New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 369 (179)
Saturday 12th March (2005)
I skipped breakfast this morning in favour of making an early start. With a lot of driving ahead of us, I wanted to try to make sure that we at least made it as far as Queenstown. Although we don’t know exactly where we will be in the days ahead, I’ve a rough estimation on how long it will take us to make it all the way around the South island to be back in Christchurch again in time for our flight to the North Island. If we are going to be able to do this comfortably, we need to make it as far as Queenstown today. Ordinarily, this shouldn’t be much of a problem - after all, it’s only between five and seven hours of driving. This length of time in a car and on the winding hairpin roads, however, is well beyond Sandy’s threshold for tolerance so it will be a struggle for both of us – although for different reasons.
There’s no two ways about it. New Zealand is a beautiful country with scenery to match any other country we’ve visited – and that’s saying something. Picturesque mountain ranges run the length of the South island and the clarity of the air frames them beautifully against the crystal clear and cloudless blue skies. All throughout the driving today, we were confronted with one spectacular scene after another with frosted mountain peaks, lush valleys, waterfalls and huge lakes all competing for our attention. Having now been to so many countries and seen so many wonderful things, I often feel that we have been spoiled. With all that we’ve seen, it now takes an awful lot to make us stand back and say ‘wow!’ As such, we didn’t much bother so stop at any of the plentiful and impressive lookout viewpoints or wander any of the trails leading up to spectacular waterfalls as we made our way South today. Not only did we need to continue to make good time, but also there are only so many spectacular waterfalls and viewpoints that can hold your attention after a while.
Several hours into the journey, our cell phones suddenly beeped at us to signify that we were approaching civilisation again and were now within cell phone network range. Cell phone reception is patchy at the best of times here in New Zealand but we were approaching the relatively sizable town of Wanaka and this meant that I would be able to call ahead to some hostels in Queenstown in the hope that we would find a place to stay for tonight. Sandy was reaching, indeed had probably already surpassed, her car driving tolerance threshold and so we made Wanaka the place where we would stop for a break and a spot of lunch. The weather could not have been finer and we sat on a grass verge near a lake in the middle of town to enjoy our Subway sandwiches. I took the opportunity to make some phone calls and found several places in Queensland that still had double and twin rooms going so we decided on one and left them with our credit card number to secure the room. I don’t like giving out my credit card number but with several places around town insisting that they were fully booked, it seemed like we had no choice. I’m finding that about one in four places here in New Zealand request a credit card number to secure the room, although sometimes a cell phone number will also suffice.
There was something of a summer fete going on in Wanaka and there were cars parked on every square metre of roadside and verge all through town. We thought we’d mosey on over to take a look see for ourselves and somehow managed to find a decent spot to slip our small car into. We got as far as an opening in the perimeter fencing but there was a marshal standing there that wanted to relieve us each of NZ$5 (€2,90) for the privilege of going in and so we decided to give it a miss after all. Instead, we made our way over to a tourist attraction just on the outskirts of town called Puzzle World. We’ve seen this place advertised in brochures before and they make some interesting claims about some of their puzzle rooms being beyond belief and whatnot so we figured it would be a nice little diversion for an hour or so and went to have a look. Puzzles and brain teasing activities are the name of the game for this attraction and the reception room is full of tables with little wooden puzzles on them for people to try to solve. For NZ$7 (€4,06), we gained entrance into the three main puzzle rooms, where we saw holograms and various other optical illusions and effects to trick the senses. Although interesting enough, there wasn’t really anything there that we haven’t already seen before and I was a little disappointed at the lack of anything that really lived up to their literature claims. Still, their literature did work for them as probably intended; we were both relieved of NZ$7 (€4,06) to find out what was really there – another couple of suckers!
From Wanaka, there are two roads that lead to Queenstown. One is the more direct route through the mountain range and the other is the more indirect route around the mountain range. The direct route is slightly faster but with very winding roads whilst the indirect route might take a little longer but has straighter roads. This presented Sandy with a dilemma but she ultimately chose for the indirect route, favouring an extra half hour in the car but without the ups and downs and hairpin bends. In making these sorts of driving decisions, this at least gives Sandy some degree of control over the day’s driving and this helps towards making the whole ordeal for her a bit more tolerable. And when Sandy’s happy, I’m happy.
We finally arrived in Queenstown after racking up what turned out to be only four and a half hours of total driving time for the day. We actually made very much better progress than either of us thought originally possible – and that was without once breaking the speed limit either! It was clear by the time we got out of the car, however, that Sandy had arrived at, if not surpassed, her threshold for passenger driving. Suffice to say that we were both glad to have arrived when we did.
Queenstown is a larger town by New Zealand standards and sits in the most picturesque of settings. It sits aside a lake that itself sits nestled in a huge gorge between two mountain ranges that look deceptively close by. We swiftly located our hostel of choice, which is located on one of the hills, overlooking the lake below. At just NZ$50 (€29) per night, it ties for top spot as the cheapest place we’ve stayed at in New Zealand so far. The receptionist is a very chatty young woman who is clearly very happy to be doing what she does. She went over with us many of the options for adrenaline activities right here in Queenstown and was even in a position to offer us some discounts on certain activities. She chatted with us nearly endlessly about all manner of things. Had she stayed only on the subject of paid activities, I might have thought it a tad tacky but after a while, we very much got the impression that she was happy to talk endlessly on just about any subject that was thrown at her. She wasn’t pushy at all and that was nice.
We had the choice of a double room or a slightly larger twin with an airier feel to it and a better view from the window. We went with the twin. As does this room, twins sometimes have three beds and we often go with this option as it gives us an extra bed to through all our gear onto. After checking in, we went straight back out again to a nearby supermarket and stocked up on a couple of days' worth of food. By the time we came back, I was starting to think about the next few days ahead. It is high season here and we are finding that more and more hostels are fully booked. With a cruise around the Milford Sound in our not too distant future, I thought it might be prudent to try to get us booked into a hostel that is within striking distance of the fiord just to be on the safe side. At Milford Sound itself, there is only one place where you can book into for a night’s accommodation and that was sadly fully booked for the days that we plan to be visiting there. The next best location is a town called Te Anau, which is about two and a half hours from the Sound. I tried several places there before I found one place that still had rooms available for Monday and Tuesday. Many of the places there were already fully booked and the YHA hostel was, in fact, fully booked out for the next several weeks. With our two nights of accommodation in Te Anau now safely booked, I read through the guidebook on the various cruise companies that we can book passage on to see the Sound itself. The guidebook lists three operators and they are all fairly evenly matched as far as price is concerned. I’m still pondering whether we should go on a small or large vessel but with all of them claiming to have availability on all the cruises they do on Tuesday of next week, there’s still plenty of time to think about that and to make the actual booking.
We cooked and ate a light dinner of pasta, for Sandy, and my very own homemade sausage rolls, for me. To help walk it all off again, we wandered down the steep hill and into town in search of an Internet café. The altercation that I had with the lawyer handling our camper-van sale yesterday over the phone has been eating away at me ever since and it felt really good to get a few things off my chest in a lengthy e-mail to him. I feel much better now for having done so but the underlying problems of what to do with the camper and the parking fees that have accumulated still remain and I will now anxiously await his reaction to my e-mail. I also sent an e-mail to Dinie and tried to call her this evening but the only useable public phone available here didn’t want to accept the local access number on my calling card. I’ll see about using the phone in the reception office tomorrow morning.