Queenstown, New Zealand – February 18, 2016
Our morning in Dunedin started at one of our favorite breakfast spots, Maccas (the abbreviated name down under for McDonald’s). Then it was back into the SUV to begin our nearly 200-mile journey to Queenstown.
The drive was not bad, just time-consuming. The roads in New Zealand do not lend themselves to cruise control. Instead, the vast majority of routes are two-lane, constantly curving to meld with the rugged terrain. However, the stunning scenery more than compensates for the slower, more twisting journeys. The weather was mostly cloudy with intermittent rain. That probably added time to our trip too.
Between Alexandra and Cromwell, we encountered orchard after orchard. Punctuating the farms were the various fruit stands operated by each orchard owner.
Departing Cromwell, the highway began to parallel the Kawarau River. We all agreed that portion of our journey reminded us of the drive from Gunnison, Colorado to Blue Mesa Reservoir.
As we got within ten miles of our bed and breakfast lodging, the GPS had me take a right turn. It was a turn that I resisted internally, but thanks to the GPS fiasco a couple of days earlier, I opted to follow the directions. The “driveway” was a little unnerving. It was incredibly long, steep, and barely wide enough for one vehicle. Ultimately, we did make it to our lodging, Trelawn Place. It was a stunning location.
The bed and breakfast is atop a cliff overlooking the Shotover River. The Shotover River drains into the Kawarau River and then into Lake Wakatipu. Lake Wakatipu is the lake upon which Queenstown sits. Periodically, one could hear, well before seeing, a jet boat traveling up or down the river. They were incredibly noisy. I was surprised local laws even allowed such a thing.
Looking up, we could see the 5,735-foot Mount Ben Lomond. We were all stunned by the beautiful setting in which we found ourselves. One negative we saw were numerous dead trees on the mountainside. It looked to us like the damage in the Rocky Mountains caused by the pine beetle. I do not know if that was the case in the Queenstown area.
Our sleeping arrangement at the bed and breakfast was a standalone cottage. At first view seemed to indicate a comfortable accommodation. Unfortunately, the second bedroom was upstairs, the only space up there. There was not a bathroom on the upper level. That was a little disappointing when compared to what we spent. One upside was the cooking facilities. We went into Queenstown, bought some groceries, and cooked dinner in the cottage that night.
The following morning, our hosts cooked breakfast for us. During breakfast, they suggested we take a ride on the TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu. They also gave us directions to a “secret” parking area. We drove right to the “secret” parking area. It was merely a parking structure. The “secret” part was the fact that the lowest level was not usually full. We drove down to that level and quickly parked. Because of the topography, when we walked out of the structure, we were on the Shotover Street level. We walked through a commercial mall that was a block long. It took us from Shotover Street to Beach Street. From Beach Street, we could see TSS Earnslaw at the dock.
One had two choices to make regarding the venture on the TSS Earnslaw; an out and back trip or the inclusion of watching sheep shearing at the Walter Peak Farm. We opted for the trip out and back.
Launched on Lake Wakatipu in 1912, the TSS Earnslaw is nearly 170 feet long. The original design capacity allowed for almost 400 passengers and 11 crew. Power comes from coal-fired steam boilers. There are two main decks, an upper and a lower. Below that is a deck of crew service areas and the boilers.
We chose a table on the lower deck near the stern. That lower deck had three distinct sections. The area in which we sat had a service bar in the center; however, the staff did not provide service there during our venture. Moving toward the bow, one approached an enclosed area housed a see-through metal platform. One could enter the enclosure, walk along the platform, and watch the two workers feeding and operating the steam boilers. It was sweltering and humid in that space. Undoubtedly, it would have been even more uncomfortable if the space did not open into the upper deck. Looking up, one could see passengers on the upper deck looking down and taking photographs. The bow of the ship on the lower floor housed a small exhibit outlining the history of the TSS Earnslaw.
After visiting the exhibit, Lorraine reported to us she discovered what TSS stands for since none of the others of us could figure it out. TSS is short for a twin-screw steamer. I would never have figured that out. With the mystery solved, we prepared to settle back and enjoy our eight-mile journey to the dock at Walter Peak Farm. At about 13 knots, the trip took nearly 45 minutes.
The ship was very crowded. There were several Asian tourists on board. Queenstown is a popular spot for people to celebrate the Chinese New Year, 2016, the year of the monkey. I discovered that quite by accident when I tried to reserve lodging. There were very few vacancies during the time we were in Queenstown.
The journey from Queenstown to Walter Peak Farm was like steaming from postcard to postcard. Even though the day was partly cloudy, the water was an idyllic blue. Near the shore, the water was so clear that one could easily see the bottom of the lake. That was particularly true as we approached the pier at Walter Peak Farm.
After docking at the farm, about 80 percent of the passengers disembarked. Shortly after the last passenger stepped onto the pier, the TSS Earnslaw departed. The journey back to Queenstown was even more relaxing, no doubt due to fewer passengers still onboard.
Leaving the ship, we stopped in a souvenir shop. As it was getting on to lunchtime, after buying a few things, we slipped into Pub on Wharf.
One pint and a lunch later, we continued our stroll through Queenstown. We made it back to Shotover Street, where Hillary discovered the Odyssey Sensory Maze. She and I decided to tackle the maze. Leslie and Lorraine sat in the lobby to wait for us.
The maze consisted of multiple rooms. Black lights lit nearly every room, lending a characteristically bright glow to most items in the room. Different music playing in each room added to each experience.
To enter the first room, we opened a door from the white lobby. That made the transition to the much darker hallway even starker. The darkened hallway led to a room full of enormous rubber balls. Each ball was around three feet in diameter. Several bungee cords, resembling a spider web, kept the balls in place. Once through the bungee cords, I felt like a wee lad at a Maccas play area. The opposite end of the room had another spider web that we had to navigate to exit the room.
Pushing open a black door, we entered the next room. It was a room of mirrors and tiny lights. The arrangements of the mirrors and lights made it feel as though one stood amongst the stars in the cosmos. That included the view above and below. It was the center of the universe. Feeling along the wall, we ultimately located the entrance to the next room.
There are other Odyssey Sensory Mazes located around the world. Because of that, I shall not describe the other various rooms. I do not want to spoil others’ maze journeys.
Exiting the maze, we all proceeded through Queenstown. The next task, shopping. That is when I realized how much Queenstown reminded me of Aspen, Colorado. Queenstown is a major skiing destination on the south island. The streets contained a large proportion of costly automobiles. Many of the pedestrians had the aura of those with much more money than I will ever see. The vast majority of items in the stores were ridiculously overpriced. I surmise the only difference between the two towns is the slogan. “How’s your Aspen” has a much different ring than “How’s your Queenstown.”
Finished with shopping, we stopped at a grocery store and then went back to Trelawn. Relaxing there, we prepared for our departure the next day.