Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Joys of Free Internet in a Converted Lunatic Asylum

Hello there. I'm finally hoping to get this damn thing up-to-date, as I'm currently staying in a hostel (converted lunatic asylum) with free internet. It is painfully slow, but at least I can type up the entries, even if uploading them proves problematic. So, here goes:

Sunday 7th January 2007

It was a nice drive from Dunedin to Wanaka, getting progressively more mountainous (and drier) as it went on. Quite a long stretch of the journey was alongside a massive (well, very long and thin) reservoir. There were lots of waterskiers, Dad, so you would have loved it.

It was a shame not to be able to stay in any of the Central Otago wineries, but they are rather spread out and there aren't a lot of places to stay nearby.

Snow-capped mountains heralded the approach into Wanaka. It was really warm and sunny on arrival and a beautiful walk up to the hostel, which was perched on the hillside overlooking the lake.

After a spot of shopping and general exploration of the town I went for a walk around the lake. Naturally, this was a lot longer than originally planned. It was really lovely in the evening sunshine - calm waters (more waterskiers), mountainous backdrop, aromatic plants (including tea tree) wafting their scent in the warm breeze. My kind of evening.

After getting back to the hostel I bumped into a couple of Swedish friends (Emelie and Mathias) who I had previously spent some time with in Taupo. It was nice to eat together and catch up on each other's respective journeys over a bottle of wine. They were also heading towards Queenstown, and offered me a lift, so I decided to leave Wanaka a day earlier than I had planned (2 nights instead of 3), and get a lift with them, instead of the bus.

Monday 8th January 2007

Walked the other way around the lake in the morning, with Mathias and Emelie. 'Twas cloudier than the day before, but still bright and dry. It was a lovely walk, which ended in a very steep scramble up a hill with fabulous views over the lake to mountains beyond. There were lots of nice beaches along the track and the water was really clean. It would have been really nice for a swim, were it not for the cool breeze and the freezing water temperature.

On the way back we stopped at Rippon Vineyard to do some wine-tasting. Nice range of wines. I really liked the Old Vines Pinot Noir and the Sauvignon Blanc, Reisling and Gewurtzstraminer were very good too.

We got back for a late lunch of pancakes (the Swedes are obsessed with them and it seems churlish to refuse such a kind offer, even if they aren't my favourite foodstuff). I took it easy for the rest of the afternoon - it had been quite a long walk and the wine tasting had finished me off! Managed to do some stuff on the internet, but otherwise lounged around in the garden, drinking tea, etc.

We cooked together in the evening (which was to become a regular occurrence over the coming days...). We decided against a trip to the (apparently) characterful local cinema as the only film I wouldn't have minded seeing (The Departed) didn't start until 9pm and lasted nearly 3 hours!

Tuesday 9th January 2007

It was a stunning drive with Emelie and Mathias over the high mountain pass to Queenstown. The fields of lupins were beautiful and so were the views on the drive down into Queenstown.

We stopped at a couple of viewpoints for the inevitable photo opportunities - great views of the mountains and valleys in the warm sunshine.

Queenstown was even bigger than I expected. It sprawls for quite a distance around the lake. It was quite a contrast from the small-town ambiance of Wanaka. But it still had the nice laid-back feel of a holiday town and the lakeside setting was, in the words of a yank, awesome. The views of The Remarkables (a mountain range), in particular, were stunning.

The first impressions of the hostel were promising. I had decided to stay in my tent and was pleased with my little patch of grass in the lovely garden which overlooks the lake (great views from the terrace, with lots of chairs for sitting around and admiring the surroundings).

As the supermarket was a little way away we decided to plan our meals for the next few days and do a big shop-up. It's nice to cook together after several days of meals-for-one (prior to Wanaka), even if it does mean making some compromises (such as pancakes!).

Had a nice bottle of wine watching the sun fall over the lake and then cooked skate-wings (a bit of a disaster as neither Emelie nor Mathias like bones - luckily I'm quite experienced in that field and with a bit of encouragement both managed not to choke to death.) The accompanying bottle of Chardonnay helped it along nicely, of course.

Wednesday 10th January 2007

It was a fair bit cooler and more overcast today so fine for pottering around town and getting our bearings.

It is such a bonus to have a nice hostel (complete with very cute Jack Russell cross). It is homely enough to feel completely comfortable just relaxing in the garden and enjoying the view. We all liked it so much that we decided to extend our stay from 4 to 6 nights and then travel together to Te Anau after that.

The other people at the hostel were really nice and friendly. This included two English girls, Sophie and Jolie (the latter from Taunton) who were really sweet and added to the homely feel. Furthermore, it's so nice to have warm, long evenings and be able to sit outside to eat and drink for once (albeit with a jumper). That's what summer should be about, in my opinion, and so far the opportunities for doing so have been rather too few and far between.

