Out of the rain and into Queenstown, the excitement town in the excitement country. Why is it that New Zealanders have felt the need to discover multiple ways to scare you even more than just driving on their roads: jumping off bridges, roaring up narrow gorges, flying down a mountain side.
But there is also the quiet side of Queenstown as well: sitting on the deck admiring the world’s best view, catching a coal burning steamer to a lunch in the sunshine or watching (more) rugby.
We are very fortunate that a golfing buddy has let us stay in his penthouse on the hill in Fernhill, looking east out over Lake Wakatipu to the Remarkables. Every hour the view is different, from cloudy in the morning with snow on the mountain tops one day, to high profile as the sun shines directly onto their high peaks and then dark and coloured as the sun sets. The lake changes colour from bright blue to turquoise and, also, green at times. We had three days here and got out and about each day and spent time on goofing off.
Day one began with a jet boat ride on the Shotover River. Ros and I remember taking this ride in 1974 while over here skiing so it has been going for a long time. Aquaplaning boats, driven by 2 Mercruiser V8s, in water as shallow as 10cm at 90 kph between cliffs so close you can reach out and touch them if you are mad enough. A great ride and scary and invigorating and all else.
When we returned to Goldie we found a note on the windscreen: the mechanics had seen our car and were wondering if we would mind them taking a photo of the car alongside a jet boat. Well yes, we readily agreed. We now have the quintessential NZ picture (along with the African photo: in front of the pyramids; the UK photo: in front of Buckingham place; the Central Asia photo in from of a Madras; the South American at 5,000 metres with a lama and so on).
We must have spent an hour with these guys as they arranged for the boats on the water to spin at the right spot as well as towing one boat over next to the car for a static shot.
Back into Queenstown for a ride up the gondola, coffee with a great view and a couple of runs down the luge at the top of the mountain.
With a view like we had from the apartment we opted for a BBQ on the deck and dinner outside watching the lake and mountains change colour as the sun set.
Day two and off to Arrowtown for a wander through the ‘old town’. Originally a gold mining town (1860s) and then deserted, which resulting in many of the building decaying, but now restored and today it is a classic tourist town.
Then on to A J Hackett Bungy Jump off the Kawarau Bridge. Only one taker, and John just thought it was fantastic. Ros thought he was an idiot and mad.
He was a little concerned standing 43 metres above the river on a small platform but finally followed instructions and on the count of 5, dived into the wide open yonder!
Bouncing up and down 5 or 6 times was less exciting and then being collected by a raft on the river below was a relief.
With the adrenalin still pumping through his system, Lindsay was concerned enough to buy him a Jägermeister to help the calming process!
I enjoyed myself!
[I have just downloaded the photos and managed to delete the rest of today – so just the occasional I-phone photo from here on].
On then to two wineries recommended to us: Chard Farm and Gibbston Valley Wineries. Getting to Chard Farm was half the fun, 2 kilometres along a narrow cliff side dirt road with no side barriers and cars in both directions. It was even worse on the way back as we were now on the outside of the road and the passenger could see right down the cliff face.
Good Pinot Gris and Riesling at Chard, however we found the combined tasting and lunch platter at Gibbston meant the wines were a little lost against pickled onion and salami!
Another dinner at the digs (sounds like we are a bit stay at home, but why leave such a view and anyway we have eaten out a fair bit over the last few weeks). This time salmon: NZ makes good salmon!
Day three was the lake cruise on the TSS Earnslaw, a 51 metre coal powered steam boat across to Walter Peak Farm.
Earnslaw was built, in Otago, in 1912 for use by NZ Railways, but then dismantled and railed up to Lake Wakatipu to be rebuilt and used as a transport vessel. She carried everything everything from sheep and cattle to trucks and wool, plus building material to the outlying farms around the lake edge. In the 1970s it was very nearly scrapped, but survived and in 1983 was upgraded with an enclosed upper deck for cruising and continues in that role to this day.
The Earnslaw makes 6 trips a day across to the farm and consequently it operates for around 14 hours a day, using a tonne of coal each hour while moving. As well as captain, deckhand and engineer, there a two stokers who keep coal up to the two boilers in the bilge of the ship.
Our ticket included a stop at Walter Peak Farm for a sheep shearing and sheep dog presentation. Yes, it might sound a little passé, but we found both to be interesting. The laconic young lad (and his dog) explained a few things about shearing sheep that were new to me, eg that sheep adapt to being sheared by thickening their skin and adding more lanolin to their coats within two days of being sheared.
The sheep dog demonstration reminded us of the sheep dog trials we saw in Scotland a few years ago, both using collies and demonstrating great skill by the handler, with the dog collecting sheep from the far corners of the paddock and bringing them down to the handler for penning. The dog clearly felt that he could do the job much more quickly than the handler asked, as the handler demonstrated how he instructs the dog to move the sheep from one side to the other: the dog would have had them in the pen in half the time!
Lunch was on the sun soaked deck overlooking (yes again) the beautiful lake!
This must be a great business: there are two lunch sittings and two dinner sittings and, when full, the Earnslaw can carry 400 people to each of these sittings!
So farewell to the excitement town in the excitement country as Ros and I have a short break for the next week.