Monday, May 23, 2011

Haere Ra Aotearoa

Monday, 23rd May, 2011
Auckland, New Zealand

On September 18th of last year, Matt's mother drove us to Portland International Airport, where we hugged her goodbye, and started the biggest journey of our lives to date. Eight months, thousands of miles, hours of surf, lots of money, and a million amazing memories later, we're coming home on Tuesday.

I've been struggling for the last month or so with how to put all that I am feeling into words, to say an appropriate goodbye to this country of unparalleled beauty and to say an appropriate hello to my home, at this point still far away on the other side of the Pacific. I'll never be able to say everything I feel about this transition, but some excerpts from my journal over the past few weeks will hopefully convey a bit of what I am feeling.


I feel a deep sadness at leaving New Zealand, and yet I am more than ready for home. I have such a deep affection for this country, and for the amazing and monumental experiences it has given to me and Matt. It has been such an incredible place to spend the past eight months of my life, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to spend so much time getting to know a foreign culture and landscape, but one of the many things I have learned during our sojourn here is that there is truly, truly, no place like home, no matter where your home is.

Before we came to New Zealand, I knew I loved my home, but I felt hopeless and despairing about so many U.S. policies around social issues, food systems, distribution of wealth and the environment, and I thought New Zealand was the solution. I saw New Zealand as a paradise in which everything was affordable, all systems were preferable to those in the U.S., everything was progressive and environmentally friendly, and there were few social problems. This image was due in part to the media's depiction of New Zealand, ploys for tourism, my own limited knowledge from my previous visit to the country, and partly because this is what I wanted to believe. I think the single biggest benefit of actually living in a foreign culture for an extended period of time is that you truly get to know it and must acknowledge its imperfections. We have discovered that New Zealand has its own mix of good and bad policies, and that not all aspects of the culture are as progressive as we had thought. So too have we discovered that New Zealand's food systems operate in a far healthier way than their American counterparts, that the population is far healthier on the whole, that conservation and environmental protection policies here some of the most advanced in the world, and that New Zealand's sense of community and friendship is incomparable. Also, physically, New Zealand is truly a paradise, with a diversity of landscape and terrain that is unfathomable for such a small country, and it gave us the delicious endless summer we came here in search of.

In short, our time here has hit home the fact that, like the U.S., New Zealand is a highly beautiful, highly imperfect place that is appreciated for what it is, and is home to its citizens because it is what they know and where they are most comfortable. Both countries have their positive and negative aspects and positive and negative people, and I can't explain how healthy and inspiring it has been to see this with my own eyes. I have never been particularly patriotic in the traditional sense, but being removed from my homeland for so long, and knowing that even one of the world's most renowned destinations has its flaws makes me realize that I love America simply because it is my home, and that that is ok. And for that reason I can truly appreciate it, regardless of how much I disagree with some of its policies and cultural aspects, and I feel refreshed and newly fired up to come home and work there for the changes I believe in.

Apart from realizing just how important my home is to me, this trip has taught me just how long eight months really is. Matt and I were talking the other day and he mentioned that we've been gone so long that in some ways it's hard to remember what home is really like. I know that home is good, and that I have missed it in a huge way, but the details of daily life back home have been so intangible while we've been in New Zealand that that aspect seems very far away. Looking back on our time here, in some ways it seems to have flown by, while in other ways it has been an incomprehensibly long time since we first touched down in Auckland. Eight months after leaving home with Matt, I am having trouble comprehending that all of the vastly different experiences we have had here are actually connected as one long experience. They are each so much their own and they have occurred over such a long period of time that it hardly seems possible that they weren't part of some other trip; that we didn't go home in between! This also brings home to me the magnitude of this journey, of just how much time has passed and how many amazing and unique things we have done during our time here. Hatching ducklings in Opotiki; surfing and making beds for three months in Taranaki; weeks of hot, idyllic summer in Northland; the packhouse; mustering at Spray Point Station; working at Kathmandu; and our final trip around the South Island by bus---these are all connected, while completely distinct as their own experiences, and they make me feel unspeakably rich.

