Our long exposure to the South Island is over

Taking photographs of sunrises and sunsets catches up with you eventually. We all looked tired this morning. Granted, a few of us also had a bit of a late one last night.

The forecast was for clouds this morning, so no sunrise shoot for us. We spotted a bit of pink in the sky when we got up, but relished the extra sleep.

At 8am, we drove to the airport. The first of our group was leaving and we all went to say our goodbyes.

We had breakfast at the now very familiar Boat Shed. Earl grey, flat whites, berry smoothie and avocado bruschetta. The food seemed rushed and not quite up to the usual high standard. Nice, but my least favourite of our three meals there.

Andy went to pick up the bags we’d left in storage nine days ago, and we drove to the airport.

We had just under two hours to kill so we browsed the shops and had a soft drink… and a hot cross bun. Finally! We’ve seen hot cross buns for sale ever since we got to New Zealand, close to seven weeks ago.

I collected a couple of New Zealand Passenger Departure Cards. We’re leaving the country tomorrow and I thought we could fill these in in advance. Maybe it’s because I’m tired but the forms don’t seem to make any sense. Question 7: How long will you be away from New Zealand? Choices: ‘XX years’, ‘XX months’, ‘XX days’ or ‘permanently’. Question 8: Which country will you spend the most time in while overseas? Andy and I wondered whether these were for New Zealanders, so I went to ask at the check-in desk. Nope. They’re the right ones for us. Very confusing.

We boarded our flight for Auckland. Originally, we were supposed to leave at 4.50pm but we brought this forward so we could have more time in Auckland. We both feel that we’ve neglected that town a little.

The couple sitting behind us started talking to the couple across the aisle. Funnily enough, they live roughly in the same area of Auckland. The woman across the aisle is a police officer, and she explained that right now burglaries and substance abuse/trafficking were keeping her busy. They also talked at length about who was dating who at the moment. I enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversation. Lessons in small talk.

After collecting our bags, we remembered the breakfast we had at Wayfarer the day we left Auckland for Napier; those bagels were good… so we decided to have a late lunch. Matched with a green smoothie. Good food. Fortified, we walked 16 mins to an Icebreaker outlet shop. We were looking for bargains. Most items were discounted by a third. A few things caught my eye, but this time we left empty handed.

We picked up a taxi to our hotel, and once more got caught up in the now famous Auckland traffic. Close to 1.5 million people live here, making up 32% of the NZ population.

Keen to do some walking, we went off to explore Viaduct Harbour. We had blue sky and the temperature was in the mid-twenties, a sharp contrast to Queenstown this morning where the sky was grey and we were cold. I was window-shopping for a yacht. The area is residential, and full of trendy bars and restaurants. We were pondering what to do next when we came across Coley & Punch. We took a seat at the bar; we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The cocktail list was impressive. Andy had an Old Fashioned and was impressed when the barman burnt the orange peel. I had a creative twist in the Margarita and it was delicious. They know what they’re doing! Sophisticated and unpretentious. Andy was hoping we would stay – they have ‘about’ 328 whiskies on their menu – but I dragged him out in search of food.

We wanted to try Elliot Stables, an indoor food market. We’d heard great reviews. There was still an hour to go before the place was due to close but already half the stalls were shut, and there was no atmosphere. So we left. And then stumbled across The Tandoor, a fast food Indian place, which describes itself as serving ‘The Street Food of India’. The portions were small which is exactly what we were after and tasty. The Balclutha Indian still wins… this was cheap and tasty.

Tucked up in bed before 10pm. Big day tomorrow. We have 3.5 days of sightseeing to fit into one day. Wish us luck!

Aoraki

I think it’s getting easier to get up early. The alarm was at 5.45am for a 6.15am departure. It certainly helped that the sunrise shoot was only 40 minutes away.

We went back to the location we scouted last night; the east shore of Lake Pukaki. There were nine of us there, and we spread out soon enough under the watchful eyes of a herd of cows which came to see what we were up to.

