January 12-15, 2013
(Posted by Xavier)

Driving into Queenstown was picturesque, and there was definitely a buzz here. How can we explain it? Picture Lake Tahoe, or Vail: beautiful mountain landscape surrounding a lake and a town on its shore. Now picture a town full of cafes, restaurants, pubs, sporting goods stores, adventure tours of all sorts: skydiving, bungy jumping (supposedly the idea of jumping off bridges and swinging by your feet upside down was invented here), river rafting, canoeing, rock climbing, hiking, camping, skiing — and those are just the ones we can remember. The sound of the cheering crowd of a rugby game being played in town echoing around you, the smell of fireworks wafting by and then changing to some kind of intoxicating food dishes being cooked by some of the many lakeside eateries. Then there are the people. You could make a day of just people watching: a cross-section of the world’s young and old, and they are all fit. Rich or just getting by, they look to be coming from or preparing to set out for some kind of adventure. Most are here seeking an adventure and the town’s heartbeat caters to their adrenaline. Oh yes, Bruce our new found good friend from Te Anau was right, you need deep pockets for this town, and if your need for an adrenaline rush is on the steroid level, well, my friend, you’ve found your destination. Queenstown is a beautiful lakeside outdoor adventure community in a beautiful setting. We came, we saw and felt the rush for adventure, and then we moved on to a higher altitude.

We headed to our most remote and rustic campsite yet — the Lindis Pass Historic Hotel site, down a long winding gravel road alongside a stream, our path frequently blocked by surly cows. We got in late that night and left early the next morning because we were concerned that the rainstorm bearing down on us might cause the gravel road to flood out or deteriorate significantly. Arriving into the Mt. Cook area we could not make out a thing because of the heavy rain showers and low lying clouds. Since we weren’t very much inclined to go for a hike in the pouring rain, we spent two hours in the visitor information center watching movies and learning about the history of mountaineering in the area — all while hearing the rain pound down on the roof. Learning about the exploits of Sir Edmund Hillary and other mountain pioneers gave us a sense of the history for this area. Mt. Cook is a world-class mountain, used by many climbers in preparation for climbing Mt. Everest. Needless to say many lives have been lost here and many more would have been lost if not for the daring recues of the dedicated volunteer search and rescue teams.

Getting the latest weather report — that it might clear for a while later in the afternoon but more rain tonight and tomorrow — we set off to our next campsite back down the mountainside. No sooner do we get to our campsite when the storm clouds start to disappear. Kristin and I look at each other and we agree to take a chance and return back up the mountain and try and do a few quick scenic hikes. Thank god we did, the skies cleared just enough and we were able to complete both hikes, swinging bridges and rushing snow and glacier fed rivers and all, and see spectacular Mt. Cook. Later that evening and early the next morning we were fortunate enough to have a wonderous clear view of Mt. Cook. Chalk up one more “Oh my God” for New Zealand!

Then off to Wanaka (rhymes with Hanukkah)! Unlike Queenstown, Wanaka is smaller and more family-oriented, with all the high adventure stuff — just not with the hyper adreneline rush feeling you get walking around Queenstown. In our day and a half there we did two great hikes, had easier and better wifi connections, enjoyed a unque movie viewing experience (watched “The Hobbit” in couch-filled theater with an intermission for freshly baked cookies, coffee, espresso, wine and beer, and you could bring it all into the theater), wonderful fresh fruit, from Cromwell and just enjoyed the laid back feeling of the town. On a personal note, I almost made it to the top of Roy’s Peak — a 5,000 plus ft. climb. Just 20 minutes from the top, seeing my breath, starting to feel the cold, running late on time to hit the road and not wanting to think about my sore left knee on the way down, I turned back and enjoyed looking down the magnificent razor top mountain ridge views. Kristin had turned back sooner for she was overcome with the ever so cute sheep. (See “Sheepspotting” post.)

Next we travel to the west coast. Our plans are to camp at Haast. So along the way we enjoy the mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls and thick vegetation along the winding pass road, when we decide to stop to do a quick little hike to view a waterfall. We stop, open the door and before we can step outside we see some little flying things. Not paying attention to them we set off on the hike. Well, by the time we get back we’re smacking every flying object we see. Bruce!!!! You are soooooo right! Those sandflies are terrible! And we tried our best to kill as many as we could. We quickly break out the mosquito repellant and spray it on for the first time on our trek. For some reason I think this will not be the first time we will be using this stuff. To say the least, from that moment on we were on high alert for any small flying object near us while on the west coast. Oh, did we mention they bite?! And afterwards those bites are ITCHY!!!! FOR DAYS!!!!! Another must on the packing list, the most powerful repellant possible and plenty of anti-itch creams.