February 2, 2016
After a restful night near the beach in Haast, we headed towards Queenstown. Before leaving the rain forest, we needed to check out a few more jungle walks and waterfalls. Our handy guidebook showed us a hidden treasure at the end of a “wee” trail. It was unmarked and we almost caught the Gollum catching a fish. Our next water fall had the great name of Roaring Billy. The trail to Billy was an easy kilometer. We finally stopped at the Fantail Falls that included a large collection of piled up rocks. I ordinarily condemn efforts like that to improve on nature but Peggy said I could let this one go. OK this one time.
We continued by large blue lakes as the environment changed from rain forest to like Western Washington. Like in Washington, the Eastern part of the South Island is in the rain shadow created by the mountain ranges that are being pushed up by the colliding Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. It was remarkable to see vineyards and fruit trees in the valley with summer dry rock escarpments on the sides. We stopped for some delicious tomatoes and apricots and talked a bit with the farmer.
We drove along the Kawarau River Gorge where bungee jumping started. Peggy was thinking about it for a second or two. We passed the place where the Pillars of the Kings were located in the Hobbit trilogy. They must have been moved or erased. When we finally reached Queenstown, it was tough. There was real city traffic and a sizable city to go with it. Eagle eye Peggy spotted our lodging and we checked in. The place is OK but strange. It is trying to create some kind of Yoga, Natural living kind of thing. The result is that I have no chair upon which to sit. Instead I have a steel bench covered with a sheep hide. I’ll take a cushion any day.
Since it was early afternoon we headed up Lake Wakatipu on the road to Glenorchy. The 44 km drive led past stunning views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. We reached the small, cute tourist town of Glenorchy and walked the short wharf. Until 1972, the only way to reach this town was by steamer. It remains a backwater but quite pleasant compared to congestion and commercialization of Queenstown. Now I am not knocking Queenstown as centers of commerce are important. But I didn’t come to NZ to see t-shirt shops and jet boat tours. This is OK because there are plenty of others ready to spend their money in that way.
Once in Glenorchy we couldn’t resist the chance to drive to Paradise. Paradise is where Isengard and Lothlorien scenes were filmed in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The road started paved and quickly became gravel and very narrow. But once started, who could stop on the road to Paradise. After a number of close encounters with tour buses, we made it. I was excited to see the trees from the movie. Unfortunately, there were none of the walking trees called the Ents. I used my imagination and knew they were there anyway. Movie set or not, Paradise was wonderful.
By the time we got back, Rush Hour was in full madness in Queenstown. Rather than risk becoming a traffic statistic, we decided to eat In the hotel restaurant. I knew I was violating a cardinal rule of travel but we were hungry. My rule is right. The meal was almost up there with a memorable night long ago in Murphys with our friends Mark and Kathy Williams. Nonetheless, the setting for Queenstown is magnificent. If I wasn’t so set in my ways, I could better enjoy all of the excitement in this Adventure Capitol of New Zealand.
I just need to manage driving through town one more time as we head for the sticks again.