I wandered around the edge of the lake, and kept going. That feeling of wanting to know what’s around the next corner. Always.

With the sun coming up, the light hit parts of the mountains. Other parts remained clouded in mystery.

I could have spent more time there. It’s an incredibly beautiful spot; hardly visited. And for a while, it was just me, the sound of ripples and a few birds. So peaceful.

I walked back to meet the others and pottered on the beach, looking at the rocks and the strata.

Too soon, it was time to go. I stayed back a few minutes and took in the view in solitude.

We were back in Twizel by 9am. On the way, we passed a small arm of the lake where the water is a deep glacial blue. Think blue Gatorade.

Breakfast time! We went to Poppies again. All very tasty – smoothies, tea, flat whites, muesli, poached eggs on toast. There was a fire on, and it felt so cozy that a few of us stayed behind. Our photographic leader offered constructive critiques on Andy’s landscape images. We all learnt a lot from that session.

With a couple of hours to kill before we set off again, we chilled in our room and then went off to explore downtown Twizel. We went to Shawtys for lunch (Twizel’s best restaurant according to Lonely Planet) and as the weather’s nice, we sat outside for our golden harvest soup – a thick root vegetable soup which was very tasty. We made a quick dash to the supermarket to see what we could get for our picnic for later.

We drove to Mt Cook Village, and parked the car at the beginning of the Hooker Valley walk – yes, the very walk we did a few weeks back. But today, we had a lot more time. Andy and I kept a steady pace, and had time to enjoy the walk. It’s beautiful; most of the track is through alpine tussock. And it was much less crowded and windy than last time we were here. We followed the Hooker River for a while. The water has this odd light milky grey colour. I learnt that this comes from the ‘suspended glacial rock flour in the meltwater’.

When we got to the glacier lake, we were surprised to see that the iceberg was further away, back next to the glacier. And there were bits of ice scattered throughout the lake. In the distance, I heard a couple of rumbles. A small avalanche or a carving maybe. From the shore, we have unobstructed views of Aoraki (Mt Cook).

Andy and I had some snacks and then I left him to it. He stayed back for sunset. I wanted to take my time, and I didn’t fancy the walk back in the dark. So off I went.

The journey back was so peaceful. Just me and the sounds of my feet on the track. The silence was deafening… until I heard another – louder – rumble. The echo was quite something. I continued on my walk taking a short detour to go and check out Alpine Tarn, which there was no time for last time. At first, I was disappointed but after climbing a few stones, I found the view – Mt Cook reflected in the tarn. I resumed my walk. It felt like a proper adventure. With the visibility dropping all the time, I picked up the pace and kept going; I had no torch with me. Suddenly the path was ‘lit’ again. I had turned a corner and the rest of my walk was by moonlight. The stars started to show and the first constellation I saw happened to be the Southern Cross. How fitting.

Back at the White Horse Hill campground/car park, I made for the communal area, and watched the last episode of The Replacement whilst waiting for the gang to return.

Once we got back to our chalet, Andy made us a snack and a cup of tea.

An early night; an early start tomorrow.

Erosion, time and concretion

The weather didn’t look promising for our sunrise shoot so the executive decision last night was to skip it and stay in bed longer. This was justified when we woke up and it was raining – always good to be vindicated.

I didn’t fancy another average breakfast at the hotel so I stayed in the room and did some research. Andy went off to breakfast; apparently the pancakes were good.

We checked out at 10am, and piled into the conference room. That’s a lie; there are only 10 of us and the room was huge. We started looking at three images taken during the trip and our tour leader showed us how to process them using different software to make them even better. This was followed by a few brave souls showing some of their images for some constructive criticism and some pointers on how to process them. We finished by watching a YouTube video of Portlandia.

