May 16, 2013, writing about May 11, 2013
Heading to Queenstown in the South Island
Just updating our travel blog after quite a hectic week here in the South Island of New Zealand.
We left the crazy geothermal wonderland that is Rotorua to catch our flight from Auckland to Queenstown. We had intended to drive the "suggested" route from Google Maps, so we can be good little boys and girls and return the car on time and catch our flight. But Karthik had read about this scenic route that goes by the Eastern coast of the North Island, passing kiwi orchards, mountains, river valleys, and such. It would, however, be an additional hour or so.
We were almost half an hour on the suggested route when we just decided to throw caution to the wind and just re-route our way on to the scenic route. We started to go past some hilly terrain, then past some neat little towns, and then Tauronga, a major city along the Pacific Coast with a really cool California feel to it. Hills on one side, the ocean on the other and palm trees mixing things up. Then, some crazy construction which began to make us second guess our decision to detour, but we made up good time further ahead through orchard country and stopped for lunch at this town called Paeroa. We have to tell you about our new favorite drink, L & P, which stands for Lemon and Paeroa. It's this neat little lemony fizzy drink invented in this town and has the slogan, "World Famous in New Zealand"
We passed some more picturesque countryside, rolling hills, and then some next whitewater action. A raging river that followed along our highway definitely perked us up after what began to seem like a loong drive! We then approached Auckland, noting how just 30km outside of the city, it was still wild countryside! Returned our car, made it to the airport on time, remarked on the really efficient check-in process at Auckland Airport and we were on our way to Queenstown.
The flight was uneventful other than our approach to Queenstown, where we began to get a glimpse of the amazing landscape that is the South Island, with. snow-capped peaks stretching as far as the eye can see. We were definitely hyped about our journey ahead here.
We arrived at our hotel, the Hilton Queenstown, with Kaelen filling up his pants with poo till they overflowed on the the taxi's seats! So there we were rushing into the Hilton reception with Kaelen and poo-stained pants held afar running into their bathroom! I'm sure they were thinking, "yeah, definitely not Hilton types, guess they lucked out on a deal." Which we did!
All good still! We got a great lake view room that opened up right to the lake. Looking forward to checking out the town which was across it from us.
May 12, 2013
As we woke up to our first morning in the South Island, we walked out to the lake from our room and immediately were awestruck by how beautiful the surroundings were. The mountains (a chain of mountains aptly named the Remarkables). The lake. And little chalets and hotels across the lake from us dotting the hillside. And the ducks. Quacking away in the early morning.
We caught a bus right outside our hotel that took us to a bus transfer depot near the airport, noting that the transit system is pretty decent for a small town like this. We then caught another bus to the main Queenstown Mall. This was the downtown area, which felt a bit like Whistler as it was heavily dominated by tour companies, adventure outfitters, and all sorts of adrenalin-activity-driven options. This is THE adrenalin capital, the home of the bungy jump, and a buffet of options are available to anyone daring enough - whitewater kayaking, jet boating, paragliding, hang gliding, skydiving, bungy jumping, etc.
Today, however, we just want to take the gondola to the top of the hill overlooking Queenstown and Karthik had expressed some interest in this Luge track they have up top there. Plus, there's a neat wildlife park where they have kiwis! So after some bites, and decaf lattes and warm milk for Kaelen at a Starbucks, we walked on over to the Queenstown Skyline Gondola site where they also had the Kiwi Wildlife Park. After getting lost a bit and walking uphill in vain, we finally found the place!
Bought the tickets for the wildlife park and sat ourselves down for a Eco-conservation show before the scheduled kiwi feeding at noon. They showed us a possum (a really cute one) that has become such a nuisance that there's a thriving wool industry that blends Merino sheep wool with possum fur for a really soft blend apparently! We saw a really large pigeon that flew around on command, a relic from the dinosaur era called the Tuatara that looked like a small Iguana (that can apparently live in a freezer for six months as it has the lowest body temperature of any animal), but still no kiwi! We found out that the kiwis are nocturnal creatures and are really shy and were actually housed in a separate enclosure. Bah!
So, after the show, we just hung around till the feeding and Kaelen just ran around collecting rocks. At the time of the feeding, we had to tell him to be really quiet as the kiwis really don't dig loud noises. He actually was surprisingly quiet, whispering the whole time. The kiwis were inside this large glass cage (a male and a female) and the room was dark except for a couple of red lights (we later found out that they can't see the colour red and so it was just dark for them). They were really cute - just this large furry ball on two legs with a large pencil-like beak. They lay the largest of eggs in proportion to their size and are threatened by introduced mammals like cats, dogs, etc. Poor things.
At the time of feeding, this lady just walked into their cage and dropped some food and walked away, however the kiwis weren't interested. So we too walked away, having found a new affinity for this cute creature. We then hoped to find a good kiwi stuffed animal for Kaelen at their gift shop. We found one, but it was crazy expensive, so we figured we would find a better deal in town and got a neat wireframe decorative kiwi for home instead.
We then went to the Gondola entrance, bought our tickets and then just before boarding the gondola, Kaelen freaked out! He just didn't want to come in! After much coaxing and showing him a photo of a helicopter and kinking out the large wheel that moved the cable that held the gondolas (which looked like a fan), he finally relented and we began our climb up the hill. It was a nice ride and we got to truly see the surroundings which were just spectacular. This has got to be one of the prettiest places we have seen yet!
At the top, we had to change the kid and lo and behold, another diaper mishap where he peed all over himself while changing! What's with this town and diaper incidents! Anyhow, that having been done, Penny had got us a table at their restaurant with a view for a buffet lunch (it was Mother's Day!) and we had a fairly decent (but overpriced) meal, with the highlights being the dessert and their bean salad and the sweet potato salad. Yum! We then stepped out to take in the views of Queenstown, the lake and the surrounding mountains.
It was a stunning sight overlooking Lake Wakatipu, the small town below, the mountains as far as the eye could see! Karthik started setting up the tripod and the shot so we could all be in the picture. After what seemed like a good time doing that, we got a few decent shots and repeatedly saying how pretty this place was, we made our way down to the Luge track.
Karthik and Kaelen went down to the entrance where they both got helmets and took the chair lift up the hill to the start of the track. Apparently, this was a really popular activity in Queenstown, for adults and kids alike! Kaelen was happy to go down the track, sitting between his Dada's legs. Karthik enjoyed it too, although he was going a big slower than he might otherwise have!
After a cool ride downhill, we decided to take the gondola backdown and strolled into town to check out the shopping. We bought some possum-merino wool, some neat outerwear for Kaelen, and walked to the lake and around the main shopping district. We couldn't find any decent kiwi stuffed animals for Kaelen, so we made it a point to go back the next day and pick that one from the wildlife park gift shop.
After what seemed like a long day, we took the bus back home, chatted up some guy from Utah and called it a night, but not before indulging in the Hilton's indoor pool. They had such an amazing change room it was crazy! Insane numbers of clean towels, showers, sinks, toilets, and just... slick and clean! And a spiffy sauna and steam room, which we didn't use. We just played around in the pool with Kaelen, sat in the hot tub for a bit and went back to our room, especially since Kaelen started acting up again after we got out of the pool.
All in all, a fun day in a really picturesque town. The next adventure starts when we pick up our car and drive to Te Anau, a little town that is the gateway to Milford Sound - supposedly one of the most gorgeous places on Earth, which we find out for ourselves.