We achieved all of our primary goals for this trip: have an extra summer, surf endlessly in warm oceans, work on a variety of farms, and challenge ourselves and our relationship. The true depth of our time down under is apparent to me when I realize that there is no way that I can communicate the enormity of the changes it has wrought on both of us as individuals and as a couple. We are different people than we were when we first arrived, and I think I can confidently say that we have both come closer to our ideal selves, and are coming home happy and satisfied, and eager to put dreams for our life back home into action.

With all of that said, my face and heart are turned toward home and the new chapter that is starting for us. These past few weeks, my heart and eyes well up when I think about the two ends of our upcoming journey: boarding a plane and leaving the place that has changed us so much, and touching down in Portland a day later. I well up for both sides of the equation: for saying goodbye to the land that gave me roasting hot summer days on Ahu Ahu Beach, in the waves with my board or on the sand watching Matt surf, and for seeing my family, and Matt's, and my dear, dear friends again, and giving them all enormous hugs. For leaving behind the country that gave us skills and strength we never knew we had, and for holding the wee babies born to my friends while I was away, and seeing those friends as mamas. The bittersweetness is inescapable, and I will always miss New Zealand, but I take with me countless fantastic memories as I head for the place I love best.


This is my last post from New Zealand, and here's a massive thank you to everyone reading this---knowing you've all been there, whether I know you or not, following along, has given me so much strength through our entire trip. I have loved sharing our experiences with you, and am returning to the states with a renewed drive to get more involved in the blog world, and get to know those of you who are as yet just virtual acquaintances. To those who are a part of my life in Portland or up in Washington, I will see you in person so very soon.

I am going to take a little vacation from this blog for the next few weeks, as I will be jetting off to Hawaii and then up to Spokane soon after arriving stateside, and of course coping with jet lag, culture shock, job interviews and all of the massive emotions surrounding our return to the states. But in a few weeks I'll be back, with a new drive to write about simple living and sustainability topics, and then of course the excitement of setting up housekeeping when Matt and I move into our new house at the beginning of July. I hope you'll tune in, and thanks again for reading. (I'll probably be back here sooner than I intend; I'm so used to blogging regularly that it will likely be harder than I anticipate to stay away!)


So this is it. Tomorrow we board the jumbo jet that will take us home across the ocean, and some hours and many timezones later, we'll be in Portland. Matt and I have both been insanely excited recently to return home, counting down the days for the past two weeks. Now, it's tomorrow.

See you on the flip side.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Full Circle

Saturday, 21 May, 2011
Nelson, Marlborough
South Island

Well, we're back in Nelson, 16 days after departing on our Great Southern Circuit. Those two weeks absolutely flew by, and we had a really amazing time, and fantastic weather everywhere except the West Coast. I can't believe how much we saw and how many cool people we met in such a short time, and how lucky we were to have Magic tote us around for free while we wrote and photographed on their behalf. I can safely say that we're both incredibly grateful for the opportunity, and extremely happy with our Magic Experience. I'm pleased that we were able to do our southern explorations by mass transit as well, to lessen our carbon footprint; it was also very nice to have someone else do the driving! I think I'm also a big fan of touring around in the off-season, as the buses weren't full, and only having 15 passengers made for a much cozier experience than if every seat was full.

It was freezing cold when we pulled into Kaikoura on Wednesday evening, but we awoke on Thursday to a beautifully warm day, and after nearly two weeks of chilly temperatures, it felt totally exotic to put away the fleeces and scarves, and walk around in just one layer of long sleeves. Because we had spent a good long weekend in Kaikoura a month previously, and Magic's timetables required at least a two-night stay before heading north, we decided to abandon Magic for one short leg of our journey, and caught an Intercity coach (for $16 apiece) to Picton on Thursday morning. We hadn't spent more than an hour in Picton before, and decided our time would be better spent there than in Kaikoura, and we were pretty pleased with our decision. I missed Magic Scott's commentary as we drove up the coast, but as this was a section of our circuit we had already explored thoroughly, it made the most sense that this was where we took Intercity. It was a lovely day and we had great views of the coastline and the seal colonies, and after a brief stop in Blenheim we pulled into Picton at about 12:30. It was warm and sunny, barely a cloud in the sky, and the town was relatively quiet on this fall day.