We left Balclutha around lunchtime and headed for Dunedin. We passed a really cool little town which I’d spotted the last time we were on this road – Milton. There isn’t much to it but it looks both interesting and quirky. A few of slogans on building walls caught my eye. ‘BE HAPPY’ and ‘That’s the spirit’ being two of them. I wished we could have stopped there and got a bit of time to explore.

As happens with journeys like these, conversations in the van tend to get surreal. Today’s best line is that Fight Club is really about Buddhism. And don’t you want to get hold of a copy of it and watch it again now. We do.

At some point, we were driving along Greenwich Street. When we got to Dunedin, I noticed that our hotel is very close to London Street. Hmmm, there is a sense that this trip is coming to an end. Which reminds me… how’s the crowdfunding campaign going on?

So we had two hours spare in Dunedin– a luxury.

We used these to: get lunch at Potpourri (a weird name for a restaurant if you ask me). It’s vegetarian and food was simple but tasty. I had a salad bowl and a green smoothie and felt very virtuous.

I went to Countdown to get some supplies to get home; we’ve discovered an amazing brand of cereal bars and I can’t get enough of them. I met up with Andy in Strictly Coffee Company.

That took about an hour, so we went back to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery (Andy had a moment with his pencil sculpture) and revisited some works we rushed last time and then explored a couple of back streets. One of them – being the one where our hotel is – has an annex of the Art Gallery. Rear Window is a small window of what used to be a shop front. It contains rotating contemporary art, more often than not by local or New Zealand artists. How fun is that? The current exhibit – A Nest in Town – is by a Dunedin based artist called Motoko Watanabe. Made from textiles and organic materials as ‘an analogy for the architecture of the natural world’ (source).

At the appointed time, we met up with the group again and headed north to Moreaki. Initially, we were scouting the site for sunrise tomorrow morning, but as we got there, gaps appeared in the clouds and we had superb light. I pottered about and found my favourite group of boulders.

I had looked up a place for dinner and a bar to check out (we’re meant to try NZ whisky this evening) but we opted for the group meal instead at Ironic. Now… Andy enjoyed his meal, mine was just average. Not a great food day for me. Now, that’s ironic.

4.45am alarm call. See you there.

Déjà vu

A leisurely start this morning. We skipped the sunrise shoot (the t-shape jetty), and so combined with an early night last night, we got about 9.5 hours sleep and we both feel a lot better for it. Clearly needed.

We had breakfast at the Sandfly Café. I’m glad we had the opportunity to try this place; I’d read that they do good food there and bizarrely, we hadn’t had the chance to try it out on any of our previous five visits to the town. We had coffee, smoothie, toast, muffin and poached eggs and avocado. Another great breakfast.

Heading northeast, we left Te Anau – for the last time? – and drove through some of the places we’re now very familiar with: Mossburn, Riversdale and Gore, where we had a convenience stop. Remember Gore? Andy and I walked to our favourite coffee place in town… that being the one and only coffee place we’ve ever tried in Gore. The rest of the group followed us there, and I thought – too late – that we should have tried to get free flat whites for bringing so many customers in 🙂

We continued on our journey until we got to Balclutha, the ‘big river town’. Whatever that means. We’re here for two nights. So… we got into our room, dropped our bags and went to town. We had lunch at Café 55 – probably the worst lunch we’ve had in NZ. We asked for a cheese roll… this came as a slice of white bread (to Andy’s disgust) with a slice of cheese, all rolled up and grilled. Nutrition value = none. Taste = none. But it was a small lunch as we had a big dinner on the cards so it didn’t matter too much, and the entertainment value was high.

After lunch, we went scouting a location for sunrise. It didn’t work out but it was a great drive down the Otago Peninsula. The light was amazing, and I finally managed to get close to a sheep!

Our ‘we’ve been here before’ story continued when we found out that our sunset shoot was a pier in St Clair… followed by a pizza in the restaurant we went to (for pizza) a few weeks ago. This has become a standard joke on the bus, people jokingly asking if we’ve been ‘here’ before; the answer is invariably ‘yes’. It is unfortunate to go back to so many of the same places, and at the same time it’s great to have the time to explore properly. This trip was meant to be split between the east and west coasts of the South Island, but is now concentrated on the east coast only so repetition is almost inevitable.

