I had a lot of personal goals during our trip. A big one was keeping up with the blog real time – or at least finishing it while we were on the trip. And here I am – over three weeks returned – and the blog left hanging in mid-April. Brett and I have been pretty preoccupied with (1) catching up on…well, everything and (2) figuring out our next steps, but I am not about leaving things unfinished. So, I press on.
Brett and I were lucky enough to have four friends from San Diego visit us during a part of their vacation. We linked up in Queenstown where we spent three, luxurious nights in a house on the edge of town. It had been nearly 4 months since I’d been able to lay on a living room floor and watch TV and it never felt more like heaven on Earth. Our first day together we purchased tickets on the original Shotover Jet Boat (since 1970, for real!). We grabbed the earliest time available and hopped on the shuttle bus over to the Shotover Canyon, where the boats speed so closely to the wall you’re sure you’re going to leave with less skin on your cheeks than you came with. It is dumbly expensive, but I couldn’t stop smiling the entire gut-wrenching 30 minute ride. Our tickets came with a free round of frisbee golf at the spectacular Queenstown Gardens, so we headed that way afterwards. I am a trash player (I hit the sign 1 ft in front of me directing where to throw the frisbee), but we had a ton of fun on the course and I would say this is about the most affordable activity you can do in the entire city. We capped off the day with dinner out and a highly intense game of Celebrity, including a blanket round where you perform charades under a…blanket. Brett and I were really happy to get to share time with friends and feel in the fold again.
Tuesday, April 17 was our last full day in the city. We went up the gondola and luged our competitive hearts out down the hillsides. We took a hike further up the mountain after, but an incoming snow storm turned us around early. Instead, we took in the cold at one of the local Ice Bars…which provided us about 3 good photos and maybe 15 minutes of entertainment before we headed home.
The next day, while three of our friends took off on a flight/cruise of the Milford Sound, the rest of us took a side trip an hour north to Glenorchy. We walked around the local park and had the best pie of the entire trip at Mrs. Woolly’s General Store: a weirdly trendy shop in the middle of nowhere. Once we all linked up again, we took off for Wanaka. There was a distillery and famous breast cancer-awareness bra fence that I wanted to check out, so Brett and I made a pit stop on the way. They were touristy, but I enjoyed them. The Cardrona Distillery was surprisingly nice and produced the smoothest single-malt vodka, but at $100 a fifth, we left with just the taste.
Our only full day in Wanaka we hiked up Roy’s Peak: a highly popular single day hike. It’s a grueling, completely exposed four hour slog uphill. The view from the top is 360 degrees of gorgeous but your knees feel like they’re going to fall off your body by the time you get back to your car. Despite all this, there were enough people on the hike that we had to wait in line to take a picture at one of the best spots. On the way back to our rental we passed a winery I’d read a lot about, so we stopped in for a free tasting. We had to wait about 15 minutes in the lobby, and then during the tasting around 20-25 people were let in bull-pen style and served up at the same time. The experience was almost as bad as the time Brett and I accidentally stopped in a fly-infested gas station winery. It was one of the only days during our entire two-month stint that we felt crowded. After a long period of showers and relaxation, we regrouped and landed on our last stop together: Arthur’s Pass.
We stopped at Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glaciers en route, but it was raining nonstop. The downpour only let up for our two short walks to viewpoints of the glaciers. If Brett and I had unlimited time and money (mostly money), we would have come back and done one of the helicopter in/hike out trips. It’s one of the only things I regret not doing during our time there!
Rental homes for 6 people were slim pickings in Arthur’s Pass but we found a rustic cottage in the middle of a campground off the main road. By the time we got there it was already dark, so we unloaded, made dinner, and walked around scoping out the glow worm grottos before calling it a night.
The rain didn’t let up on our last day together, but we braved the short hike to Devil’s Punchbowl anyway. My friend Jenn was practicing Spanish on the way up and I caught myself saying “hola!” to people as we passed them. It’s insane how brains shift gears so quickly. After the hike we said our goodbyes and Brett and I started making our way back south to pick up our camper. It felt very quiet with just the two of us again.
On Saturday, April 21st, our final pre-camper day, we took a short walk up to Castle Rocks: random Game of Thrones-like boulders on a grassy hillside. We cruised about half way back down to Queenstown, spending the night in the tiny little town of Cave at a farmhouse Airbnb. It was one of the coolest places we stayed the entire trip. The little guest home was adorable, and friendly dogs, cats and chickens were running around the patio and peeking in our windows. Plus, there was an alpaca pasture that the owner let us wander around; it almost felt like we were back in Peru. Returning to busy Queenstown was a change of pace from the past week, but we quickly knocked things off our to-do list (including finally trying Fergberger, which was overrated) and made it to the Jucy Rentals to pick up our Cabana minivan.
Next up, I’ll write about what it was like to move into what was essentially a car, and the rest of our time on the South Island. Progress!