Saturday, February 8, 2014

Our Journey Into Middle Earth Part V: My most favorite town

Wednesday 5 Feb 2014

We woke to the beautiful mountains one last time. It was much more chilly today. 

We got our things together and headed on the 3 hour drive to Wanaka. We went through Lindis Pass…not as steep as Arthur’s Pass had been, but again…our car barely made it :P We are really giving this poor thing a beating!!

Wanaka is a cute little lakeside/mountain town. The guide book called it a cousin of the more cosmopolitan and adventurous Queenstown (where we’ll head tomorrow).

The town seems brand new. All the houses and stores were sparkling shiny and clean. We walked the streets a bit and got GIANT burgers for lunch. They were delicious. Preston whipped me twice at chess while we ate.

We checked into our hotel. It was just lovely and seemed family owned. They were all out cleaning the units when we arrived and were friendly as could be. Our little studio was clean and nice and we were excited to have a small kitchen in which to cook.

We set off for a ‘small’ hike just outside town. It’s so hard to gauge what these hikes will really be. What the town map calls a ‘short uphill jaunt’ is a 45 minute steep ascent to the summit overlooking the town. I feel embarrassingly out of shape!! Dogs and their owners were passing me on their merry way!! The hike went to the top of Mt. Iron and had 360 views of the Wanaka, the lake, the neighboring towns, and all the mountain peaks. 

Came up from there

More up to go!!

Wee bit windy

We took the loop trail down to the parking lot laughing and talking as we went. I still can’t decide if it’s the uphill part that’s the hardest or the downhill. The uphill is hard on the lungs…the downhill…on the muscles :P

We hit the (insanely crowded) grocery store and made stir fry for dinner in our cozy studio.

Thursday 6 Feb 2014

Our plan this morning was to take a ‘moderate’ 4 hour hike to the Rob Roy Glacier.  The glacier is in Mt. Aspiring National Park, about 40km outside of town.  

The drive was long and winding before it came to an entirely gravel road across open pasture on someone’s farm.  We traveled a few miles on the gravel, but the road seemed to get worse as we went along. Fearing for our little car, we turned back instead of going the remaining 27km.

I was so disappointed, but I think we made the right choice. Our car was just not up to the task and we’ve beat it up enough already :P

We decided, instead, to head to Queenstown early. We went through more steep foothills…afraid again that our car wouldn’t make the journey through the pass!! Luckily our little engine that could made it across the mountains and we arrived in Queenstown around noon.

The remarkable Remarkables

Queenstown will take your breath away. I had come here before in 2008 with my brother and it remains one of my favorite places on Earth. Queenstown is a little town full of activity set on a clear blue lake in the shadow of a mountain chain called “The Remarkables”. There is no better name for these mountains. They truly are remarkable.

Queenstown is busy and pulsing with excitement. The town has been declared the adventure capital of the world. It’s an adrenaline junkie’s paradise. There seems no limit to the crazy things you can do here…whether it be jumping out of a plane, or off a bridge, sailing off a mountain, riding at high speed across the lake…you name it…Queenstown has it.

We ate our peanut butter and honey pitas (I’m going to swear of peanut butter by the end of this trip ;)) by the lake and then walked the town while we waited to check into our hotel.

So, we found an awesome bag. I kind of knew this day would come…where we’d give up the dream of being entirely carry on (our bags are ‘carry on sized’ in theory, but they are so jam packed that we’ve checked them on both our flights so far. I’m soooo tired of dealing with shoving things in and wrestling zippers. Our bags seem to be multiplying, since we are overflowing into every small bag we have :P). The bag is awesome and was on sale for 60% off. We couldn’t say no. My days of sitting on bags and pinching my fingers in zippers are gone. It’s only been two weeks, but it feels like an eternity…so we bought the bag. It’s glorious and well worth the expense.


We arrived at our hotel…which has a very camp vibe. The rooms are like dorms with group kitchens and lounges. I feel like I’m in college again :D

I read on the porch in the sunlight looking up at The Remarkables. I can’t put into words the beauty of these mountains.

We spent the afternoon hiking up one of the smaller mountains that overlook the town. The trail was dirt filled, rocky, and steep. It was a bit scary at times looking down the side, but the views were incredible. It was a bit hard going with many switchbacks, but fun to climb all the same. Someone had carved a few giant chairs out of felled trees.

Stretching is important to stay limber :P

Finally, we reached the top of the hills, which coincided with the gondola station. The views were spectacular. There were many people around the station, which houses a viewing platform, a restaurant, a hang-gliding platform, and a fun luge track.

We had a smoothie and enjoyed the sweeping views of the lake, town, and mountains before the long trek back down the side of the mountain. The town cemetery at the bottom enthralled me with its history.

Few better places for 'eternal rest'

Our cup-o-noodle was enjoyed under the setting sun and The Remarkable mountains. It was a near perfect day :)

Friday 7 Feb 2014

We slept in today till 9!! All this hiking is quite tiring, but I love it. I wish I could do it everyday. Beats sitting at a desk, that’s for sure ;)

I am just in awe at the beauty of Queenstown. We spent the morning sipping coffee and reading on the deck before deciding our hike for the day.

We chose to do Queenstown hill, which is the next mountain over from the one we hiked yesterday. I swear…these Kiwi’s…they must all hike all the time. “Hills” and “Moderate” hikes are "Mountains" and "Challenging Uphill Battles" to ME :P

It was a great hike…up and up we climbed through dense pine forest. The air was cool and the smell of pine was all around us. We could see the lake and the town at times through the trees.

We came through the tree line to the brush filled hillside. We learned, from different signs around, that the pine forests that we had hiked through today and yesterday are really pests brought from abroad. They gave the settling Europeans shelter, shade, and something to remind them of home. But, these pines are dominating and killing the local flora. The pine trees are also very susceptible to dangerous forest fires. The conservation efforts here are trying to eradicate these trees.

We stopped for lunch at “The Basket of Dreams”-an art sculpture set into the hillside to celebrate the millennium. After lunch, we climbed further to the summit and took some pictures of the awe-inspiring views.

Our descent came down the other side of the hill (mountain cough cough) through beautiful and giant flowers teeming with bumble bees.

Devil tree and its spawn ;)

I spent the early evening on the deck chatting with an older local couple about the differences between our countries and the changing world. It’s always great to talk to and meet people from different corners of the world.

We made our own pizza for dinner and walked the town at sunset. I’ll be sad to leave Queenstown tomorrow.

Goodnight Queenstown