The pier and the reflections were awesome. Andy worked on long exposures. I concentrated on graphic b&w images of the esplanade and the stairs.

Tasty pizzas and pinot before our drive back to Balclutha.

#thatwanakatree

The alarm went off at 4.30am for our 5.15am departure.

Our destination for our sunrise shoot was Lake Wanaka – location of our recent flying exploits. It was pitch dark pretty much all the way; we timed it perfectly right as the light set the sky on fire just as we reached our sunrise location.

A tree.

Not just any tree, a very famous tree. It is said to be one of the most photographed trees in all New Zealand. It has its own Facebook page, and to date 10,380 posts on Instagram.

Funnily enough, The Guardian had an article about that very tree only a few days ago. It makes fascinating reading, and I for one couldn’t agree with it more and Gilbert van Reenen’s words resonate with me.

There were close to twenty photographers there this morning.

Andy and I have been discussing this very subject recently. Do we want to take the view, or create our own images? The landscape around us is spectacular and Autumn has brought us a softer light to work with. We’re still debating this one.

Maybe the difference is taking the photo as a landscape photographer and not as a result of social media and the ‘oh look, I’ve been there and here’s my selfie with the tree’.

Ignore me. I’m just annoyed that people are hurting a tree for narcissistic tendencies.

The colours in the sky were beautiful, and it was peaceful. We had clouds in the sky I’d never seen before; pancake shaped.

We stopped in Wanaka for breakfast. The Beanie Café didn’t look much from the outside but the food was very tasty. And the best bit? Our breakfast came with a bit of parsley which resembled the tree. A coincidence?

The journey back took us via the bra fence again. Back in Queenstown, we checked out of our hotel and went off in the opposite direction towards Glenorchy.

We stopped by the side of the lake. There’s a very old derelict pier, and that made a good foreground to the lake and the mountains. It was a lovely spot, and I was happy to shoot abstract. Lots of stones and driftwood to keep me busy. Swatting away the usual sandflies, I looked up in time to see the rainbow.

I did enjoy our morning’s excursions. Being in one place and having time to look around.

For lunch, we went back to The Boat Shed and just like yesterday, the food was awesome.

And then we were back on the road… to Te Anau. The drive seems shorter every time; this being our fifth time now. We checked into our hotel and got ready to go out for our sunset shoot. Andy managed to get himself a cup of tea.

Our sunset location was just out of town, a t-shaped jetty over Lake Te Anau. The light fizzled out so the group left for an early dinner. We stayed back another fifteen minutes or so and walked back into town.

We stopped at The Redcliff Café – a replica settler’s cottage – for a glass of Otago Pinot Noir.

Back in our room. The usual frantic hour – downloading photos, writing and uploading the post, getting our stuff ready for the morning and showers.

You won’t believe our start time in the morning…

Enjoy the silence

The alarm this morning was the captain switching the motor back on.

It was still very dark outside, and on our way to breakfast we could only make out shapes nearby. Moody mountains, only slightly backlit. I would happily stare at this scenery all day.

We hurried over breakfast – it was buffet-style: cereals, fruit and cooked breakfast with juice and tea/coffee – and went to hang around outside our cabin. The walkway is protected by the deck above and so it’s a great place to take photos without getting too wet… for the rain we were expecting had arrived during the night. The arrival of daylight gave us a few minutes of pink hue in the sky.

Overnight, the whole place was transformed. Where yesterday we were looking at hills and rock faces, this morning we had literally thousands of waterfalls. Small, long, short, fat, thin, slow and furious.

It was majestical; we didn’t know where to look. We kept hopping from port side to starboard side.

From Precipice Cove, we headed back into the sound and popped into Crooked Arm. The waterfall there was mighty impressive.

