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New Zealand Trip Report

Day 14 of 24

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Thursday, March 14th
Keas, fly to Queenstown

We had to drive back to Christchurch to catch a morning flight, so we woke up early for breakfast. Peter and Froukje were already there, as they wanted to get an early start driving to the west coast. As we sat down to eat, the area around the lodge was enveloped in heavy mist.

As we were eating, we noticed birds hopping on the roof and flying back and forth from the roof to the trees. It was our first Kea sighting! There were about 5 or 6 of the birds, calling to each other and apparently playing. The waiter said they don't do this very often; perhaps it had something to do with the mist, which was beginning to dissipate.

Keas on a tree

Kea flying through the mist

I went back to my room to get my camera and was able to get several shots of the birds in the clearing mist. After breakfast we finished packing and checked out. In the parking lot, Peter asked if I could help him clean his camera, which he'd messed up the day before. I lent him my blower and lens tissue, which he used to clean the mirror. I didn't think of it as I was standing there, but I should have told him that it didn't matter. As long he knew the lens was clean (and it looked like he did), the mirror has absolutely no bearing on the picture quality, since it's lifted out of the way before the picture is taken. Of course it's a little unsettling when you look through your camera and see junk in the viewfinder...

Kea on the roof

Another look at the kea

We drove back to the Christchurch airport, where we found it was drizzling. We were through with the small 33-seat planes we used to fly in and out of Nelson. Instead, we boarded a 66-seat plane on our way to Queenstown. The 1-hour flight provided us with some views of the snow-capped Southern Alps to the right, sheep farms and fields to the left. It was bright and sunny as we landed in Queenstown, around 12:30pm.

The first thing you notice when you land in Queenstown is the mountains. They rise straight up behind the airport, providing a dramatic scene. I don't know that I've ever done this before, but I did this time -- while walking on the tarmac from the plane to the terminal, I got out my camera and took a picture of the mountains! It was very impressive.

View from the Queenstown airport

The Queenstown airport is a small but international airport. I don't think it has many international flights -- probably just destinations in Australia. We took a shuttle to the hotel, the St. Moritz Novotel Suites. We noticed a couple things along the way. First of all, there was a lot of construction on the main road leading into town, as well as building construction on the slopes above the road. Queenstown has a lot of very steep streets, and our hotel was no exception -- we were very close to the town center, but had to walk up and down a very steep street to get there.

After checking into the hotel (and surprising a maintenance worker putting in a new bathroom shelf), we walked into town. We had to pick up our permit for the Routeburn track, which we were starting the next day. At the DoC office, there were two women ahead of us who were trying to get a refund. Apparently they had reservations for the same days as we did, but they saw the weather forecast (calling for rain) and wanted to cancel. Unfortunately the DoC policy was that once you pick up your permits, you can't return them. Neither side was happy. Eventually we got someone to help us and picked up our permits. Since you have to reserve your permits in advance, there's not much you can do about the weather. We decided we'd just make sure we were prepared for rain and do the best we could. In any case, it's pretty hard to go tramping in Fiordland and not get rained on -- they average about 8-10 meters of rain per year! They get more rain in one month than San Jose gets in a year.

Lake Wakatipu

We stopped at a small Japanese place for lunch. While we were there a lot of young visitors popped in and out, grabbing sushi to go. While walking around Queenstown, I got the feeling that it's the Tahoe of New Zealand, only nicer. Imagine South Lake Tahoe during ski season, with young snowboarders going into town, hanging out, having fun. Queenstown is like that, but it's smaller, more manageable. It has a population of about 10,000. It's on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, with steep mountains rising straight out of the water. It's a very impressive place to just walk around town. It also has a very compact downtown area with lots of good shopping and tons of restaurants of all kinds. Conveniently, some shops are open late at night, too. It's an international destination, with tourists from all over filling the streets during the day and night.

Queenstown wharf

Queenstown has received lots of praise and has been called "the adventure capital of the world." I would say all the praise is well-earned. It's also a year-round destination, with water sports and tramping in the summer, and skiing and snowboarding in the winter. It's a definite must-visit if you visit New Zealand. There's only one problem -- expansion. But I'll get to that later.

Looking back toward the downtown area

I stopped into one of the many Internet cafes to check on the latest sports scores and my e-mail. I picked up a couple more rolls of Provia 400F. The more I use the film, the more I'm impressed with it. We walked through the downtown area (about a 3x3 block area) and then out onto the wharf area. I went back to the hotel to get my camera and returned to take some pictures.

Looking back on the Remarkables above Lake Wakatipu

That night, we went to Pasta Pasta for dinner. The service was a little slow and, inexplicably, the young waiter (who seemed to fancy himself as being real hip) chastised us for ordering too much food. In the end, we still didn't order enough, as the food (seafood pizza and beef salad) while tasty, wasn't very filling. The pizza in particular was very thin and had few toppings. A bit disappointed, we stopped by the 24 hour convenience store to get ice cream. Then we walked back to the hotel to prepare for 3 days in the wilderness.

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