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

Our backpackers in Picton, Sequoia Lodge, was far and away my favorite hostel of all the ones we've stayed in in New Zealand. And we have stayed in some awesome backpackers here, so that's saying something! Cozy but airy, painted with bright colors and decorated with houseplants and Far Side cartoons, and complete with a massive (though not quite life-sized) chess board and hammocks, this was the place to be. The log fire at night and the free homemade hot chocolate pudding and ice cream was just the icing on the cake.

After checking into Sequoia Lodge, we wandered around Picton for most of the afternoon, poking about in shops, admiring the beautiful waterfront and ogling sailboats, and feeling pretty blissed out, having seen so much in the previous weeks and looking forward to heading home in just a few days, and soaking up the unparalleled New Zealand sun. We also got our last New Zealand passionfruit ice creams, which hadn't been particularly appealing in our previous chilly destinations.

Passionfruit and vanilla (arguably the second best flavor in NZ- it tastes nothing like American vanilla ice cream!)

We got to have a nice leisurely morning yesterday, and then got a free lift from the hostel folks to the ferry terminal, where we reconnected with Magic Scott for the final leg back over the ranges to Nelson. It was really interesting riding a tour bus over a stretch of road we've gotten to know very well, and we got a definite feeling of being back on our turf again. We made one stop at Pelorus Bridge, and Matt and I took a quick walk down to a cool swing bridge over the Pelorus River.

Note the shadow of the bridge with us standing on it.

We pulled into Nelson around 3 PM, and immediately got stuck into all the errands that needed doing, to allow ourselves to focus on packing and blogging today. It felt pretty nice to be back in Nelson, and then Nickola picked us up from town and our old room was waiting for us, now complete with the driftwood headboard that Matt built for Nickola (see his blog for a photo). It's good to see Nickola and Jamie and Tom again one last time, and last night we had a "Leaving Do" at the Free House with several of our former workmates from Kathmandu, as well as some other friends we've gotten to know here. All and all, it's been an excellent feeling of coming full circle, and now, suddenly, we're down to our final few days in New Zealand. It's an odd, bittersweet mix of sadness at leaving and utter excitement to get home, but that will have to be another post entirely.

So we've seen the South Island, with many thanks to Magic for the opportunity and the awesome experience we had, and now we're headed north!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

From Dunedin to Kaikoura

Thursday, 17 May, 2011
Picton, Marlborough Sounds

It’s time to catch up again, after a couple of long days on the road. On Tuesday morning we said goodbye to Dunedin and boarded our next bus, driven by Magic Scott. After a stop at the world’s steepest street (see Matt’s blog for details and photos), we headed north up the coast, on our way to Lake Tekapo. Our morning stop was at the Moeraki Boulders, an incredibly unique set of rocks on the magically beautiful coast south of Oamaru. These boulders are perfectly round, sitting partially submerged in the beach, and are a geological anomaly. Geologists say that the rocks came out of the mudstone cliffs, and not the sea, but apparently no one really knows why they took the shape they did. The Maori have a better explanation, I think, as told to us by Magic Scott: long ago, an outrigger canoe carrying baskets of kumara shipwrecked on this coast, and the round baskets that washed up on the shore became the Moeraki Boulders. At any rate, they are extremely bizarre to look at, and we all enjoyed walking among them, and some of our fellow Magic-ers did some climbing and gymnastics on the rocks!
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

After leaving Moeraki, our next stop was Oamaru (the most common pronunciation is “WAH-mah-roo”), a beautiful coastal city built primarily of white Oamaru stone, mined just south of town and used in buildings throughout New Zealand. We had an absolutely gorgeous day to travel, clear skies and lots of sunshine over the green, pastoral landscape of the east coast. Once we turned inland north of Oamaru, we headed up into the alpine country, which is much dryer, yellow tussock-covered sheep country sprinkled with blue-green rivers and very few towns.

 First view of the Southern Alps! Somewhere east of Omarama. 

Yellow countryside at our quick stop at Aviemore Dam.

