so Michelle and I went for a drink at a hotel restaurant across the road While we were there I rang the reception of ‘our’ hotel and left my mobile number for Melanie to call me when she got in. Then we went for a walk into town and went to an information centre to get some maps and tourist guides. Strangely enough, they didn’t have a tourist guide/map pointing out areas of interest. They instead just had a map of the town, and thousands of brochures about events and locations, but they didn’t have anything to show you where everything was! But they also had brochures on guiding groups and tours… uh-huh. Right. We decided to just walk around and explore, WITHOUT any guides that cost over a hundred dollars! Hehehe. It was very beautiful… we walked through a couple of malls, down to the edge of the lake. We looked across the lake at the mountains on the other side, and watched a jet boat come in with lots of people on board who seemed glad to get off! Not surprising either… I’d be fucked if I’d get on a jet boat and go speeding over rapids at over 100km an hour!!
By about 5:30pm, we returned to the hotel to find that Melanie still hadn’t checked in. By this time I was starting to wonder what was going on. Michelle and I went for a walk around a section of the lake, and we watched the sun go down. Well, we didn’t actually watch it go down, but we watched the snow-covered mountains across the lake as they changed colour and the tops of them were lit up by the setting sun. It was truly a magnificent sight…
It was getting dark now, so we continued walking around the lake back into town, getting there about 6:30pm. We went to a pub and had a few drinks, and finally Mel called just after 7pm, saying that her flight had been delayed and all kinds of other troubles had occurred, and that her day just hadn’t been a good one at all. I was pleased that she’d finally turned up, as I had been starting to worry that something had happened… She turned up for dinner and drinks and we caught up on how things had been for the both of us these past couple of months. We then returned to the hotel room and got to bed before 11pm. Melanie and her friend Dan were supposed to get up early the next morning to go off skiing before 7am, which was part of the tour they were there for. Michelle and I planned on sleeping in until we woke up normally…
Sunday 27th August
We got up around 10:30am and turned the tv on while we had a coffee. Just in time to watch the end of the replayed rugby game between Australia and Sth Africa, and I was happy that we won. Again, my NZ workmates wouldn’t be able to rub anything in… We walked into town via the lake trail again. Again, more spectacular lake and mountain views along the way – a fantastic start to the day!
We had breakfast at this little cafe in town, and after having muesli, toast and coffee, we sat there for a while reading newspapers. It was so relaxing! But then we made a move… it was nearly noon, and we took a gondola ride to a mountain top which overlooked Queenstown. It was absolutely amazing… one series of fantastic views changed to another series of fantastic views! The same things to look at, just from different angles.
Up the top of this mountain there was a restaurant and balconies that you could look out over the landscape. Across the mountains behind Queenstown we could see these incredible snow fields. That was probably where Melanie and her friend were skiing. I tried looking through the zoom lens of my camera at the fields, and could only just see a ski lift trail leading up the mountainside. It was impressive, and I took a photo anyway, but it wasn’t until I looked through some binoculars on the edge of the balcony ($2 for 1 minute) that I could actually see people skiing on the fields! Now THAT was impressive! There were people everywhere, and lots of different colours… they looked like multi-coloured ants! It was pretty cool… I wanted a bigger zoom lens…
After spending a couple hours there, enjoying the views and relaxing over lunch, we headed back down the mountain, taking the gondola back down. We bummed around town for a little bit and then stopped at another pub on the edge of the lake, and had a beer. We sat on a balcony, looking out over the lake and the mountains… watching the people go by, and the boats, and it was just so blissful… after an hour or so there, we headed back to the hotel. Melanie and her friend were back already and her, Michelle and I went to have a relaxing spa in the hotel’s spa room. That was cool too. Melanie was tired and sore from the skiing, but Michelle and I were just so very relaxed… the spa was just perfect to top off the relaxation we’d been enjoying. After the spa, we all relaxed in the hotel room, having a few drinks and watching James Bond on Sky TV, before heading out to have dinner.
After dinner we came back to the room and Michelle went to bed. She’d gotten a little drunk during dinner and so she crashed. I showed Melanie some photos that I’d brought with me, of Wellington, etc, and then I said goodbye and went to bed as well. I said goodbye because Michelle and I were leaving the next morning at around 6am, in order to get back to Picton by 8:30pm, when we had to catch our return ferry.
Monday 28th August
On the way to Queenstown, we followed the east coast of the south island, before heading across to Queenstown. On the way back, we followed the west coast most of the way up, before cutting across to Picton (top of the east coast). It was raining most of the way back. Cloud cover was low, and we couldn’t see most of the majestic views that were out there – it was hidden by the clouds and the rains. But it was still a lovely drive. We stopped at Fox Glacier and hoped that we could actually see it, but the walk was 40 minutes return, and we couldn’t spare the time. Apparently it would have been an awesome sight… we’ll see it next time we drive down that way.
By mid afternoon, we heard a radio report of the highway we were on being closed in a particular area due to a landslide. We had a bit of an anxious moment while we looked for the area, only to happily discover it was just north of our turnoff to the east. Phew! If it had’ve been before the turnoff, we’d have been screwed. There are only two roads on the south island… one down the east coast, and the other up the west coast. If we couldn’t get through, we’d have to either drive back to Queenstown and then across to the east coast and back up, or wait where we were until the road was cleared. You can probably understand why we were so happy that we’d be able to cut across to the east coast before the closed road…
Some views on the way back home
It’s been a pleasure to have shared the weekend with you… and I hope I haven’t bored you too much.
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