Despite all the "adventure-sport" activities on offer, it is an easy town in which to find your own niche. And mine seems to be enjoying what is free (the ambiance of the hostel, the views, the other people around me). Talking of which, a chap from Northern Ireland invited us to the pub for a drink and then proceeded to insist on paying for everything. Bargain. Apparently his girlfriend was poorly and I think he was glad for a bit of company while she was in bed sleeping. We were only too happy to oblige.

Thursday 11th January 2007

Much warmer today, rather putting to bed any plans of a mammoth hike. Instead i decided to do some chores in the morning (internet, washing) and then spend the afternoon lounging in the garden (so easy to do when it is so beautiful - did I mention the amazing view of the lake? Well, today there were patches of mist hanging prettily around the mountains). From there you can see the stream of activities on offer: paragliding, jet-boating, steamer trips on the lake, bungy-jumping, etc. And you can think about how much money you are saving by not doing any of them. Just call me Scrooge! Yes, I know I'm tight, but I embrace it and positively enjoy it.

Ryan, a friend of Emelie, arrived in the afternoon. First impressions weren't particularly good (and didn't really get any better from there on). He seemed like a bit of a wide-boy, or, rather, a posh, ex-public-school-boy, trying to act like one (even worse!). His grandparents own a stud farm and he doesn't seem to have any problem throwing his/their money around. Still, he will be travelling with us for a while, so I am happy to tolerate him for the sake of a free lift. You never know, my initial judgements might be wrong (they weren't). There are always lots of other people in hostels, so even if you are travelling "with" other people you are not forced to spend the entire time in each other's pockets.

Had a nice evening with a bunch of people from the hostel and go out for a drink in one of Queenstown's many bars (luckily a niceish one which isn't too boisterous - some of them seem to be rather too rowdy for my tastes).

Friday 12th January 2007

Even hotter today, so still no hiking on the cards. It's really humid too - the sort of weather that makes you feel like doing nothing.

I did some more internettery in the morning and after a leisurely lunch spent the afternoon on the beach. I even went in for a dip. The water is freezing (about 13/14C) but very refreshing/invigorating. There was a diving platform as well, so it was fun messing about until on the brink of hypothermia. The water was beautifully clean - just a shame it wasn't a few degrees warmer.

Another pleasant evening spent at the hostel. A good place for people-watching, including a very annoying girl from Israel (SO opinionated and obnoxious with it), and odd Dutch girl (mad eyes) and occasional other characters who were good for a laugh.

Saturday 13th January 2007

It was a clear sunny morning so I decided to walk up Queenstown Hill before lunch (I went by myself as the others were still in bed when I left). It was a nice change after a few days of mainly lounging around and the fresher winds made for more pleasant walking.

The views from the top were sensational and the walk through the forest was quite interesting too, with lots of nice redcap toadstools to photograph and the sunlight filtering through the trees. It was a good 500m climb (from 400 to 900+m), so it got the heart and lungs working nicely. There was an interesting sculpture at the top, although a lot of tripe was written about it on a plaque nearby, which didn't really help my enjoyment of it.

After lunch I was planning to spend the afternoon lounging in the garden. This went according to plan until about 3pm, when it clouded in and started to rain. Instead I retreated indoors to drink tea and converse with my fellow travellers (all the while entertained by the antics of Barney, the Jack Russell cross).

After dinner, several of the others went into Queenstown for a Saturday Night Out. In view of the weather and the prospect of an early morning wake-up (as is nearly always the case in my tent), I declined and headed to bed. This was most welcome as the previous few nights had been quite sociable.

Sunday 14th January 2007

It had peed down with rain for most of the night and continued to do so for the entire morning. In light of this I made further use of the internet cafe's $2/hr happy (two) hour(s). I finally manage to get up-to-date with my photos and start making a bit of headway with my blog and e-mails.

The rain stopped soon after lunch although it was still damp and misty and only really good for food-shopping. We did a massive shop for non-perishables as we weren't sure what the choice would be like in Te Anau, tomorrow's destination. In order to find the best bargains out trip took in The Warehouse ("Where Everyone Finds a Bargain" - ours? Tins of mixed beans for 89c), New World, Fresh Choice (cheap tomatoes) and Four Square (cheap bananas). Given that I like food shopping it was actually quite an enjoyable afternoon.

We all had an early night in preparation for an early start tomorrow...

Well, I'm going to leave it there for now, as I'm starting to get RSI from all the typing. We're staying another couple of nights in the converted lunatic asylum, so hopefully I will have the chance to get fully up-to-date before we leave. Until then, goodbye...

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