At Omarama (oh-MAH-rah-mah) we entered Mackenzie Country, named after a famous (or infamous, but he got the place named after him) sheep thief from the 19th century. With the Southern Alps standing up alongside us, we were truly in the mountain country, and stopped at Lake Pukaki, which often affords a view of Aoraki/Mt. Cook on the far end, but the elusive mountain was hidden away in the clouds. That didn’t stop the views from being spectacular, or our busmates from posing inadvertently for this shot:

We learned from Magic Scott that the Maori name for Mt. Cook, Aoraki, means “cloud piercer.” This is derived from the mountain’s tendency to have clouds sitting over the middle of it, but the summit sticking out the top. I’ve also learned that according to New Zealand law, the Maori name (pronounced “AH-oh-rack-ee”) must be placed before the English name in all guidebooks, signage etc. Also, mountaineers are forbidden to stand on the actual summit, as it is an incredibly sacred place to the Maori; Aoraki is also considered to be the ultimate, all-encompassing ancestor.

Have I mentioned that it has been extremely cold in the southern regions lately, and that this was incredibly apparent while we were en route from Dunedin to Kaikoura? It was windy, freezing cold, and the dry cold chilled us all to the bone. When we pulled into Lake Tekapo, our overnight stop on Monday, temperatures were hovering around 45 F or so in the sun.

 Beautiful, but COLD and windy!

We really loved our BBH hostel in Lake Tekapo- comfortable non-bunk beds, a very well heated and organized lounge area, and no TV (a rarity in a backpackers!) While the evening was clear and the views gorgeous, we could hardly bring ourselves to go outside into the bitter cold- that wind really gets you! While we had pre-booked all of our hostels and used the BBH ones because we already had the membership, if we hadn’t planned ahead, we wouldn’t have had to worry, because Magic really takes care of its own. The company has relationships with various hostels and tour operators in every town along Magic’s routes, and these places reserve spaces for Magic travelers so that you are guaranteed a bed everywhere you go, and a space in every activity if you want it, and the Magic drivers book it all for you. It is a really good system, and although we haven’t really used it because we did all of our planning ourselves, it is a really great way to operate and serve your customers.

We got up in the dark again for another long day yesterday. Prior to the Christchurch Earthquake in February, Magic traveled a half day from Lake Tekapo to Christchurch, and then another half day to Kaikoura the next day. Since the earthquake dismantled much of Christchurch’s infrastructure and the entire city centre is still cordoned off, Magic now drives from Lake Tekapo to Kaikoura in a single day, stopping in the outskirts of ChCh to drop off and pick up. Thus, it makes for a long day and our bus pulled out of Tekapo at 7:30 AM. It was “cold as” yesterday morning, with a completely clear sky that gave us really stellar views of the southern alps over the lake as we walked down to the bus.

The temperature when we got on the bus was -1C/30F, as the heater couldn’t run until the engine had gotten good and warm. So we all stayed bundled up, and watched amazing views of the alps roll by under a glowing sky and a full moon.

Sunrise on Magic Bus, Burkes Pass.

Our route north took us through Fairlie and Geraldine, into the Canturbury Plains and to Methven/Mt. Hutt via the Inland Scenic Route. It was a long drive to Christchurch, back into pastoral, seaside country, but still bloody cold. Traveling through Christchurch was a truly surreal experience, and sort of difficult to think about. At first we just drove through the suburban sprawl, and because it was entirely modern buildings, there was no sign that anything was wrong, no destruction, and it seemed hardly possibly that such a big quake had rocked the area only a few months before (with loads of aftershocks every day since). But soon we started seeing older buildings with their facades lying in piles at their feet, and shopfronts with signs reading “Still closed due to earthquake.” Driving to the bus stop, we could all see the downtown district a couple kilmoetres away, where the tallest building, the Grand Chancellor Hotel, has been sitting at a noticeable tilt ever since February. Driving to the second stop at Christchurch Airport, we passed through an older neighborhood, where there was no huge appearance of destruction, but an eerie sense of something wrong, with stop signs and streetlamps standing slightly akimbo, and a house covered in scaffolding here, one with a window boarded up here, and the next with a big tarp covering the hole in its roof. I have no other way to describe seeing these things, than to use the word heavy.

From Christchurch it was pretty much straight through to Kaikoura, on another beautiful day. The scenery was beautiful, but stood out less than in the alpine country. Beautiful green fields, lots of sheep and cows and goats, and lots of beautiful little farms.