The engine stopped, and we were able to enjoy five minutes of pure silence. Something that is so rare to get nowadays. Nothing but an amazing landscape to admire, the sound of rain and our thoughts. Priceless.

Too soon, we got back to Deep Cove. As we got off the boat, the whole crew was ashore bidding us farewell.

We got the bus back to West Arm, the journey seemed a lot quicker this morning, and the lack of commentary on the bus helped as well.

Waiting for our boat back to Manapouri, I found a little track sheltered by large trees from the drizzle and amused myself by taking close-up photos. Everything comes to life with the rain.

As we got away from West Arm. The rain slowly stopped and we were able to get on the top deck.

The bus waiting for us took us to Te Anau where we’d get our transfer bus back to Queenstown. With 30 minutes on our hands, we went to Takahe Café for lunch, and used their good connection to download a couple more BBC programmes.

The journey back to Queenstown took us back via the same road as yesterday. We’re becoming extremely familiar with that road, and we now know all it’s nooks and crannies.

Our customary stop was in Athol. Rather than go to the café, I explored the other side of the main street. I walked around the small wooden-clad Anglican Church and the latest oddball fence – this one being a bike fence.

A mystery has been solved. There are many more sheep around nowadays, and that’s because the farmers have been bringing them down from the mountains, with the sheep dogs earning their keep.

We got back to the AirBnB just before 4pm. I have been fascinated by the gold rush, and then the early settlers and you don’t have to dig too deep to bring some of these great stories to life. Our taxi driver told us that his mother was from London. She came over with her mother in 1918, age 10, to be re-united with her father after six years. Once in New Zealand, she had to work at her father’s store and was told she wouldn’t go back to school. Undeterred, she became a successful business owner.

We spent the evening doing the washing and sorting our bags out. We’ve leaving the comfort (and the views) of our AirBnB tomorrow for life back on the road.

 

Cessna C172-ZK-EKH

Another early start this morning, with the alarm going off at 6am for the second day running.

Breakfast, tea and a walk (up and) down to town. There was a chill in the air so the take away flat white was welcome.

We boarded our bus to Wanaka – about one hour away from Queenstown. This was a public bus service but no-one’s told the driver. He’s under the impression that he works for a travel company and he gave us a commentary all the way to Wanaka. We drove through old mining settlements, vineyards and orchards; we could just about see the scenery through the fog. We passed the fruit sellers we’d stopped at so many weeks ago when we first boarded our Flying Kiwi bus, but this time, we stopped across the road at Mrs Jones Fruit Orchard in Cromwell; this being an official stop en-route. We crossed the 45th parallel south – the line which marks the halfway point between the equator and the South Pole.

A few minutes after we got to Wanaka, our taxi arrived and it was a short five minutes journey to Spitfire Lane.

We were at the office of U-Fly… crazy folks who let you fly planes!

I’d opted for a 30 minutes flight and Andy got to come in as passenger. Cessna C172-ZK-EKH is a four-seater plane. Byron, my co-pilot, did the hard work of taking off and as soon as we were at a reasonable altitude, he sat back and handed me the control of the plane.

My journey was over Lake Wanaka and Mou Waho Island – ‘the island, in a lake, in an island, in a lake, in an island in the ocean’. To put it more clearly, there is an island in a lake (Arethusa Pool)  in an island (Mou Waho) in a lake (Wanaka) in an island (South Island) in the ocean!

The experience was intense. I was able to catch glimpses of the scenery but kept thinking: ‘concentrate, you’re in control of this thing’. In truth, the U-Fly folks are not that crazy; they have dual control ready for the pilots to take control at a moment’s notice. Which is just as well, because flying is way way out of my comfort zone, let alone flying a plane.

My circle completed, I aligned the plane to the runway and Byron took control for the landing.

