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Published: December 20th 2015
Queenstown is the destination of choice for most tourists visiting the South Island. The guide books are full of information on this settlement, the 29th largest in New Zealand, with a population of around 13,000 people which sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. It has a reputation for extreme beauty and extreme sports. If I hadn't seen other parts of New Zealand, I would have been impressed however, on first sight, it paled in comparison to areas such as Wanaka, Fox Glacier and Abel Tasman. Needless to say, the sports held no interest at all to me.
To get to Queenstown we drove over the Crown Range from Wanaka. This is the highest main road in New Zealand. The first half is extremely boring - you drive up a steep hill in a v-shaped valley. The only sights are tussocks of grass along the banks of the valley. In an indication of how boring the area is, we crossed eight rivers named "River Number 1" to "River Number 8". As we came down the other side of the Range, the views should have been much better as the countryside opened up revealing a deep valley with Queenstown in the
distance. Sadly the position of the sun was such that it all but blinded us.
We reached the town and drove straight through its busy hub, finding no charm at all. As we drove out the other side we got views of the lake but these seemed dull and flat. We reached our campsite at Twelve Mile Delta and found a rocky area with a huge number of tents and campervans already set up. We didn't know it at the time but this was the scene of a battle in The Lord of the Rings. We pitched our tent and turned in for the evening as it was late and cold.
In the morning we woke and took a short walk along the shores of the lake but we were cold and tired didn't enjoy it very much. After that we headed into town to find a place to stay for that night. We desperately needed a rest so we checked in as soon as we could. The place we found appeared to be a hotel from its internet profile and it's cost was the highest we'd payed on our trip to date. Sadly it turned out to
be quite a poor backpackers. We checked in and discovered that the bed hadn't been made. When we reported this they didn't believe us until we showed photographic evidence. Then they moved us to a smaller room. We discovered that there was no cover on the duvet which was a strange shade of brown but as there was a clean sheet under it we didn't kick up more fuss. The free continental breakfast turned out to be just slices of bread or cereal... again not what we expected for the price we had paid.
After breakfast we took the short drive to Arrowtown, a pretty gold-rush era settlement comprising a European and a Chinese half. Arrowtown itself sits on the banks of the lovely Arrow River. Here there is an abundance of wild lupins in all shades of pink and purple. Also, trees drop their downy seedpods laying a white carpet on the ground. The European settlement has been converted into a tourist hub with cafés and gift shops. The old cottages, as well as the disused gaol, add a historical depth. Wandering across the river you come to the reconstructed Chinese settlement. These buildings were generally much poorer
and tiny by modern standards. According to the information boards they could have housed several men, though they really don't look big enough. The area is a sensitive memorial to the tough lives of these Chinese miners who were invited in and then subjected to racism and shifting immigration laws.
After a brief visit to Arrowtown we went back to Queenstown and sat by the shores of Lake Wakatipu having lunch. We were sitting near the gardens and here the lake takes on a more pleasing aspect. The gardens themselves hold little of interest except for a monument to the first British Team to reach the South Pole.
Following our walk in the gardens we went to Queenstown's Ice Bar. As neither of us had ever been to an ice bar this was a completely new experience for us. We were bundled up in warm coats and gloves and then led into the freezer. Here, almost everything was made of ice: the walls, the bar, tables, chairs, statues, and a hockey table. Even the glasses we were drinking out of were ice, which had the unintended side effect of freezing our drinks. We spent about forty five minutes
in this strange bar before before our initial excitement turned to severe finger pain and we had to leave. We emerged into the wonderful warmth of the afternoon, relieved to not be able to see our breath.
Our plan for the next day was to start walking part of the Kepler Track Great Walk. To do this we had to get to the town of Te Anau to camp. It was a good three hour drive over generally quite unremarkable terrain. The only unusual feature was the Red Tussock Conservation Area which was a field of green grass with intermittent Tussocks of red sticking out. It was quite striking. We paused only briefly at Te Anau before moving on to a Department of Conservation campsite I'd found on Lake Te Anau. Sadly the Henry Creek camp was nowhere near as scenic as others we'd stayed at. By the time I'd gotten the tent pegs through the hard stony ground I had no energy for views anyway, I just wanted to sleep.
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