 First view of the snowy Kaikoura Ranges

Matt chilling out as the countryside rolls by.

Coming into Kaikoura, Magic Scott told us loads of interesting factoids about the area, the name, and the various activities on the menu for Kaikoura. We saw loads of seals on the rocks alongside the highway as we drove north into town, and we all got a massive fright when we came around one of the tight corners on the very narrow highway and discovered a very large fur seal in the middle of the road about 8 metres in front of the bus. Luckily it managed to get off the road just in time, but Magic Scott about had a heart attack, and we all had a moment of wondering what, exactly, it would be like to hit a seal while on a bus.

Matt and I were very happy to be back in Kaikoura on such a gorgeous day, and to be staying at Dusky Lodge with most of our busmates. With a big airy kitchen, huge wooden slab tables, and an enourmous deck and hot tub with views of the snow-covered mountains, it was a pretty good place to be.

And now we’re just one leg away from completing our circuit with Magic, and it’s been an incredibly good run. We’ve also been amazingly lucky with the weather- since we got off the West Coast, we have pretty much had perfectly clear days straight through. With that, I’ll end this novel, and update again when we are back in Nelson. Just five days till we fly home.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Edinburgh of the South

Monday, 16 May, 2011
Dunedin, Otago

Greetings from Dunedin, great city of the South! Pronounced "duhn-EE-din," this is New Zealand's student town, population 120,000, and declared to be the most Scottish city in the country. Given that the name Dunedin is the Gaelic translation of Edinburgh, the streets all carry names like Stuart (yay!), St. Andrews, Moray, and Cumberland, and that one of the city's founders was Thomas Burns, great-nephew of Robert Burns, I'd say this is pretty accurate.

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
The great Scottish bard himself, smack dab in the centre of the city. 

I should back up a little bit to our journey over from Queenstown with Magic on Saturday. We were up and out of our hostel before sunup, bundled up against the chill for our walk down to Shotover Street, where we were picked up once again by Magic Greg. We drove out of the city just as the sun was coming up over fresh snow on the Remarkables. Wintry, indeed. Magic Greg drove us out of Queenstown the back way, taking us to see Arrowtown, a famously well preserved and scenic gold mining town in a deep, nearly sunless valley about twenty minutes up the Shotover River. I was once again happily surprised by Magic's route, as I had always wanted to see Arrowtown and didn't think I would get to. The town is absolutely beautiful, the main street full of false fronts and historic stores, and the original miners' cottages still intact. We didn't stop but got good views of everything, as well as some of the spectacular red and yellow autumn trees that Arrowtown is famous for. This is the only decent photo I got of the main street:

From Arrowtown, we drove across Otago to the edge of the Southern Ocean with only a couple of short stops, but absolutely gorgeous weather. The landscape through this section of the country is very unique, a rough and steep type of land, very rocky and not unlike Scotland in terrain- I can see why the Scots settled this area (every town we passed through also had a distinctly Celtic feel). Everywhere we went in Otago, from Queenstown all the way across to Dunedin, we saw countless houses and cottages built from the local stone, many abandoned but several still inhabited. The only fertile bits were flat ridgetops along the Clutha River, now packed with orchards and vineyards; the rest of the land was filled with sheep, goats, and cattle. On Saturday's drive we passed through the furthest southern point of our New Zealand journey. At the village of Milton, we drove through 46 degrees, 10 minutes South, then turned north to Dunedin. In calculating this, Matt and I also realized that this is almost exactly the same latitude that our home of Portland sits at in the Northern hemisphere. Talk about being a world away from home! 

We arrived into Dunedin around 1 PM, and immediately felt like we had gone back in time- me to my semester in London, and Matt to the two different times he lived in Edinburgh. Packed with old stone Gothic-style churches, elaborately British municipal buildings, and UK-style rowhouses all build on slopes, this town undoubtedly has the distinctly Scottish feel it is renowned for. The city is laid out around a central octagon, with the main streets spiderwebbing outwards from there, surrounded by hills and build around Dunedin Harbour. Our hostel, a rambling set of Victorian houses several blocks of a very steep hill, is comfortable in a slightly messy way, and it out of the way of the hopping nightlife that the students of University of Otago bring to the central business district. 