Andy and I swapped places; he barely fitted in the cockpit! Byron got us under way in no time and handed the controls over to Andy. This was a longer flight (Andy’d picked the 50 minute one) so we were able to go over to Mt Aspiring. Byron’s spotted a couple of people on top on Mt Aspiring, which gave us some great perspective. The other interesting thing was ‘The Neck’, the bit of land separating Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. Again, we’d driven on it during our first afternoon with Flying Kiwi, and seeing it from the air was amazing. Without that bit of land, the two lakes would form the biggest lake in New Zealand. We also saw Boundary Creek, our first campsite. I enjoyed being a passenger for this flight; the scenery was incredible – glaciers, glacial lakes and very rugged in places.

I went up to 4,300 feet and Andy up to 10,500. We now have certificates congratulating us on taking our first steps towards becoming pilots.

Byron was headed back to Wanaka to grab lunch and he kindly gave us a lift back. We said our goodbyes and headed to Francesca’s Italian Kitchen. We made the most of the weather and sat outside. We couldn’t have picked a better day for the flights.

With our bus back to Queenstown at 3.45pm (the last possible departure time), we explored Wanaka’s outdoor clothing shops as we need some waterproof footwear for next week. Andy didn’t find anything; I got some red wellies 🙂

The other must do thing in Wanaka is to watch a film at Cinema Paradiso – a Wanaka institution. With no late travel options back to Queenstown, we popped into the cinema hoping to get a look at the screening rooms.

The journey back was lovely; the bus took a different route. This means we got to see Cardrona where there is a whisky distillery and an infamous South Island site: the Cardrona Bra Fence. That’s right, a fence covered in bras. Four of them suddenly appeared between Christmas and New Year in 1999 and now, it’s reckoned that numbers are into the thousands.

We asked the driver to drop us off at the Frankton Hub, and walked to the Frankton cemetery. This old cemetery was established near what was the first local hospital (the building no longer exists). It tells tales of miners killed accidentally on the Shotover River and a poor chap from England who died from diarrhoea.

We were lucky in that we only had to wait a few minutes for the route 11 bus to our stop. We discovered a shortcut to the flat – instead of a long steep curvy incline, we have a series of steps. Hard work, but much much quicker.

Sitting on our terrace, with a glass of wine in our hands, we looked at each other and smiled.

We flew a plane today.

All that glitters isn’t gold

When the alarm went off, Andy went off to make tea. The morning light was just hitting The Remarkables. We had to tear ourselves away – breakfast, showers and a brisk walk to town. We forbade ourselves to look at the mountains; we had a bus to catch at a very specific time.

We bought a weekly bus pass, and boarded the 10:35 bus to Arrowtown.

It’s a short journey, about 25 minutes. The town is rich in history. It’s located next to the Arrow River. Gold was discovered there in 1862 and that was that. Thousands poured into the area, and the settlement grew into a small town.

Now, it is a pretty residential town and very touristic. There are about 60 preserved buildings used by European settlers, and a Chinese settlement. We learnt in Dunedin that the Chinese had been invited over to work the claims, once the majority of the gold had been claimed and miners left for the new gold fields of the West Coast. They worked hard and hoped to send back home 2/3 of the money they earned. They never intended to settle in New Zealand. Some went back, many died and were buried in the local cemetery only to be sent back to China much later on as it’s important for them to be interred with their ancestors.

We started with the Lakes District Museum and spent a good 90 mins there. It’s full of historical artefacts and displays focusing on the  pioneering days of the European settlers and gold-miners. The town grew out of need – a bank, a prison, a school, a newspaper.

From there, we followed our guidebook and looked at the buildings on Buckingham Street. Most have been modified slightly or rebuilt after a fire but they retain their character and from them, you still get a feeling of Arrowtown as a gold mining settlement, if that makes sense.

Our early lunch was a vegetable pie from Arrowtown Bakery. Tasty!

