Wednesday, February 7, 2024


Our group woke up the next morning, on the whole, I think, feeling well rested, after our first night of real sleep in several days. We were headed back to the airport this morning for our flight to Queenstown on the South Island. We stopped at a gas station on the way where Tanner narrowly avoided putting petrol in one of our diesel trucks.

We were nearing the airport when we passed a police car on the side of the road, which quickly pulled in behind us and turned on his lights. Joe said, “Crap, was that me?” Sam said, “I don’t know who else it could be.” We pulled into a turnoff and the officer pulled in right behind us, followed closely by our own dedicated film crew, with cameras already rolling to capture this interaction. Justin was practically hanging out of the rear window to get the shot.

The officer came to Joe’s window and said, “You were going pretty fast there. I clocked you going 77 in a 50.” (That is in KM/H, but still.) “Any reason for that?” Joe said, “No, sir. We were just on our way to the airport.” He said, “Oh, where are you headed?” Joe said, “Queenstown” (pronouncing it “Queens-ton”) and the officer corrected him, asking, “How long have you been here?” Joe said, “Less than a day.” The officer asked, “Any alcohol today?” and Joe replied, “No, sir.” The officer held up a device near his face and said, “Count to five.” Joe said, “What?” The officer repeated, and Joe eventually registered that this was a breathalyzer. After checking his ID, the officer said, “I’m not going to give you a ticket today, but, if I did, it would be about 350 NZD. You’re going way too fast and you’re a visitor here. It’s not a good look.” Joe thanked him, apologized, and we drove off. The first thing Joe said to us was, “I thought I was just following the flow of traffic.” Sam, from the back, said, “Joe, you haven’t been passed by a single person since we got here.” Later, Joe reflected, “That officer was nice. Kind of like the one in Wyoming.”

When we arrived at the airport, it took quite a bit of walking to get from the rental car drop off to the domestic terminal for our flight to the South Island. Security on this side of the airport, though, was great. Definitely more chill than what we had experienced before. Tanner did have some trouble obtaining his half caffeinated coffee (they gave him a puzzled look and asked if he wanted it on the top or the bottom). The flight was beautiful, flying down the western coast of New Zealand, seeing the beaches, the southern alps, and even a volcano.

Queenstown approach
The approach into Queenstown, down a narrow valley, was insane. I looked out my window to the left and saw sheer mountain faces and then looked out the opposite window and saw the same. There was nowhere to go if we encountered any trouble. The good folks from Jetstar, however, put us on the ground as a matter of daily habit. Adam said they might move up on the list of budget airlines I’ve made him fly. Before we got off the plane, there were warnings that no pictures were allowed on the tarmac, and we quickly saw why the warning was necessary. Beautiful mountain peaks rose right behind the airport. This felt like real New Zealand.

Our first stop was for lunch at the famous Fergburger. This spot came highly recommended, but when we saw the line stretched down the block, I started getting questioning looks from our hungry group. I encouraged them to stick it out, and, much to my relief, the line moved very quickly. They had this system down to a science, and, less than fifteen minutes of waiting, and we had our massive burgers in hand. We walked down to the beach on the nearby Lake Wakatipu and ate our burgers while looking out over the water and the mountains.

Lake Wakatipu
After lunch, we walked the Queenstown Gardens loop, on a peninsula jutting out into the lake. We also encountered a New Zealand “Treaty of Waitangi” celebration, somewhat analogous to our Independence Day, but much lower key. We listened to the music for a little while, and then went to check into our AirBnB. This house was up on the side of a steep slope with a beautiful view of the lake and the Remarkables mountain chain beyond. This was definitely one of the “wow” moments of the trip.

Lake Alta
Joe made it!
Still with plenty of daylight remaining (thanks to summertime in New Zealand near the equator), we decided to drive up to the Remarkables ski field on the opposite side of the lake. When we reached the base of the resort, it became a “choose your own adventure” hike to get to the top of the highest mountain ridge we could.  Most of our group hiked up by the ski lifts towards Lake Alta which was used as the setting for the Dimrill Dale in Fellowship of the Ring. This was the first true test of Joe’s rehabilitating ankle, and we knew his PT, Jordan, would be proud, seeing him scrambling over the rocks. Tanner and Justin took more of a direct route to the Single Cone peak and got some incredible pictures.

After this hike, we stopped to grab dinner supplies at the local Pak’N’Save, where we passed two barefoot customers leaving the store. No shirt or shoes required in this locality, apparently. We were disappointed to find they were out of eggs, and we quickly learned how to navigate packaging and labelling the produce. We returned to our AirBnB and had dinner around 11:00 PM (the first of several late evenings).

At this point in the trip, we discussed how we hadn’t met many people who were actually native New Zealanders (or kiwis, as they’re called) and Tanner was convinced they didn’t exist. We had, however, met several folks from England and Australia, among other places.

No comments:

Post a Comment