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Published: March 14th 2016
We left Te Anau with the sun trying to shine but we knew from experience this was not necessarily a sign of things to come! The day started off at 16°C and the temperature rose to 25°C as the day progressed. And, wonder of wonders, it didn't rain all day! We hadn't initially planned to visit Queenstown but a friend had recommended the gondola there and, on hearing of that, I just had to go. Unfortunately, Queenstown is a very popular place for all sorts of reasons, adventure sports being one of them, and Steve struggled to find any available accommodation so we were restricted to one night, which is all we could get. We had to blow the budget a bit, but no matter. We took the Scenic Route (Road 97, then Road 6) via Kingston then into Queenstown.
Queenstown was really bustling when we arrived. It took us ages to find somewhere to park but, when we did, the spot we found was convenient for both the gondola and the town centre, one up the hill and one down. We decided to go up the hill to the gondola while the weather was still good and we had
I'm not sure how I would classify gondola travel; it's not on the ground, certainly, but it is anchored occasionally by the pylons that support the wires. I didn't recall being particularly concerned by the cable car ride up The Nut in Stanley but that was on a much smaller scale. Maybe that's the difference between a gondola and a cable car? Whatever, this was a much faster, much steeper, much longer, much higher variation and had me uttering quite a few 'ooooh's and 'aaaah's as we swayed in the breeze up the side of the mountain (Bob's Peak). The views at the top, however, were quite amazing with a panoramic view of Queenstown beneath centred around the lovely Lake Wakatipu and views around the surrounding geography including The Remarkables mountain range, which is aptly named. We treated ourselves to the most enormous ice-cream at the top, Steve just because he fancied one, me as a reward for doing the journey without embarrassing myself! Thank goodness we didn't have to share the gondola with anyone else ....
We'd noticed quite a few of the gondolas being used to carry mountain bikes up the mountain to the
top. I thought it strange but didn't tax my brain too much with the whys and wherefores. It turned out that some reckless people were not satisfied with completing the journey to the top, they wanted to make a speedy return trip on two wheels. We watched the mad fools launch themselves down the side of the mountain at breakneck speeds, no pedalling required. At slightly less risk, there was the luge option, which sounds really scary but actually only involved a loop or two round a very gentle incline and it was great for families with younger children. For the really fool-hardy, there was always the option of throwing yourself off the side of the mountain with only a bit of thin fabric between you and certain death, oh and the skills of the person you were strapped to as you paraglided down, riding the thermals on the way. Not for me, thank you. I had quite enough on contemplating the return journey in a small glass bauble suspended on a bit of wire. As it happened, I think I must have discovered my brave gene at the top of the mountain, because it wasn't nearly as bad coming
down and I was able to appreciate the views. We certainly didn't want to buy any of the photos they took of everyone as they undertook the journey up though. Not only did they clearly show the sheer terror I was feeling, they cost $35!
We'd met a guy from Queenstown when we were in Phuket. He'd left a couple of years previously and we wondered why, at the time, but obviously didn't know what Queenstown had to offer, or not, at the time. I couldn't understand why he left, knowing what I did now. Queenstown has a lot to offer, especially if you're into sports, it has a variety of weather, is really beautiful and has a happening social scene, especially for the young. Can't say that about Phuket ....
We walked back into the town centre which is quite compact and really pretty, centred around the lovely lake. Its waters were so clear and clean and there was a small family of ducklings ducking and diving slightly removed from the main duck population who were being fed by the people sitting around the shore. We were just in time to see the TSS Earnslaw, a 100
year old steamer boat, fire up its engines and set out across the lake. After a bite to eat we set off to find out hotel, the Heritage Hotel, which described itself as 'alpine'. It was certainly that, being half way up a mountain, and we had a lovely view down to the lake from our room (Room 316).
We left Queenstown the following morning, heading for Haast. Haast was a journey-breaker for us and we weren't going for any reason other than that, which was good because it has nothing to offer really (seriously, Google it, it's tiny!). The day started grey and drizzly and we headed out on Route 6 through Arrowtown, a really quaint goldrush mining town, then out through cheese and wine country. We were running low on fuel and we ended up back in Cromwell for that, and we stocked up on the essentials knowing that Haast would have limited availability. It was strange being back .... We hit Route 6 again and we stopped near Wanaka to take in the views of the lovely Lake Hanaka. Sadly, the unofficial viewpoint I chose to pull in to was covered in those dreadful chippings and
I managed to get the car stuck on a hidden bump. Happily, two other cars had also decided to stop and the Japanese occupants were on standby, ready to push had Steve not been able to get us unstuck. You can't really 'rock' an automatic car backwards and forwards we discovered but Steve managed anyway, no help needed and no obvious damage done to the car. Phew! The reason we three cars had chosen this spot to stop in was that New Zealand doesn't do a whole lot of proper viewpoints and, when it does, it signs them too late to safely pull over so drivers tend to stop in the next likeliest looking place - not ideal. NZ also doesn't provide rubbish bins, even in the designated rest stop areas. I guess they want to encourage folk to take their rubbish home with them but when you haven't really got a home to call your own it's difficult, to say the least.
I was developing quite a fascination for NZ heritage churches and graveyards. I couldn't get enough of the stories associated with them and, if there wasn't enough information, I made up the stories to fit. I
couldn't think up a story sad enough to fit the gravemarker in the Settlers' Cemetery in Albert Town where the first recorded death occurred in 1861, together with three unnamed infants. Just heartbreaking.
By the time we reached Makarora the rain had started again. Just for old times' sake we went over a GRID! and a very, very narrow one lane bridge. We travelled through the Haast Pass which was stunning enough in poor weather so must have been amazing in sunshine. By the time we drove into Haast it was proper rain, sheets of the stuff. We drove around Haast before we checked in to our accommodation for the night. Surprisingly, even though it only had three streets and a population of 297, it managed to squeeze in a couple of pubs, a cafe, a backpackers' hostel, a school and several motels. I guess tourism came first on its list of main industry, closely followed by fishing and farming. We were checked in to our accommodation at the Asure Aspiring Motor Lodge by a young Dutch girl, so I guess she swelled the population numbers to 298! Our room seemed a little damp but we were in the
middle of the rainforest and we did have an electric blanket on the bed so that was something. Our room was at the rear of the property, looking out on who knows what, it was too wet and dark to investigate. We did have one set of neighbours though, so we weren't entirely alone - it may have been a little scary had we been completely isolated. With nothing much to see we settled down for an early night to discover no phone reception and only intermittent wifi signal. The TV worked though; Dan the Weatherman was again telling us about the lovely weather everywhere else except the Haast region. Why was I not surprised?!
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