On Saturday afternoon we took the long walk to Dunedin's renowned Botanic Gardens, which were worth the walk, although probably more spectacular in spring or summer. 

Yesterday we spent several hours poking around into the incredible old churches of the city, admiring the breathtaking Gothic arches and towers, visiting the world-famous Dunedin Railway Station, and taking in the new and old at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Between the ancient feel of the old churches and Cathedrals and the fact that the gallery is home to works by Monet, Pisarro, Gainsborough, J.M.W. Turner, John Constable and many others (the oldest piece I saw was an Italian work circa 1380), I felt like I had beamed back to London and was once again studying the great masters and classic architecture. 

First Church of Dunedin, the Scottish Presbyterian Church that was founded in 1848 by Rev. Thomas Burns.  This was my favorite of all the churches, also very close to my family roots!

 Dunedin Municipal Chambers, on the Octagon. 

St. Paul's Anglican Cathedral, also on the Octagon.

 Dunedin Railway Station. Matt and I were debating what architectural style it was built in, and then discovered a sign outside that told is it was in the Flemish Renaissance style.

Here are some photos of the incredible detail work inside the railway station. In my ideal world, all long-distance travel would be by train, and every city would have a station like this. Who wouldn't want to hang out in a place like this during a layover, rather than in a stuffy airport? This, my friends, is where the romance of rail travel comes from:

After a good run of sunshine, the crappy weather showed up yesterday afternoon, and we are now feeling extra-Scottish amongst the freezing cold wind and rain! We had already done most of our sight-seeing by then, so today have mostly taken advantage of the heater in the hostel lounge, and the free internet here, to get caught up on things and submit a few job applications. Tomorrow we head back inland to the alpine country (after a stop at the world's steepest street-- see Matt's blog for more on this!), spending tomorrow night in Lake Tekapo, just on the eastern side of Aoraki/Mt. Cook. 


Tomorrow also marks only one week left in New Zealand for us. It's really a bit hard to believe, far away in the southern reaches as we are, but one week from tomorrow we'll be on a jumbo jet heading northeast across the Pacific. Apart from family and friends, in this moment the thing I am looking forward to more than anything is moving closer to setting up housekeeping, to having a domain of our own, the ability to have projects and a fully stocked kitchen, not just buying enough food for the next two days like we are now! Can't wait, but also savoring these last few days of soaking up this unparalleled country.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Queenstown for a Day

Sunday, May 15, 2011
Dunedin, Otago
South Island, NZ
(Click on Photos to Enlarge)

Sad as it was to leave Wanaka, we kept the Magic party rolling as we headed for Queenstown on Thursday afternoon. After a sunny morning in Wanaka, we were picked up from the lakeside by Magic Greg, and headed across the Southern Lakes district towards Queentown, the adventure capital of New Zealand, if not the world.

Me and our packs, waiting for the bus in Wanaka. 

Magic makes sure that everyone has a chance to indulge in whatever local activities are available, making bookings on behalf of its passengers and making stops along the way in many unique places. After we turned southeast at Cromwell (and were once again retracing me and Provo's steps from our 2007 trip), we drove into the Kawarau River Gorge, where a wild and beautiful blue-green river flows swiftly between steep rocky cliffs. For any Lord of the Rings fans out there, a section of this gorge very near where we were was used for the "paddling down the river" scene with the giant statues of the kings of old. In this more modern day, we stopped at the historic Kawarau Bridge, which is now the site of one of many bungy jumps around Queenstown. While hurling myself off a bridge headfirst with a bungy rope strapped around my ankles is one of the last things in the world I would ever do (I'd sooner skydive), I was more than happy to watch as a couple of our busmates took the leap, and was amazed by the massive adrenaline rush I got just from thinking about doing such a jump.