We were keen to visit the Chinese Settlement when it was quiet. The buildings – either original or restored – are a little out of town. Turns out that they kept to themselves… mostly because they were not accepted by the settlers and were often subjected to racism. The exception was Ah Lum. He became a local hero after he saved the life of a European miner who was drowning in the Shotover River. He could speak English and was a well-respected leader in the Chinese mining community. He served as an interpreter between the Chinese and the Europeans. He owned a store from 1909 which was used as a bank, a place for socialising and as accommodation for both travellers and visitors. Records show that the Chinese were big spenders. They worked the river hard and managed to get a lot of gold out of it. They spent their hard-earned cash on luxuries and had a very varied diet. They also gambled and smoked opium.

Dudley’s Cottage is the oldest surviving cottage in Arrowtown. It was built in 1862 and it’s now a cafe. We stopped there for coffee… and I took a speedy gold panning lesson. I struck gold – alluvial gold, but gold all the same. I have a certificate and a vial with gold dust to take home. I took my spade and pan to the river and occupied myself for about 90 mins. I dug, I panned, I rinsed. On and on. So absorbing. I saw glitters but my co-ordination was a little all over the place so when only gold should have been at the bottom of my pan… I had sand. And the sandflies were atrocious.

My limited time panning the river told me that it’s hard work, and tough on your back. It did give me an appreciation of what the miners went through. It is also another tick on my ‘must do’ list.

Andy was busy taking photos of the river, but the sandflies got the better of him so we walked back to town.

Next, we visited the cemetery (which had many old graves) and the war memorial for a bird’s eye view of Arrowtown. We continued with our walk and took in the three remaining churches (the Methodist is now an architect office), the jail (before it was built, prisoners were shackled to a log) and the police station. We walked down the avenue which has about 10 preserved buildings – mostly cottages.

Too soon, it was time to get our bus back to Queenstown. I stopped in Frankton to go to Countdown (more supplies for the week). Andy carried on to the Hilton where he collected a bag we’d left in storage.

On my way to the bus stop, I managed a few minutes in the Frankton cemetery which is the oldest one in the area. I wish I’d stayed longer… but I was due to meet Andy back at the bus stop.

Reunited, we got another bus back to the bottom of our hill. I managed to get a lift from a very kind man. Andy had stayed behind to take a few photos.

Dinner was lovely and perfectly suited our bottled of Central Otago Sauvignon Blanc.

 

The gold rush

We made the most of our first morning of freedom by sleeping in. We walked to town soon after 10:30am.

We’re staying just on the outskirts of Queenstown; a good twenty-minute walk away. There is a steep hill between our AirBnB and town so no matter which way we walk, you can’t avoid it. On the way, we noticed a couple of houses with Irish and New Zealand flags displayed in the window.

We walked through the cemetery nestled at the base of Queenstown Hill. The ancient headstones tell stories of settlers from Scotland, England and mostly Ireland, which explains the flags in town. According to the information panel, many descendants still live in Queenstown nowadays.

Queenstown is now known as an adventure town but it owes its development to schist rocks, which contain deposits of gold. From 1862, when gold was first discovered here, thousands of people made their way here to make their fortune. The schist also provided the early settlers with building materials for houses, bridges and fences.

The Arrow and the Shotover rivers proved rich in gold and led to the establishment of nearby settlements. Two men stuck gold at Arthur’s Point – Thomas Arthur and Henry Redfern took 210 ounces (6 kgs) in just eight days. Some men decided to make their money by stealing the gold and did not hesitate to commit murder to acquire it. Gangs would often use force to chase people away from the best claims.

A few headstones tell of accidental mining deaths. Some of the earliest graves are unmarked and unrecorded; it is thought that they are graves of Chinese miners. In the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin, we’d read that the Otago leaders had invited Chinese miners to come and work the post-rush Otago minefields in 1865. Many thousands came over and by 1871, 4,200 Chinese were living in Otago.

I’m finding all this gold rush history particularly interesting, especially as I’m currently reading The Luminaries.

