Here’s a proper post, to balance out the prior pompous and picture-free whingeing.
I had two goals after my return from several days off in the wilderness: make some tracks toward my next stop, and get caught up on office work. But before I left Te Anau, I had to do what guidewriter Scott Cook pronounced “The best day hike on the Kepler Track!!” About 10 km outside of Te Anau, a dusty access road and swing bridge led to a quiet forest and an hour and a half long trail out to the side of Lake Manapouri, recently crossed by me in a boat on my way to see Doubtful Sound. I had the ‘hurry, hurry’ in my head of work calling me, but immersion in the absolutely pristine mossy scent of the woods – full of birdcalls; glowing greenly in the sunlight – was a powerful counterbalance to my would-be busy-ness.
The destination proved well worth the hike time: popping out of the thick foliage at the trail’s end, there was just lake, mountains, and me. I stripped down to my bathing suit (which wasn’t going to be needed for aquatic pursuits – one toe poke in the water indicated it was far to chilly to seriously consider a swim), lazed like a lizard for a half hour on the rocky shore, and ate my packed lunch before reluctantly retracing my steps and aiming the van towards Queenstown.
After about a two hour drive, I was installed in a comfortably urban plot at the Queenstown Top Ten Holiday Park – which, at $45 a night, offered the most expensive powered site that I actually paid for during the entire trip – and within good reach of WiFi signal, I started to get caught up on my work.
The next morning greeted me with pouring rain – I scrapped plans to drive to Glenorchy and stayed in to work instead. Later in the afternoon, not to be totally cheated of touristy occupations, I took the gondola up the mountain overlooking the city to an outfit that would let you zipline down via a series of wires, big-ass bolts, and treehouses. With one line billed as ‘the steepest in the world!!’ and as long as a few rugby pitches, it was fantastically fun, if punctuated with lots of tedious waiting (the guides were scrupulously safety conscious, which meant lots of buckling and use of airlock-style gates to prevent unexpected access to the ‘stairs to nowhere’ (which was the scariest part for ME, anyway, eeesh.)
They showed us how to do various fun things – flipping yourself upside down so as to go screaming along the line facing both terra firma and tree trunks simultaneously; walking backwards down the stairs, eyes closed, until the line just takes over battling gravity on your behalf….. Ziplining was much more like flying than the skydive – sadly, over so soon, but a proper rush in the moment.
I also tromped downtown to try a deliciously indulgent, much famed hot chocolate from the chocolate purveyor Patagonia, which is probably equally famous for being one of the few places in New Zealand to offer free WiFi, and is ideally situated alongside the picturesque waterfront if you can ignore the scads of drunken kids, tourists, Frisbee playing hippies, and buskers.
I did not hate Queenstown on this second visit, I found. It is similar to what I mythologize small Colorado mountain towns to be: kayaks and bikes strapped to 4WD Subarus, pups with Frisbees playing on the shore of the bay, lots of fit young men with tan sculpted arms clad in North Face / Patagonia / Swazi / Macpac / Kathmandu clothing…
Queenstown was crowded and aggravating, sure, but it also had the best nightlife I’d encountered, great scenery, and a relentlessly ebullient young population. Taking a peripatetic late evening stroll in the glow of the bars and restaurants, sidestepping drunken youngsters, I found the town a welcome respite from the early-closing, sleepy country isolation I’d been immersed in.