It should be noted here at at 43 metres and about a 3-second freefall, the Kawarau jump is the tamest one in the area. The biggest, the Nevis Highwire Bungy, is a jump of 143 metres, with 8 seconds of freefall time. *shudder*

Queenstown was quite a shock to the system after Wanaka. Both are ski-towns this time of year, but Wanaka is smaller, quieter, and generally further off the tourist track, and most tourism companies tend to plug Queenstown as the place to go, especially for young backpackers and adrenaline junkies. I had been to Queenstown before, but still wasn't quite prepared for it to be so  packed to the gills with tourists, and to be so generally commercialized. The entire main drag, Shotover Street, is crammed with as many offices for bungy jumping, jetboating, skydiving, heli-skiing, parasailing, etc. as you could possibly imagine, along with numerous bars and hostels. 

This time of year there is the added element of skiiers and snowboarders awaiting the first big snow of the year. There is a lot of money around Queenstown, and a lot of huge houses and condos, expensive hotels, posh restaurants, and a lot of style. While I felt perfectly at home and comfortable wandering around Wanaka in my zip-offs and hiking boots, I felt extremely under dressed in Queenstown. All of that said, it is an extremely attractive town, and if shopping and adventure sports are your thing, this is heaven on earth. 

There are a lot of amazing old stone buildings here, some really neat design elements in the layout of the city, and the people watching is awesome. The town itself sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, the largest lake in New Zealand (and possibly the Southern Hemisphere?), backed by very steep hills, and with a fantastic view of the Remarkables, a steep and rugged mountain range to the southeast. 

We spent our one full day in Queenstown exploring a bit, and also resting, and got lunch from the legendary Fergburger, where the burger we ordered was the size of my face, and probably the best I've ever tasted. Two beef patties, eggs, bacon, avocado, red onion, lettuce, aoili, and probably a couple other ingredients that I can't remember, this epicly huge burger was more than enough lunch for both of us. We had it takeaway, and ate it on a bench by the waterfront, bent over with aoili dripping down onto the pavement! Charming, I'm sure. It was a delicious experience, but somehow so exhausting that I had to go back to the hostel and a take a nap afterwards!

Have I mentioned yet that it was REALLY COLD in Queenstown? And also the nights in Wanaka, but we didn't get much sun in Queenstown, and it was freezing. Not literally, but we still haven't adjusted away from our hot summer up north, and these days with a high of only 45-50F made us bundle up in all the layers we had with us, with scarves and gloves and stocking caps ("beanies"). I think what makes it feel so cold is that Otago is very dry, and dry cold always feels a lot colder than wet cold. 

On Friday evening, we took the Skyline Gondola (which is STEEP) up to the lodge high on Mt. Bob, overlooking Queenstown, and we were really glad we went. The gondola ride itself was fun, the views were amazing, and the lodge itself was incredibly well done. It has a coffee shop, a fancy restaurant, Maori culture shows, a gift shop, a conference/event centre, a big viewing platform, and all manner of entertainment stemming from watching people throw themselves off the Ledge Bungy Jump (one of the only bungys where you can run, jump, or be thrown off the platform in any manner you choose, as opposed to the standard headfirst jump).

 I think this was my favorite feature of the gondola. There is a huge network of mountain bike trails that start at the top of the peak, and the gondolas are fitted to carry bikes to the top. It's an incredibly popular activity, and if you live locally, you can buy an annual pass so you can head up with your bike every day after work and then ride back down to town!

 Sheep grazing under the gondola track as we rode up. 

Lake Wakatipu from above. That little smudge in the middle is the steamship S.S. Earnslaw, which does cruises down the lake to a sheep station where you can participate in shearing and sheepdog trials. One of Queenstown's tamer activities...

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at the hilltop lodge for a couple of hours, watching the bungy-ers, enjoying a coffee, and having fun watching the incredible diversity of visitors to the skyline. 

 Coffee and cribbage high above Queenstown. If you know cribbage and I tell you that the two close lanes are mine (and that we drive on the left here in New Zealand), you'll notice that I'm beating Matt. This was after the first two hands of the game. He has beaten me almost every time we've played in New Zealand, and I'm happy to report that on this particular occasion, he was skunked by yours truly :) 

Our purpose of going up the peak late in the day was to see the sunset and the lights of town at night. We didn't get much of a sunset due to the thick cloud cover, but we did get some epic views of Queenstown by night. I'm really really glad we did this with our short time in Queenstown- I think we enjoyed it more than we could possibly have enjoyed anything else.

City lights, Lake Wakatipu, and the Remarkables behind.