We crossed the road and had a tasty brunch at Bespoke Kitchen. From there, we went to Fresh Choice and Raeward Fresh and got supplies for the week.

We rushed back to town for our 3:20pm pick up. We drove out of Queenstown for about 45 mins, first along the road and then along a dirt road, which was built originally to enable supplies to get to gold prospectors. It is one lane with only a few passing points, which made it interesting as vehicles came from the other direction. It is a world famous road; there are no safety barriers, just sheer drops down the canyon. The scenery was beyond spectacular.

Skippers Canyon was also rich in gold and there was a mine there until the 1990s. There are rumours that gold is still to be found there but this was not the reason for our trip there.

We boarded a jet boat for 30 mins of pure fun. The jet boat skimmed over the water; at times we were going at 87kms a hour. The water is cold and when the sun catches it, it is the purest emerald colour. Our driver Ben did a few spins and drove close to the canyon wall. We had the biggest grins on our faces by the time we got back in the bus. For the journey back, we moved seats so we’d be on the canyon side again. Those three hours were my best in New Zealand so far.

Back in Queenstown, we went straight to The Winery. We got issued with two tasting glasses and a card. The idea is that you slot the card in a dispenser and you get a choice of three sizes – sample, small glass and large glass. There are various dispensers throughout, one per grape – pinot gris, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, etc. The biggest by far is the Pinot Noir. What an amazing place! You get to taste a variety of wine – all from New Zealand of course. And the prices are reasonable.

An hour later – and a combined eight samples later – we walked to Vinnie’s for the farewell group meal.

It’s odd to think that the bus is leaving tomorrow, from where we first boarded it, and we won’t be on it.

Iconic Milford Sound

We stayed the night at Gunn Camp. Our little tiny cabin was basic; all the cabins in the camp were used by people who built the road down this part of NZ and now they’re part of a cool campsite. The generator was switched on around 7am. Staying in our cabin provided us with a decent mattress, but the walls were so patched up that it retained no heat. The morning was so cold, you could see your breath in the air.

After breakfast, we made our packed lunches for the day and boarded the bus.

Twenty minutes down the road, we stopped at The Chasm. It’s a 20-minute loop walk through the forest to the river. The stones have been shaped by water over many years and the river flows through the holes. The colour further down is a deep blue-green.

We drove on to Milford Sound – one of New Zealand’s most famous sights and one who is truly worthy of the word ‘iconic’ according to Lonely Planet.

Our boarding cards for our 90 mins cruise around Milford Sound came with a free muffin voucher; not sure why. Once on board, we headed straight to the top deck and marvelled at the views. It’s definitely one of these sites that make you feel insignificant as human beings. Planes, helicopters, cruise boats and humans pale into insignificance. We saw a variety of rock formations, snow-capped peaks, many waterfalls and some fur seals. The time went quickly and all too soon, we were back on the bus. Thankfully, we’ll have another go in a few weeks. Andy was saying that from a landscape photography point of view, he would have been happy with rain and clouds. I disagree. The sun provided a tiny bit of warmth in what was a cold afternoon.

Three people on the group were then dropped off at the start of the Routeburn track – a two-day walk to Queenstown. The rest of the group were encouraged to walk up to Key Summit – the first hour of the Routeburn walk. The return journey is advertised as taking three hours; we were given two hours. I opted out of the walk as it’s a steep incline and my knee is still sore. I stayed in the bus, made myself comfy and watched a film. On his return, Andy said that I had made the right decision as it would have been too tough on my injury. He enjoyed the views from the top, but added that the walk had been hard.

Back in Te Anau, we checked into our cabin (very nice) and met up with another couple for drinks and dinner. They were celebrating their first anniversary and had kindly asked us to join them for the evening. We went to a bar for a glass of wine first and then crossed the road to The Fat Duck. Te Anau is not blessed with great places to eat. The town only exists because of tourism. Our walk back to camp – all the way across town – was deserted.