As you can imagine, it didn't take us long to chunk our stuff down in our hotel room and set about exploring Queenstown. We were anxious to make the most of our time, since we only had roughly 24 hours in this gorgeous little gem of a town.
So, we bundled up (well, I did) and headed right out the door and across the street to the lake. And we made it, too, after failing to look the right direction (literally, to the right) and nearly getting nailed by a big truck. Oops.
Lake Wakatipu had a rocky shore, except for one end near town. I think they may have brought some sand in for that little community beach, but it looked so tempting. Kyler and I dipped our hands in, and of course it was freezing, definitely colder even than Cape Cod's ocean side water in the summertime. (Which makes a lot of sense. The parts of New Zealand we were in are actually pretty similar in distance from the equator to Maine.) It was so, so beautiful there. Kyler stood on some rocks near the water's edge and just drank in the views. Queenstown was the sort of place Kyler would have lived during summers in college, had he known about it: full of adventure, endless views, and plenty to do.
We took a short walk in town along the wharf before we headed up the hill toward the gondola.
As we trekked up the hill, we stopped and turned around to see an old-looking steamship headed up the lake. They offer lunch and dinner lake cruises to a working farm and historic town at the other end of the lake. Just one of so many things I wish we could do!
Here's a pic of the steamship a few minutes later, just to give you a little more perspective on those mountains. Their size is deceptive; they don't look so big from far away, but as you can tell, they are absolutely massive. This picture (and some I may share later from our drive over to Dunedin) reveals just some of why New Zealand was such a perfect location for filming The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Yes, I'm a huge fan of Tolkien. Let's just get that out in the open and over with right now. But seriously, even if you aren't a fan, it wasn't hard to imagine scenes from the movie taking place in locations around us. Much like Hawai'i, New Zealand was formed by underwater volcanoes. The mountains are volcanic rock, and have very little vegetation growing on them naturally. Most of the evergreens you see were planted there (more on that later). Hence the giant-bald-hunk-of-rock look.
We walked around the base of the gondola debating our options for the better part of an hour. They had a gondola-and-dinner package, but it was incredibly expensive (by our standards) and it took a fair amount of convincing ourselves that it was worth the splurge. (For the record, in hindsight I am so glad we went ahead and did it.)
There was a kiwi bird park near the entrance to the Gondola. The entrance prices were ridiculous, just to go in and see a bunch of birds (that are native to New Zealand) being fed inside an enclosure. Funny thing: now that we're back, I've seen dozens of photos like this one on Google.
Of course, they had a professional photographer taking pictures of you when you got inside the gondola car. Ours was fantastic! And a million bucks. So here's our version:
We were about an hour and a half early for our dinner reservation time, so we poked around the visitor center and spent a whole lot of time out on the observation decks (they nearly wrapped all the way around the building). The views were endless. I know when you haven't been to a certain place, the million pictures start running together after awhile, but I could look at some of these shots for a very long time.
We got to the mountaintop about an hour before sunset, and the mountains were just beginning to dance with color.
Remember that steam ship from the earlier photos?
(Seriously, the mountains are huge.)
That's bungy jumping right next to the gondola cables. (One of around five places in Queenstown!)
We decided that the next time we're in Queenstown, if we pick one thing to spend our money on, it will be this:
In New Zealand, the places to ski are called snow fields. That's because there is so little vegetation that the slopes aren't "carved" out of forests, with trees on either side. There are no trees. You take a lift up, and it's literally just a field of snow all the way to the bottom.
In the pic below you can see the chair lift and the ski lodge at the top of the mountain.
Only 5,000km (about 3,000 miles) from the South Pole!
The signs above were at the start of a small (30-40 minute) mountaintop hike we took just before dinner. Another of Queenstown's many attractions was a luge track, located behind the visitor center at the top of the same mountain.
We walked through the woods and came to a clearing. Is this not totally reminiscent of Narnia?!
He's so handsome. :)
Here's the inside of the banquet hall where we had dinner. It was set up buffet-style, but included all sorts of appetizers, soups, salads, sea foods, roasted meats, specialty dishes, traditional New Zealand foods and desserts. Kyler and I both tried our darnedest to eat our money's worth ::grin:: and were in there for a full two hours.
There were several large touring groups there while we were, so they ate at long tables. Our was a small two-seater near the picture windows. The sun set behind us, but we had incredible views of the mountains changing colors as night fell.
There were these two guys entertaining while we ate, playing guitars and singing pretty standard easy-listening type songs (by almost exclusively British and American artists, we noted). About halfway through dinner, Kyler perked his ear up, and we jumped out of our seats, headed over to them to sing along:
Tune in for the next blog! It will finish up our stay in Queenstown and has us heading four hours over to Dunedin, on the east coast of the southern island. Thanks for reading!